Free Trade in Legal Services and the WTO Rules

Eduardo Grebler

Regional Conference of the International Bar Association

Rio de Janeiro, 22-23 February 2011


The overall picture of business relations nowadays is framed by international trade regulations, which deal with trade in goods and in services, trade-related investments and intellectual property rights, roofed by a dispute settlement mechanism conceived to allow and encourage free trade among the member states of the World Trade Organization. WTO’s purpose aims at “raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a (…) growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services”.

It is clear that such a complex system as this cannot not always work smoothly. In fact, the international trade regulatory system has been challenged as ineffective, or even harmful to the economic development of many nations, especially in times of unilateral currency fluctuations that virtually annul the elimination of tariff barriers. WTO’s problems are now quite serious, to the extent that members were unable to conclude the Doha Round, initially scheduled to be completed in 2005, due to disagreements as to reciprocal concessions that members expect from each other. However, nobody would argue that no regulatory system at all would be better than the existing system, despite its imperfections.

This presentation focus on the international trade in services, and discusses the rules of the General Agreement on the Trade in Services (GATS), in the background of the regulations to the provision of legal services by foreign law firms in Brazil.

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