Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why I am Here

I spent a month in Monrovia last May and June to provide support and assistance for Liberia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization, which is, to a large extent, a legal exercise. That is because an acceding country must ensure that its laws are in compliance with WTO rules and principles, which can be found in the WTO Agreement of 1994, including the GATT, and the various Annexes and Agreements appended thereto. It is a large task. As a result, most of my time last year was spent trying to identify those laws that need amendment and those laws that need enactment because Liberia has no legislation in place in areas where legislation is required by the WTO. Two of those areas are competition law and a foreign trade regime. During discussions with WTO members, and at the first key meeting with the WTO in Geneva last July, both the US and the EU, among others, strongly insisted that Liberia have these two laws in force (and in a form acceptable to the WTO) before it could be allowed to become a full member.

Before I left Monrovia last year, it was agreed that I would work on preparing first drafts of each these statutes. There is, of course, no template for either statute—the form each takes depends on the nature of a country’s economy, including, in particular, the level of competition in that economy and the extent of its trade with other nations. With the help of Omar Wakil, I prepared a draft of a Competition Law. It borrowed heavily from provisions in the competition or anti-trust statutes of Canada, the US and the EU, as well as competition laws adopted by less developed countries in recent years. The object was to tailor it to Liberia’s needs and the reality of its nascent economy. I subsequently did the same in the foreign trade area with the helpful assistance of John Terry. Again, the goal was not to create a Cadillac version of such a statute, but rather one that meets the needs of Liberia with regard to its trading patterns.

I was to return late last year or earlier this year to try to finalize these laws from the Ministry of Commerce’s perspective. However, political reality intervened. Liberia is a democratic republic modeled on the US form of government. Elections were held last year and President Johnson-Sirleaf was re-elected for a second term of five years. Soon thereafter, she announced that she was reviewing her Cabinet with a view to making changes. The result was a major Cabinet shuffle in which my Minister lost her job and was replaced. It took some time for the new Minister to get his feet on the ground and get up to speed on all the issues facing the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. Hence the delay in my returning.

The purpose of this trip, then, is to hold workshops on each statute at which stakeholders are invited to attend and make representations or submissions on the draft laws. The point is that these statutes must be Liberian statutes that reflect what various stakeholders feel they should address, not statutes drafted solely by a foreign legal consultant. That is the purpose of the workshops. We hope for good attendance and thoughtful input from the participants. Once the workshops are completed, I will re-draft the laws to the extent required, based on the comments, suggestions and criticisms received. The laws will then go to the Law Reform Commission for review. The Commission reviews all draft laws before they are submitted to the Legislature for enactment. In this case, though, the next step after review by the LRC is to submit the draft laws to the WTO members in Geneva for their review. As mentioned above, they have insisted on the right to review and comment on these laws before they are enacted into force. This will clearly be a long and I suspect highly interactive process.

The first workshop will focus on the Competition Law and the second will focus on the Foreign Trade Law. Stay tuned to see how they turn out.

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