Article excerpt

The nations of the Americas find themselves at a crossroads. Over the past decade, economic reforms have been enacted which have radically altered the relationship between the state and its citizens. As the region tries to further integrate itself into the global economy, serious challenges have arisen. States must now delicately balance the need to attract foreign direct investment with the need to protect the health and welfare of its citizenry. This process of integration has highlighted the importance of having a modern legal system that can quickly and efficiently solve disputes.

This conference, The Role of Legal Institutions in the Economic Development of the Americas, held October 15-16, 1998 at the Georgetown University Law Center, examined how legal institutions have responded to the adoption of free trade policies. The Department of Legal Cooperation of the Secretariat for Legal Affairs of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the Law Center of the Americas Program at Georgetown co-sponsored the event. The idea for this conference came about because very little examination has been given to this topic. While it is clear legal institutions have an important role to play in economic development, no one has really examined this issue in a comprehensive manner. The OAS, as a proponent of both the Inter-American Legal System and the growth and development of the region, is particularly interested in the relation between legal regimes and growth. This conference brought together scholars, lawyers, government officials and representatives of civil society to examine what has taken place in the Americas in the areas of legal reform and to identify the challenges that legal institutions face in this new economic order.

Nations today have recognized the need to work together to solve problems. Legal and political issues previously thought to be purely domestic in nature now can have serious international ramifications. The importance of international organizations which help nations develop regional responses to issues has grown considerably. Article 2 of the OAS Charter calls upon the Organization to promote the economic, social and cultural development of the Member States through common action. The Department of Legal Cooperation has been designated to actively promote the exchange of experience and ideas between Member States' institutions to design and implement programs that promote the Inter-American Legal System.

The Department works closely with a variety of governmental, academic, professional, and non-governmental organizations in sponsoring workshop series and conferences throughout the Americas on issues related to the development of the Inter-American Legal System. In addition to this conference, the Department has been involved in a variety of other issues to help promote cooperation in the hemisphere. In 1998 we co-sponsored a workshop series on the implementation of the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, which trained more than 150 lawyers in arbitration techniques, and developed a regional workshop on the administration of justice with an organization in Colombia.

The Georgetown conference began with an introduction to the issue and an examination of how the roles of different actors have changed as a result of adoption of free market policies. Jonathan Fried, Canadian Deputy Minister of Trade and Policy in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, highlighted the increasing interdependence of states in the global marketplace. He emphasized that the development of regional economic groups can have a deep impact on the legal regime of a nation. Former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, James R. Jones, examined the changes to the Mexican legal system that have come about as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Roman Solis Zelaya, the Attorney General of Costa Rica, highlighted the important yet changing role of legal institutions and actors in matters of economic development. …