The UN General Council just approved the launch of a think tank on trade in landlocked developing countries to be based in Ulaanbaatar. I first developed the proposal in 2009 during a visit to Mongolia, and it’s quite heartening to see things come to fruition. I’m not sure whether it’s quite what I first intended, but it’s above all testament to the hard work put in by government officials over the last few months.
I’m quite keen on basing academic or policy institutions in developing countries because the work they produce tends to reflect the priorities of their immediate surroundings. Sometimes outsiders, based in Europe or North America, tend to propose generic solutions, ignoring context. Economists in particular have a habit of cranking the handle on their models and proposing answers that sound logical but have little to do with practical reality. Homegrown policy-related research, owned by the countries in which it originated, is often more closely tailored to local requirements and has a better chance of success.
Trade in landlocked developing countries might sound like a rather esoteric area — and it is. But specialisation is a good thing. It’s become clear over recent years that landlocked countries face specific difficulties in trade, mostly related to transport to and from major markets, and they need dedicated research and policy advice as well as trading rules to help them overcome those obstacles. One of the problems of the international trading system is that it doesn’t allow much deviation from the rules — which is in the nature of the beast — but is has become clear that certain country categories need special requirements. In my view, the more specific, context-based empirical analysis, the better.