LAST 3 June 2014, the Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law (TCRL) had the privilege of hosting a dinner for Mr. Hamid Mamdouh, the Director of Trade in Services of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Mamdouh, who is considered as one of the most knowledgeable senior officials of the international organization, is currently Egypt’s nominee for the WTO’s Appellate Body.
The dinner was attended by various personalities from both the government and private sectors, such as the Office of the President, Department of Foreign Affairs, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Saligan Alternative Law Group, Trade Advisory Group and the Philippine Stock Exchange.
The meeting with Mamdouh was considered timely, as the Philippines is preparing for the upcoming ASEAN Economic Integration in 2015. His expertise on Trade in Services gave valuable insights regarding the necessity of liberalization of trade in services among the region. He stated that such move would greatly aid the competitiveness of Filipino professionals and at the same time, it will broaden the accessibility of our own professionals to the other parts of the world.
A round table discussion followed the dinner, which focused on trade in services with regard to the legal profession and public utilities.
On the legal profession
The prevailing view is that the legal profession in the Philippines is difficult to liberalize, given that the requirements for legal practice in the country are very stringent, as compared to other professions. Thus, Mamdouh‘s initial discussion starts with this question: “Where is the resistance [in the Philippine Legal Practice] coming from?”
He answers his question by saying that resistance to change in domestic legal profession comes from the “incumbents.” He then suggests that consultations on matters regarding change “must include all stakeholders, not just lawyers.” He mentions the importance of involving stakeholders, such as clients, because it is them who will stand to benefit in such liberalization of the legal profession.
On Public Utilities
With regard to public utilities, Mamdouh stressed that the solution to the perennial problem concerning public utilities is for government officials to have “vision.” He said that this “vision” refers to “people thinking about public interest.” He stated that problems in public utilities, such as corruption, are “usually seen in countries which originally come from a centralized economy to a market type of economy.”
He cited the lack of “necessary preparation for institutional reforms” as the main source of such problem. He then stated that rules, which effectively address this matter that the State wishes to monitor, are needed for effective regulation.
Ateneo faculty member and trade practitioner Atty. Anthony Abad closed the discussion by saying that “‘services’ is not something to look at as a stand-alone product since it is related to other industries such as agriculture and manufacturing.” He further explained that “economic activity is a combination of production of goods and use of services.” He concluded that “we should listen to end users. [For in liberalizing the] legal profession, at the end of the day, legal service is a ‘service.’” P