A roster of law firms is being set up by a multimillion-pound Geneva-based independent body that aims to help countries defend their interests in the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The Advisory Centre on WTO Law, which is about to recruit three full-time lawyers, has been in talks with several UK law firms about specialist outsourcing work. UK-based WTO law specialists are thin on the ground. However, Ernst & Young-tied law firm Tite & Lewis' international public affairs group has been approached. Sidley Austin Brown & Wood also has specialist WTO law capacity. The centre's work comprises free legal counselling on WTO law to developing countries and to richer emerging economies that sign up. It also provides support for dispute resolutions in the WTO at a discounted rate for members and least developed countries. Intern and trainee programmes are also being developed for government officials. Developed country members, including the UK, contribute £1m to the centre's endowment fund. It is reported that it has received in excess of £12m to date. The idea of the centre, which has 32 countries signed up, evolved out of meetings at the WTO ministerial conference in Seattle in 1999. Otto Genee, a trade diplomat who helped establish the centre, said: "There may be situations in which there is a highly specialist case for which we do not have specialists available. Therefore, we are developing a roster of eligible private counsel. The WTO field of law is not wide so we will have to see which firms suit us." He added: "We have our own regulations but contracts for sub-contracting will have to be established."