Focus topics

Inga Heiland – container shipping expert

Inga Heiland

An appointment as a university chair is usually reason enough for a female scientist to celebrate. Inga Heiland, on the other hand, recently took over not only the professorship of economics at Christian Albrechts University in Kiel, but also the management of the Research Center for Trade Policy at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW Kiel). That sounds like a 20-hour day: “Yes, that’s almost how it feels to me,” says the 35-year-old. However, the university appointed her and seconded her to work at the IfW. “That means I deal with tasks that overlap with my research agenda. At the same time, I still have duties at the university, of course.”

Her research areas include, among others, the assessment of international supply chains. Here, she has developed a particular passion: container shipping. For her work on the Panama Canal in 2019, she and her team examined the global network of container ship routes. “We wanted to understand more systematically how trade routes are structured, which countries are interconnected and how, and also where the weaknesses are in this system.” The issue also moved into the public spotlight with Ever Given last year. When the container giant became stuck in the Suez Canal, “people suddenly realized how many countries were actually affected,” says the professor.

New challenge: political communication

The Ph.D. economist works primarily on calculation models that may seem abstract to an outsider at first glance, but from which concrete recommendations for action can be derived for policymakers. “Where can improvements be made? Well, in the form of infrastructure projects that benefit the whole world. Using the Panama Canal as an example, we calculated which countries would benefit from the expansion of the canal.”

Providing political advice and commenting on public discourse is also a focus of IfW Kiel. In her career, Heiland has so far worked primarily as a researcher. She considers political communication “next to research, the most important task” in her new job, she explains.

After studying international economics and finance in Tuebingen, Heiland earned her doctorate at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and the Ifo Institute. She describes the doctoral position itself as an “important milestone” in her career because she was particularly involved at the Ifo Institute at an early stage in issues that were of political relevance. In that sense, it was also a preparation for her activities at the IfW today.

Calculations on the free trade agreement with China

Meanwhile, Heiland’s last work on the People’s Republic of China was a while back. At the time, she examined China’s WTO accession and the potential impact on global supply chains. “And that, of course, becomes now exciting again when you think about whether there might be a decoupling of supply chains.” It is precisely the calculation of such scenarios that form the focus of her activities at the IfW.

IfW scientists currently analyze, for example, what would happen if trade between China and the European Union doubled. “That would be a case in which the initiative for research would come from us.” Another possibility is that proposals are made from the political side. For example, the design of a free trade agreement between the EU and China. “For example, what would be the effects on trade of various countries or on consumption opportunities and prices, would tariffs be reduced to a certain degree, or would tariff barriers not be introduced at all? We can feed that into our model and calculate it. That’s where things get very specific.” And this is where things also get very political. Constantin Eckner


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