Inside the WTO

Written by Rosie on . Posted in Profiles

Janos VolkaiSince completing his PhD in law at the EUI, János Volkai has spent more than a decade at the World Trade Organization.

Having joined the EUI in 1997, Volkai left three years later for an internship at DG Competition before moving to Paris to work at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The move to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Geneva headquarters in 2002 had not been part of his plan while a PhD researcher, he says: “I had six options in mind – working in academia, a law firm or competition authority, either in Hungary or abroad.

“Paris was still part of the competition policy perspective; it had moved outside of the six options but I started to like the objectivity, the independence and the issues. Although you are not as free to say what you want as an academic, or as aggressive as someone in a law firm.”

Volkai first worked in the intellectual property (IP) division, dealing with the WTO’s TRIPS (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) Agreement, which requires all member states to comply to a set of IP standards. Along with trade in goods and trade in services, the TRIPS agreement is one of the three pillars of the WTO.

After three years in the IP area, Volkai took advantage of the WTO’s mobility programme to move to the legal affairs division. Within the team of 14 he provides legal advice to member states and works on the organisation’s dispute settlement system.

“The legal questions that come up on these agreements are the ones we’re trying to help out members and colleagues with; that’s a very rewarding experience,” he says.

Although Volkai enrolled at the EUI with a quite different career path in mind, he advises current researchers to keep an open mind: “We try to plan but then things turn out differently. I had not imagined working in anything other than competition law and policy, but I ended up working in a related field. You can plan things but you need to be ready for the opportunity.”

He recently visited the EUI to speak about career opportunities in international organisations, as part of the annual Alumni Weekend. While the majority of EUI researchers go on to work in academia, many follow careers in international organisations, EU institutions, national governments or the private sector.

“The EUI was directed more towards an academic career, but in many ways it prepared me for an international career or one in civil service. The multiculturalism of the Institute prepared me for being more sensitive and delicate on different issues and gave me a love for multilingualism,” Volkai says.

He recalls a common scene in the corridors of the EUI, with one research speaking to another in Spanish, calling out to a friend in Italian while others walk past chatting in French. “I find it astonishing; I couldn’t go back to a unilingual or bilingual environment,” he says.

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