Economics Professor Tom Zylkin Receives Grant For Research on Applying Machine Learning Techniques to International Trade

April 26, 2021

UNIVERSITY OF RICHMOND — Tom Zylkin, assistant professor of economics in the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, has received more than $70,000 in grant funding from the Economic & Social Research Council in the United Kingdom to support a project focusing on applying machine learning techniques to international trade research. 

This three-year project is a collaboration with the University of Surrey, which is the lead, and the World Bank.

Zylkin and his fellow researchers will explore how to apply and modify existing machine learning techniques designed for prediction and forecasting purposes to help answer questions related to trade agreements.

“There are many different policy areas covered within one trade agreement — from competition policy to intellectual property rights to customs procedures and so much more,” Zylkin said. “Because these policy areas can each be incorporated in many different ways, the sheer number of variables to consider is very large.”

One of the main goals of the project is to adapt techniques from machine learning, often associated with artificial intelligence, to the international trade context in order to isolate which specific provisions are most important for trade, Zylkin said.

“Creating methods that can process and simplify the vast amount of information we have on these agreements will be helpful in better understanding how they work and in helping policymakers design trade agreements in the future,” Zylkin said. “The key methodological challenge we solve is bringing these methods to the context of a trade network. One can easily imagine applications to other common types of network data, such as public transportation, migration, or even social networks.