By Alix Boberg, LL.M. ’15

The idea of trade evokes a myriad of images: the customs inspector reviewing import permits, the consumer reading labels of origin in a produce market, the trade lawyer negotiating the details of a new trade agreement. Trade encompasses, of course, all of these activities. But it is also much, much more than tariff barriers and the World Trade Organization. Trade begins with and follows the enterprising farmer as she seeks land title, obtains financial literacy, overcomes seed regulations, chooses fertilizers, harvests and transports to market.

Katrin Kuhlmann HLS ’96, of non-profit organization New Markets Lab, works with local entities, development funds, and international institutions to navigate the regulatory challenges that impact business growth, particularly in the agricultural sector. Although an HLS alumna and former USTR negotiator, Katrin’s holistic model eschews the traditional, narrow-minded focus of the trade lawyer – the end game of export. Instead, the New Markets Lab recognizes the need for prioritization of and structural support of systems like the agricultural value chain that enable goods to reach market. In developing countries like Tanzania, it is information sharing, capacity building and teamwork that are critical to the flourishing of local and export trade.

In January 2015, I had the opportunity to visit Tanzania with Katrin and four other students as part of a three week independent clinical placement with Harvard Law School. First, in Washington D.C., we participated in a workshop that linked high-level trade and aid policy with real legal challenges in developing markets, meeting with experts across the public and private sectors. On arrival in Tanzania, we were prepared to learn about entrepreneurship through the lens of trade: what were the challenges for enterprises reaching local, regional, and overseas markets?

As we discussed issues and solutions on the ground, it was evident that enterprises were daily confronted with issues of trade, whether recognized as such or not. Title and business registration, access to loans, food standards compliance, logistics challenges – each entrepreneur had a tale of confrontation with the often complex regulatory environment in his or her ambition to succeed, grow, and market.

New Markets Lab listens to the issues these entrepreneurs face during business development and facilitates legal tools and solutions with local partners where there are gaps in the value chain. Currently, for instance, the New Markets Lab is partnering with the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) and AGRA, examining how legal and regulatory systems impact farmers and entrepreneurs in fundamental areas such as access to seeds. The New Markets Lab is also developing a Women’s Legal Guide for East Africa with the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), offering a knowledge ‘bridge’ to the female entrepreneur. Through Katrin’s approach, the entrepreneur gains much more, practically, than the withdrawal of a levy on an inaccessible trade border. The reduction of regulatory barriers and information asymmetry helps to empower local communities to engage in and expand their trade, so they may reach that border in the first place.

I left Tanzania with memories of cloves, tomato farms and Masai warriors. But my experience with New Markets Lab also impressed on me a greater appreciation of how trade lawyers can assist development far beyond concessions in a trade agreement. As Devota Likokola, a Member of Parliament, stressed to us, “there is only so much theory; you must focus on the practical”. She is undoubtedly correct. Trade is practice – the collective practice of enterprises working together in a value chain to reach markets locally and overseas. Trade lawyers and policy makers can and should connect high-level policies to that practice, and thereby demonstrate their development commitment to countries around the world.