The ASIL Annual Meeting, Sustainable Development, and the Information Economy

by Chantal Thomas

I should add my sincere thanks to those of my colleague and yesterday’s guest-blogger, William Aceves, to Opinio Juris for inviting this year’s ASIL Annual Meeting Co-Chairs to share this space for a few days.

In contemplating the theme “The Future of International Law” charged to us by ASIL President Jose Alvarez, the Co-Chairs identified global development and poverty reduction as a crucial challenge for the international order. For that reason, we are thrilled that this year’s Grotius Lecture (Wednesday, March 28) will be given by Nobel Laureate in Economics and Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz, who has played a key role in shaping contemporary dialogue on international economic development policy. Stiglitz, in my view, has proved absolutely essential to illuminating the basis for criticisms of the “Washington Consensus” – the canon of structural policy reforms often advocated by international financial institutions as a condition of lending to developing countries. Stiglitz, and so many others, have drawn attention to the growing agreement that Washington Consensus reforms such as trade liberalization, privatization and fiscal austerity, while they may often produce beneficial effects, have also often been carried out in such a way as to disregard competing concerns around distributive justice and social equity, as well as local contextual differences. Stiglitz’s views have probably helped to shift the discourse from the Washington Consensus to what Pascal Lamy, the Secretary General of the World Trade Organization, recently called the “Geneva Consensus.”

Referring to the WTO’s current negotiations over the Doha Development Agenda, Lamy explained that the “Geneva Consensus” represented an acknowledgment that the policy directive of trade liberalization on its own constitutes an insufficient growth strategy: instead, trade concessions must be supported by infrastructural development and tailored to meet specific needs of developing economies. The deep-rooted economic, political, social and technical issues swirling around this “Geneva Consensus,” however, continue to challenge WTO negotiators. We are pleased that this year’s Annual Meeting will offer a discussion on What Future for the Doha Development Agenda and the Multilateral Negotiating Regime? (Friday, March 30).

Moving beyond international economic law, this guest blog provides me the opportunity to move to discuss another aspect of global development and poverty reduction: the digital divide.

Opinio Juris itself, as a phenomenon, quite nicely expresses the advances made by the international legal academy to harness technology in service of enhancing our opportunities for intellectual and scholarly exchange. The regulation of information over the internet remains understudied by international lawyers, however. At the Annual Meeting, we are pleased to offer a discussion of internet governance (The Future of Internet Governance, Thursday, March 29).

Information is now probably the single biggest economic resource. I write this while working at the American University in Cairo on global development and international business – and in my research, the reality of the information economy can be no clearer than when consulting with local market actors about challenges confronting strategies for economic growth.

For example, a Central Bank of Egypt representative recently explained to me that credit ratings for Egyptian government bonds (a key source of capital in today’s environment of “emerging markets”) are lower than other countries of similarly-sized population and economy, because the educational levels of these countries rank higher. Similarly, an American Chamber of Commerce representative recently explained that tourism to Egypt, although a significant part of the country’s foreign currency earnings, does not bring in as much as it should – tourist return rates to Egypt are lower than other sunny locales – and this is chalked up in part to insufficient training in the hospitality industry.

In short, access to information – through educational and technology infrastructures, and through an internet not unduly constrained by government or corporate entities – contributes crucially to developing human capital.

Yet there are so many other issues that also go into developing human capital, and economic productivity more generally. This year, the Annual Meeting offers a wealth of panels that, in some measure or another, assess one aspect of the multifaceted complex that is sustainable development: from labor law and food production, to gender norms and environmental conservation, to investment law and corporate governance.

These and much, much more await Annual Meeting conference-goers. I look forward to seeing you there!

The Annual Meeting takes place at The Fairmont Hotel in Washington, D.C. from March 28 – March 31, 2007. For more information, visit: http://www.asil.org/events/am07/index.html

http://opiniojuris.org/2007/03/21/the-asil-annual-meeting-sustainable-development-and-the-information-economy/

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