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Interview: Tristan Kohl on international economics and political economy

Date:30 August 2017
Tristan Kohl is an Assistant Professor in Department of Global Economics and Management at the Faculty of Economics and Business.
Tristan Kohl is an Assistant Professor in Department of Global Economics and Management at the Faculty of Economics and Business.

How do you get into a career dedicated to understanding the causes and consequences of trade policy? We spoke to Tristan Kohl, Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Economics and Business. He spoke to us about how he got into academia, his research on Brexit, and his new role coordinating the Research Master in Economics and Business.

Q. How would you describe yourself?

A. If I were active on Twitter, my profile would read: “Husband, dad, trade economist, amateur handyman.” Or, in more familiar terms: I am an assistant professor (tenure track) in the Department of Global Economics and Management. I first came to Groningen to study Economics and Law, which culminated in a PhD dissertation on international trade agreements. Aside from doing research and teaching, I was part of FEB’s Honours Bachelor programme and have served on various committees, including the Faculty Council. As of September 2016, I joined SOM as the coordinator of the Research Master in Economics and Business (ReMa).

Q. What is your research about?

My fields of interest are international economics and political economy, especially dealing with international trade. Understanding the causes and consequences of trade policy is at the heart of my research.

During research stays at Georgia Tech in Atlanta and Southern Methodist University in Dallas, I took a closer look at pro- and anti-trade lobbying activities of firms and interest groups. My co-authors – Tibor BesedeŇ°, Shushanik Hakobyan, James Lake – and I found a way to link actual lobbying data for the United States to trade negotiations and their economic outcomes. Doing so involves delving through tens of thousands of pages of trade treaties and handling a database with millions of observations on countries’ international trade. All of these ingredients together will help policy makers better understand how firms’ lobbying activities relate to pro- or anti-trade outcomes in trade deals and how this ultimately affects international trade.

Closer to home, my latest paper (with Steven Brakman and Harry Garretsen) is on what Brexit will mean for the UK and its trade partners’ exports. We also looked at what economically viable options the British government actually has in negotiating new trade deals without the EU. We found that even if the UK had a trade agreement with all countries around the world except the EU, the UK’s trade would still take a significant hit. Paradoxically, we concluded that the UK absolutely needs the EU in a post-Brexit world.

Q. Tell us about the Research Master.

A. The Research Master is FEB’s highly selective, two-year Master programme aimed at preparing the best students for a career in research. The small-scale courses have a strong focus on scientific and academic skills. The programme was recently redesigned into three profiles – Business Analytics and Econometrics, Business Research, and Economics – to offer our students a wider range of choices and to bolster the programme’s visibility.

Q. What are your and the Graduate School’s ambitions for the programme?

A. We are very proud of all staff who have contributed to the fact that the ReMa was acknowledged as a “Top Master” in the 2017 Keuzegids Masters. Such recognition of excellence certainly is not something we take for granted – and we are determined to maintain this level of performance.

Our top priority this year has been to find new ways to attract promising talent to the ReMa. One important message to students is that the ReMa is not just a programme for students who already know that they want to do a PhD. It is equally the ideal choice for students who want to explore their full potential by honing their analytical and creative skills in a research-based environment. Graduates who do not pursue a PhD have a strong track-record in landing analytical jobs at multinationals, governments and consultancies.

We have brainstormed with colleagues throughout the Faculty about how we can signal promising talent throughout FEB’s degree programmes and – more importantly – personally encourage these students to consider the ReMa as the next step in their educational career. Promotional talks at selected lectures, jointly given with research directors, proved to be a real eye-opener to students who were not aware of the many options the ReMa has to offer. Also, SOM has extended the range of scholarships to now include possibilities for EU students. Finally, many thesis supervisors have encouraged their excellent students to apply for the ReMa. And apply they did. Why? Because working on their thesis was hard work, personally rewarding, and made them curious for more – which perfectly sets the stage for their next journey in the Research Master!

Further reading:

Kohl, T., Brakman, S., & Garretsen, J. (2017). Consequences of Brexit and Options for a "Global Britain". (CESifo Working Paper; No. 6648). Munich: CESifo.

Kohl, T., Brakman, S., & Garretsen, J. (2016). Do Trade Agreements Stimulate International Trade Differently? Evidence from 296 Trade AgreementsWorld Economy39(1), 97-131. DOI: 10.1111/twec.12272

Kohl, T. (2014). Do we really know that trade agreements increase trade? Review of World Economics/Weltwirtschaftliches Archiv150(3), 443-469. DOI: 10.1007/s10290-014-0188-3