At IE University, we go beyond the classroom. As part of our commitment to offering an academic journey like no other, we provide hands-on learning opportunities where our students use their newly acquired skills to find solutions to real-world scenarios. The International Trade Simulation challenges our students on multiple fronts, from negotiation skills and trade agreements to varying governances.

As part of their IE Experience, students at IE University participate in the International Trade Simulation. Designed to put students in the shoes of real-world negotiators, the International Trade Simulation tests their newly acquired skills with a real-world scenario. Over the course of two half-days, they negotiate, debate and reach an agreement over European Union and United States trade. 

Students are split into two groups: Team European Union and Team United States, each comprising around 30 students. Within these groups, students place themselves in three subgroups to focus on tariffs, services or regulations. The teams split for internal coordination and come together again for plenary sessions.

A taste of real-world complexity

The International Trade Simulation allows students to see what it’s like to negotiate complex, large-scale trade deals and work with international parties. Borja Santos Porras, Associate Vice-Dean for Learning Innovation and Professor at IE School of Politics, Economics and Global Affairs, explains that students, “Come to the table, present their demands, negotiate, reach an agreement and present it in press conferences.” Students ultimately hone their skills, gaining invaluable negotiation techniques and experiencing the pressures and quick-thinking moments of the real world of international trade.

Dr. Jochen Müller, former Deputy Head of Representation at the European Commission and current Head of the Administration Division at the European Union Satellite Centre, is one of the IE University professors behind the International Trade Simulation. He explains that the goal of the simulation is for students to reach a consensus “about an EU-US trade agreement. We then compare the students’ results with a real-life situation.”

The format

The day starts early, with Team EU and Team US gathering in a conference room. During this first hour, the professor—who plays both the role of a legal advisor during negotiations and the “press” during the press conference—introduces the simulation case and its context. Students then break away for the first internal coordination session. 

The first session challenges Team EU and Team US to assign roles and responsibilities, break into subgroups, build a strong opening statement for the first plenary session, and design a negotiation strategy for the big group and the subgroups. After this session, the teams reconvene for the first plenary session. As international negotiations occur in Brussels, Team EU oversees organization, time management, sequencing and moderation. Following the introductions, both teams present their key positions.

Negotiating on the specifics

Following the opening statements, students dive into their first thematic session, where the subgroups meet separately. The subgroups begin negotiating the tariffs, services and regulations. The EU Team then begins making their offers and the US Team prepares to counteroffer. The goal of this session is to be sufficiently flexible that a compromise that works for everybody can be found. Dr. Jochen explains, “Students can try out their negotiation skills, especially as we teach them negotiation techniques and what to do and what not to do.” 

Later the teams gather all together for the second plenary session, where they look at the results of the offers and finalize the deal. The two teams then meet to present the final agreement, which is compared to a real-world deal made based on the scenario students used. In this way, students can see their strengths and gaps, and what was settled on in real life for this particular case. The professor leads students in a wrap-up session, where participants evaluate the results and the compromise achieved, and discuss the experience as a whole.

Valuable takeaways

There’s no substitute for experience, and the ability to compare the results of their work with what’s actually happened in the international trade arena is an invaluable opportunity. The International Trade Simulation is designed to help students develop the valuable competencies they’ll need in their future careers, as Professor Müller explains. “Another key learning for students is enhancing their presentation and communication skills,” he tells us. “At the end of the day, they have to defend the deal they negotiated in a virtual, simulated press conference.”

As IE University stays at the cutting edge of experiential learning, the International Trade Simulation team has developed chatbots to act as advisors for the negotiators. Thanks to such innovations, according to Professor Borja, “Students can be better prepared in advance for the simulation as they can train their arguments and receive effective feedback for their negotiations.” 

In a further reflection of tech’s disruptive influence on the international arena, these chatbots bring technology into the heart of the scenario. Emilia Cabrera—a Dual Degree in Economics and International Relations student—is thrilled to be given the opportunity to utilize this tech. “They are amazing. It helps save a lot of time, especially as so many people have questions regarding the trade agreements.”

New understanding

Describing her experience with the simulation, Shannon Clancy, a Bachelor in International Relations student, describes it as a way to “get to know a different form of governance and how they work. There are so many people affected by the EU’s policies daily—I’m not an EU citizen but I live in the EU and the policies affect me, so it’s valuable to understand them.”

The students from the most recent edition shared that it was incredible to watch everyone come together to reach an agreement, especially as it can be quite a challenge. Juan Nacenta, a Dual Degree in Economics and International Relations student, recognized the difficulties negotiators face in such circumstances, “Normally, it’s hard to achieve common ground.” 

“And if it’s hard for us to come to an agreement as a group of 28 students, I can imagine it’s very difficult on a global scale,” agreed Shannon. Dr. Müller simply concluded that, just as in the real world, the negotiations have been successful if both sides can walk away saying, “I’m quite satisfied with these results.” 

Learn more about the International Trade Simulation in this video