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Behind the Research: GTAP

About the feature

Many people are involved in the remarkable range of programs, services and facilities that undergird research in the College of Agriculture. Collectively they’re integral to the college fulfilling its research mission. “Behind the Research” explores their individual roles. Each academic year, we profile six people whose work supports the College of Agriculture’s global reputation for developing innovative, multidisciplinary solutions to challenges and then putting those solutions into action.

GTAP – Global Trade Analysis Project

  • Provides international leadership in economic policy analysis by collaborating to improve outcomes: “Better data leads to better policy analysis, which leads to better policy.”
  • Staff members and graduate assistants — PhD students in agricultural economics or economics — rely on a global network of collaborators who provide data and modeling expertise.
  • Housed in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Purdue since Tom Hertel, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics, established GTAP in the early 1990s.

When people from more than 40 countries meet at the annual Conference on Global Economic Analysis — whether in Warsaw, Melbourne, Shanghai or West Lafayette — they share a common language developed at Purdue. Clarity and transparency are hallmarks of this language, because the work is used to shape important policy decisions across the world.

The Global Trade Analysis Project (GTAP) organizes the conference. And while you may not speak the language of GTAP, decision-makers around the world rely on the 19,000 people who do.

“It’s been a busy year for us, with a high level of demand for our services,” says GTAP Director Dominique van der Mensbrugghe. GTAP fields a wide array of projects, as well as specific requests for data and analysis. Some come from federal agencies formulating policy in commerce and agriculture — the impact of tariffs on products ranging from soybeans to automobiles and car parts, or how the United States’ agreement with Canada and Mexico affects the dairy industry. Other projects involve more basic research for such entities as the World Trade Organization or the U.S. International Trade Commission.

GTAP faculty and staff provide quantitative economic analysis of pressing global concerns in trade and development and global environmental issues. They may study policies targeting greenhouse gas emissions and their effect on land use changes in agriculture and forestry; the detailed sectoral impacts of trade agreements; the effect of multilateral trade agreements on poverty; or the economic implications of climate change on migration.

The centerpiece of GTAP’s work is its Data Base, the 10th version of which was released this July. GTAP is a large enterprise, notes research economist Angel Aguiar. But Data Base users are often amazed to learn that just four individuals comprise GTAP’s data group, although Aguiar is quick to point out that his team relies on the work of many other people, including doctoral students and dozens of data contributors from around the world.

“Working with the center gives graduate students skills that transfer easily to both academic and public sector, policy-oriented jobs,” van der Mensbrugghe says. “We get almost daily requests from agencies looking for talented researchers. Our students do very well.”

Aguiar, a native of Ecuador, completed his PhD at Purdue before joining the center full time in 2010.  “Working at the center, you learn not just the tools, but you get to know the people who are working in this field internationally and in important institutions around the world,” he says of his experience.

Behind the data team’s computers, a lot of thinking is going on. “We basically are coordinating the different inputs that go into the Data Base,” Aguiar explains. “If we find something strange, we compare and analyze the data. If something is illogical to us, we bounce it back to the contributor.”

“It’s a big world out there, and there’s a lot of information to process,” van der Mensbrugghe says. If U.S. corn producers are buying fertilizer from Germany and farm equipment from China, GTAP captures these flows.  “We’re modeling every country in the world,” van den Mensbrugghe says. “In this globalized world economy, we collect all of the statistics required to understand how our economies are interconnected.”

A 33-member GTAP Advisory Board, including representatives from five U.S. agencies, provides strategic direction and relevance. If data in a particular area is deficient, members of the advisory board, many of whom are high-level officials, are likely to point it out.

GTAP’s home in the College of Agriculture gives Purdue international visibility, but the University in turn has provided valuable support for its work, van der Mensbrugghe says: “Purdue has given us favorable grounds for developing and maintaining this center of excellence.”

So information flows in, and better information and analysis flows out of the GTAP Center. “The common feature among everyone here is we like working with economic data,” the director says. “There’s a strong underlying economic logic as well. That’s how our minds work – everything has to add up. If one country is exporting something, we need to know who is using it.”

Photo, from left: GTAP staff members Robert McDougall, senior research economist; Maksym Chepeliev, research economist; Dominique van der Mensbrugghe, director and research professor; and research economists Erwin Corong and Angel Aguiar.

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