By Paul Janczewski
Talk about a fortuitous coincidence.
Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), recently visited Washington, D.C. to meet with President Barack Obama as the leaders of the world’s top two economic powers discussed a wide range of subjects but focusing on security, economic, and political issues.
The results of that meeting will no doubt lead to some spirited discussions at the U.S.-China Economic Law Conference, scheduled for Friday, Feb. 11, at Wayne State University Law School’s Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium.
During the all-day event, academic experts and officials from North America, Europe and Asia will analyze critical legal, regulatory, and policy issues surrounding the world’s most important trade and investment relationship, according to a WSU news release. The keynote lunch speaker will be Ambassador Charlene Barshefsky, President Bill Clinton’s former U.S. Trade Representative, who’s address is titled “The Politics of Trade and Globalization: The U.S.-China Relationship.”
And three law professors from two Michigan law schools have key roles in making it all happen—Nicholas Howson, conference organizer from the University of Michigan; Julia Ya Qin, Wayne Law School professor and World Trade Organization (WTO) expert; and Gregory Fox, Wayne Law professor.
Howson joined the U-M Law School faculty after a stint in private practice. He specializes in Chinese law and legal institutions, and has written articles and participated on committees dealing with China’s corporate and capital market development, and legal reform. He has spent time in China as a graduate fellow and as a practicing attorney for an American firm.
Qin, who teaches international business transactions, finance and trade law, and Chinese law, joined Wayne Law after practicing law in Hong Kong and New York for an American firm. She has published in various international law journals, and is recognized as an expert in the WTO.
Fox is Wayne Law’s director of International Legal Studies, and teaches courses specializing in international law. He has worked in private practice, and is considered an expert on how democracy has affected the international legal system.
Howson and Qin have known each other for some time, and had discussed having a conference such as this. And with Obama and Jintao’s recent meeting, Howson said that news would take center-stage and give the conference an added boost.
Qin said she got the boost from Howson to organize the conference.
“And the timing was right,” she said.
The conference is being put on by the law schools at Wayne and U-M, and the U-M Center for Chinese Studies, and will focus on the U.S.-China relationship in the WTO, and include panel discussions of current trade-related cases and controversies, according to the media release.
Wayne Law’s Program for International Studies is in its early stages, Fox said. It is built on the knowledge that the practice of law is becoming increasingly more global, and that legal issues outside the U.S. challenge old assumptions and foster new growth and understanding.
At U-M, its law school embraces the global perspective of the profession and provides an opportunity for students to take advantage of it. And its Center for Chinese Studies includes leading scholars on the subject.
Other issues being addressed during the conference will include currency, labor rights, technology sharing and cross-investment, climate change, and domestic energy policy and regulation, the release noted.
Howson said the relationship between the two nations “is one of the most important in the world today, across political, military and economic grounds.” And since China’s entry into the WTO, the conference will also analyze that relationship, he said.
Howson said he and Fox also built the conference around Qin’s “expertise, contacts and knowledge” of the WTO.
Qin said she also wants to address “misleading messages” the media puts out on China. She also said the conference is also “a juncture for China to reassess its proper role on world stage and go forward, and for the U.S.’s relationship with China.”
How both countries go forward “is very strategically challenging and interesting,” Qin said.
Fox said the conference is “the perfect confluence of people, institutions and events.” He praised the expertise of Howson and Qin, and said the event hopefully will begin a long collaboration between their colleges.
Other prominent participants in the panel discussion will include Yongjie Li, director of the Treaty and Law Department of the PRC Ministry of Commerce; Ruosi Zhang of the WTO Secretariat in Geneva; former WTO Appellate Body member Merit Janow; U-M economist and associate dean of the Ford School of Public Policy Alan Deardorff; former director of the USTR China Desk Timothy Stratford; and China labor law specialist and U-M Center for Chinese Studies Director Mary Gallagher.
Those and others involved in the conference make it special, Howson said.
“We’ve tried to retain the ranking experts as lawyers, as regulatory experts, as trade experts so that we can have a really technically competent discussion,” he said.
“We hope to have some real engagement over some really complex things,” Howson said. “The WTO discipline is not an easy one.”
Fox said the people involved are some of the very best.
“To have all these people in one place for a day is quite promising to move these discussions forward. It’s an extraordinary learning experience for people whose voices are quite important.”
The conference will feature four sessions. The first, titled “The U.S. and China under the WTO System,” will feature Qin and other experts. The second session, “The Bilateral Relationship - Cases and Controversies,” will be moderated by Howson and feature panelists.
Barshefsky’s luncheon talk splits the morning and afternoon panel discussions. She was named as one of the decades most influential lawyers by the National Law Journal, among her many awards and notable accomplishments, and is also recognized as a leader in the area of international trade. Barshefsky also has written and lectured extensively in the U.S. and abroad.
Session three, “The U.S.-China Investment Relationship,” will again be moderated by Howson. The panel discussions will conclude with “Systemic Concerns.” Fox will moderate this session. The conference will wrap up with remarks from Howson and Fox, followed by a buffet and cocktails.
Fox said the economic relations with China are very interesting to the Michigan legal community.
“Michigan law firms are increasingly representing American companies doing business in China,” he said.
Likewise, Chinese investors are more prominent in the U.S. and Michigan, and many law firms have international practice groups.
Howson said he hopes both those involved in the conference and those in attendance leave with a better understanding of the issues, and that those in some official capacity return to their position with a better understanding of how the other side views the technical aspects.
Qin believes the conference will lead to more informed and sophisticated views by the public and Michigan’s legal profession.
They hope to attract 200-300 people at the conference. All the sessions are open to the public. Registration information is available at law.wayne.edu/us-china conference.php, or by contacting Molly Hughes at (313) 577-3620.