Must China Still Outsource Its Trade Lawyers?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 4/28/2009 11:16:00 AM
You know you've arrived in the world economy when you become embroiled in more and more trade disputes--at least that's the main idea from a recent Forbes article on China's recent spate of activity at the WTO. So it was for Japan in the eighties and nineties coming from a similar Confucian culture which values harmony over routinized conflict in dealing with thorny situations. Now, it's China's turn in the hot seat as it gets into almost everybody else's sights including regional export-led competitors and Western protectionists of every stripe.

Probably the best career advice I can give to anyone interested in the sorts of topics covered on this blog such as trade, international organizations, world politics, etc. is to consider becoming a trade lawyer. Given that disputes are popping up all over the place as trade slows down, the conditions are favorable to future employment. Let's face it: IPE academics are a dime a dozen, and jobs at universities are by no means guaranteed. Meanwhile, there is a real demand for trade lawyers as supplies of those knowledgeable in trade law are not especially plentiful.

Indeed, China is having trouble finding lawyers among its own people skilled in trade law. It turns out that they are actually hiring American lawyers (from the homeland of litigation) to argue their trade disputes--a significant potion of which are of course with the US of A. The entire Forbes article about China's search for expertise in trade law is well worth reading. Here is an excerpt:
"We are newcomers to the WTO. We still need some time to build up full capacity," said Xiao Jin, a WTO lawyer for the mainland Chinese law firm King & Wood, which helped defend the Chinese government in the recently decided anti-piracy case filed by the U.S. There are just three to four Chinese law firms equipped to handle WTO disputes, based on various lawyers' estimates. The U.S. has three to four top-tier WTO law firms and about a dozen other law firms that have WTO practices...

A particular challenge for China is that good WTO lawyers need strong knowledge of common law, civil law and WTO law, a solid background in economics, accounting, and other fields, and English language ability that is sophisticated enough for lengthy briefings and argumentation before the WTO court. “The WTO legal system is very difficult for the typical Chinese lawyer,” said Liu Jingdong, vice director of the international economic law division at the government think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
If you are interested in IPE topics but don't fancy genteel poverty, consider trade law. I've been trying to get some representative salary figures from our trade law colleagues but they've been mum on the matter. Must be lucrative, I venture. Think of it this way: when a country with 1.3 billion people that's the new ACME (Asian Country Making Everything) can't find trade lawyers at home worth their salt, then opportunities surely exist in the field.