International Economic Law
05 April 2019

Building Capacity in International Economic Law

Joost Pauwelyn, Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute, and Mengyi Wang, an International Legal Specialist at New Markets Lab, are the coeditors of a new book titled Building Legal Capacity for a More Inclusive Globalization: Barriers to and Best Practices for Integrating Developing Countries into Global Economic Regulation. For its authors, globalisation is not the problem per se; what is needed is a more inclusive globalisation, from which economies and stakeholders could more equitably benefit. But first of all they must have the “capacity” to do so, as Professor Pauwelyn explains below.

What motivated you to edit this book?
I have been researching and practicing as a lawyer in the field of international economic law – especially WTO dispute settlement and investor-state-arbitration – for more than two decades now. And one thing that strikes me today is the complexity of the system: to draw the promised benefits from these global economic regimes (be it as a government, company, NGO or affected individual) you need to be able to understand, and play by, the rules, you need to “speak the language”. The problem is not so much financial resources, for example, for a developing country to pay a lawyer to file a case. The bottleneck arises way before that: you need to have the absorptive capacity to understand what the rules can do for you, and to be able to ask the “right questions”. This book brings together novel methods of building such legal capacity and best practices from certain developing countries, like Brazil, China and India, who have largely managed to do so.

What are the book’s central contributions?
Legal capacity is more than financial resources or the availability of affordable legal services. The book defines legal capacity broadly as the ability for a stakeholder to effectively engage with and benefit from a rules-based framework such as the WTO. Today’s problems can no longer be boxed into, for example, a technical question under the WTO treaty. To solve problems today a more holistic approach needs to be taken, combining legal with policy and economic expertise, questions under a trade agreement combined with insights and reliance on, for example, a tax or investment treaty. Looking at developing countries that have managed to build such capacity, such as China and India, the book finds that they have done so by means of a broad-based strategy encompassing the government, foreign and local law firms, academia, private companies and trade associations. In this respect, many African and Arab countries, for example, still lag behind, especially in terms of awareness and bottom-up capacity building. They may have access to subsidised legal services in Geneva. However, they often lack the time and capacity to engage or to even realise how precisely their interests could be served by, for example, a trade dispute or negotiation.

Based on the empirical and case evidence presented in different chapters, what roles should policymakers play in building capacity in international economic law?
Governments and policymakers can play an orchestrating role. But capacity has to be built broadly, not just in trade or economic ministries by means of technical missions where Geneva-based experts fly in and out of the capital in a day or two. Capacity needs to start with education and awareness on the ground, involving the private sector, universities and other stakeholders. People have to understand first what they can get out of a legal regime; only then can they ask the right questions and seek further help.

How do you see the future of capacity building in shaping global economy?
The chapter that I wrote with Theresa Carpenter, Executive Director of the Graduate Institute’s Centre for Trade and Economic Integration, tells the story of TradeLab, an NGO founded here at the Institute of which I am the President. It provides legal and policy capacity through student-run “legal clinics” that do work for real beneficiaries such as developing country officials, NGOs or SMEs. It is a new, very cost-effective form of spreading expertise and capacity: 15 universities now run such a clinic and students, many from developing countries, “learn by doing”; beneficiaries get concrete answers to their questions or understand what questions to ask through detailed research memos and policy proposals, written by students and closely supervised by senior professors and experts from private practice including law firms who contribute some of their time for free. This way we can build centres of expertise outside the usual hubs such as Geneva or Washington. TradeLab now has clinics in, for example, Tanzania, India, China, Singapore, Qatar, Israel, Barbados, Colombia and Australia, besides the ones in Geneva, Washington and Canada.

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Full citation of the book:
Pauwelyn, Joost, and Mengyi Wang, eds. Building Legal Capacity for a More Inclusive Globalization: Barriers to and Best Practices for Integrating Developing Countries into Global Economic Regulation. Geneva: The Graduate Institute, 2019.
With a chapter by Joost Pauwelyn and Theresa Carpenter: “The TradeLab Network of Legal Clinics: Capacity Building for a More Inclusive Globalization”, 83–98.

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Interview by Buğra Güngör, PhD candidate in International Relations and Political Science. Edited by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office.
Picture taken from the book cover of Building Legal Capacity for a More Inclusive Globalization: Barriers to and Best Practices for Integrating Developing Countries into Global Economic Regulation.