Plenary Corporate Counsel Forum: The Impact of International Law on Multinational Corporations

Article excerpt

The panel was convened at 4:30 p.m., Friday, March 30, by its moderator, Lucinda Low of Steptoe and Johnson LLP, who introduced the panelists: Thomas Gottschalk of General Motors; Alberto Mora of Wal-Mart; and Paul Wright of Exxon Mobil.

SUMMARY OF PANEL DISCUSSION *

The theme of the 101st Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law, "The Future of International Law," has challenged scholars and practitioners to reflect upon their knowledge and experience and to predict the directions in which international law is headed. Such an examination of international law would not be complete without heating from the corporate sector, which is increasingly regarded as one of the most important actors in international law today. Lucinda Low moderated a panel of representatives from three of the most iconic American companies--Tom Gottschalk of General Motors, Alberto Mora of Wal-Mart, and Paul Wright of Exxon Mobil Corporation.

The panel discussed the myriad ways in which international law shapes corporate life. In doing so, the panel adopted an expansive definition of international law, encompassing international institutions, voluntarily imposed standards that have international scope, international law in the U.S. domestic system, and more traditional concepts of international law, including treaties, customs, and practice. Despite hailing from dramatically different industries, overall there was little debate among the panelists as they responded to the series of questions. The representatives from the three markedly different companies found that they all faced many of the same challenges and reaped many of the same rewards in their international dealings.

The panelists responded to questions relating to the often powerful influence of international law, including its greatest challenges, the benefits of recent developments in international law, and which international topics will gain importance in the future. In their remarks, the panelists commented on a wide range of issues, ranging from strengthening global anticorruption efforts to recent developments in American legal education.

REMARKS BY THOMAS GOTTSCHALK ([dagger])

Mr. Gottschalk advanced three areas of international law that most influenced the automobile industry. First, of strategic importance to the automotive industry is ensuring that it is not disadvantaged by ongoing trade negotiations. Also of primary concern to the automotive industry is broad intellectual property protection, including both trademark protection and counterfeiting protection. Additionally, Mr. Gottschalk described the disparity between national regulatory regimes and explained that harmonization of those regimes would provide significant benefits to the automotive industry.

Mr. Gottschalk also highlighted the problem of enforcement, especially regarding WTO agreements and anti-corruption conventions and treaties. He remarked that enforcement of these international agreements, and the realization of the benefits they promise, pose the greatest challenge to GM in its international operations. All too often the local will and the capability to enforce these international agreements frustrate the realization of practical benefits and protections for multinational businesses. However, these problems are mitigated by the services of international arbitration fora, which remove the disputes from local political influence and offer greater assurance that agreements will be enforced as written. Such fora and their dispute resolution mechanisms give business a greater assurance of predictability and consistent enforcement of rights which in turn encourages business to proceed with its investments, especially in developing economies. It has been vital for the international automotive industry to have these agreements in place and to have them upheld by international institutions.

Mr. Gottschalk pointed out that investment will always be encouraged by relative stability, a predictable legal system, and an impartial adjudication process. …