The implementation of international obligations in terms of a country’s membership of an international trade agreement, at the WTO or regionally, is probably more important than the process of ratifying the treaty in the first place.
In the WTO system countries are firstly required to make stringent demonstration that their domestic legal framework is capable of giving effect to its treaty obligations during the process of joining the WTO (accession). Secondly all Members are subject to periodic trade policy reviews by the secretariat in order to keep trading partners abreast of their level of compliance with their treaty commitments. In this process the depth of legal knowledge of the covered agreements has to extend well beyond the country’s trade negotiators, and the mainstay of this capability actually rests with capital based officials in the various line ministries involved in trade.
We were recently involved in two initiatives in briefing capital based officials and lending legal advice in their quest to strengthen the depth of knowledge of WTO issues of its trade officials. Close to home we were involved with the government of Tanzania in contributing to their work on the ongoing WTO agriculture negotiations with particular emphasis on the support that capital based officials could provide to their trade negotiators. In the second instance we went further afield with advice on the WTO subsidy regime to a select group of government officials from Vietnam. Vietnam is currently completing its accession process to join the WTO. As part of this process and in moving to a market economy Vietnam has been passing a daunting amount of legislation covering those on international treaties, enterprises, complaints and denunciations, value-added tax, excise tax, foreign exchange, investment, commerce, tendering, maritime services, tourism, railways, electronic transactions, education services, pharmacy services, import and export duties and other customs valuation issues, the civil code and intellectual property.
We were privileged to be partnered directly with The World Trade Institute Switzerland; and also with Bocconi University Milan and the ILO Centre in Turin during these initiatives.