The DTI Award for Capacity Building in the Developing World
This award is given to a private or public sector organisation which has enhanced a developing country's ability to participate in international trade negotiations.
The winner: Baker & McKenzie
Fred Burke, in the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offices of the international law firm, Baker & McKenzie, is closely involved with Vietnam , its life and even its entertainment - he is a member of a local rock band. When Baker & McKenzie's initiative to offer legal help to developing countries was followed by a trade agreement between Vietnam and the United States , Fred saw an opportunity.
In the comprehensive trade agreement, the US agrees to reduce import taxes on Vietnamese goods from 40 per cent to an average of 3-4 per cent. In return, Vietnam undertakes to make huge changes to its legal system to ensure that all traders, both Vietnamese and foreign, get fair and equal treatment, with rights of appeal. To help Vietnam fulfil the terms of the agreement and join the World Trade Organisation, USAID has funded a project known as Support for Trade Adjustment and Reform. Baker & McKenzie has been appointed the legal adviser to the project.
Over 170 laws and regulations are scheduled for amendment over five years. The changes even affect Vietnam 's local licensing system - the so-called baby permits. Before the programme of administrative reform, a business in Vietnam needed a permit to do just about anything - put a sign on a truck, move goods to market, hire staff - and often had to bribe an official to get one. Some 300 types of baby permit have now been abolished. Baker & McKenzie plays a leading role in the Vietnam Business Forum, where business people can voice their concerns about corruption, red tape or anything else.
Fred Burke says "Vietnam is opening its markets fast in order to gain access to others' markets in return. According to the World Bank, the rate at which it is reducing poverty is second to none."
Baker & McKenzie's role in Vietnam is part of the work of its World Trade Organisation Practice Group, which comprises over 140 lawyers round the world, 40 of them women. In addition to its work for private business, the WTO Group places importance on working for governments, often at reduced rates.
Ross Denton, who heads it, says the idea was that understaffed developing countries would be able to call on experts in the law on international trade. It would also give younger lawyers the chance to cut their teeth on some challenging work.
The group's initial proposal - to give a specified number of hours for free - found few takers. The Technical Legal Assistance Programme is more popular, offering developing countries unlimited hours at reduced fees.
Through this programme, the WTO Practice Group has had several opportunities to assist the international community. Commissioned by the Commonwealth Business Council, it has been studying the international potential of Barbados , a small, traditionally sugar-based economy, as it looks to opportunities beyond its tourism and financial services industries. The group has also given training to officials in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam on how to negotiate free trade agreements and about what they can expect from joining the WTO.
Carol George, a London-based Canadian lawyer who co-ordinates the global WTO Group, says that the TLA Programme helps developing countries to participate more fully in international negotiations and the international commercial world. "They may not have their own WTO-trained lawyers, or the resources to hire WTO experts in Washington or Belgium or the UK . But there are a lot of practical issues they need to be able to deal with."
Russell Baker founded Baker & McKenzie, the first international law firm, in Chicago in 1949. The goal of the firm was to serve its clients, not just at home but in other countries where they were doing business. This policy has resulted in 66 offices with 4,200 legal professionals across Europe, Asia and the Americas . The lawyers are mainly nationals, solving problems in the context of local laws, languages and customs. They also come together in international teams to expedite international projects and arrangements. In one instance, Baker & McKenzie acted on behalf of a Brazilian company, to conclude a deal to build aircraft in China.
The judges say
We felt this programme was very laudable and were impressed with the strength of this operation. This was an excellent example of business involved in development especially in the field of capacity building. Baker & McKenzie has provided the opportunity for small businesses to enter the global market and should be congratulated for its contribution to social and economic development.
"The underlying commitment to a properly functioning trading system and the recognition that this depends on developing countries being able to participate in it fully. The preparedness of individual B&M lawyers to share the losses associated with 'low recovery' work"
Baker & McKenzie,
100 Bridge Street , London EC4V 6JA
tel +20 7919 1000