Our work is composed of five main project areas.
- Commercial Law Reform & Best Business/Trade Practices
- Education and Legal Training
- Access to Credit and Secured Transactions
- Promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution
- NatLaw World Database
Commercial Law Reform & Best Business and Trade Practices
Expansion of trade is a well established tool for growing an economy. As our name suggests, the National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade was originally created with the goal of facilitating free trade throughout the Americas. The Center was established at the time that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed by the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Our earliest projects were focused on helping the NAFTA countries to draft legislation to implement the treaty.
Based on our extensive experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s, USAID recently hired the Center as a regional adviser and expert to assist in creating assessments for targeted law reform to support the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). The key subject areas of the assessment were: bankruptcy; secured transactions; companies; competition; contracts; courts; real property; intellectual property; foreign direct investment; international trade; sanitary measures and technical barriers to trade; customs administration and enforcement of the flow of goods and services; cross-border financial flows; cross-border flows of people; and supporting trade infrastructure.
Since then, our mission has expanded to include commercial law reform as a path to economic development. The Center was instrumental in creating the legal framework that implemented the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Center led several significant projects in support of NAFTA, including: Standardized legal infrastructure for cross-border transportation of goods and services: The Center convened the North American Committee on Surface Transportation Law & Practice to facilitate cross-border movement of goods within the NAFTA region. Using our methodology, the committee produced a uniform bill of lading and a uniform commercial invoice to simplify cross-border shipment of goods. It also produced the North American Standard Transportation Practices (NASTRAPS) which reflect best practices in the transportation industry. The Center is currently working on specialized alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, incorporating NASTRAPS, to encourage cross-border trucking by creating an efficient, low-cost and predictable way of resolving disputes as they arise.
Education and Legal Training
Consistent with a research approach that relates commercial law to its economic development purposes as well as its socioeconomic context, the Center has a robust training methodology that has successfully trained judges in Mexico and Central America, as well as lawyers, administrative and customs officials, and registry officials. Presently, the Center is supporting the judicial reform processes of Mexico by providing training to its Federal and State judges on the recently introduced oral trials for commercial and civil disputes. We have also trained bankruptcy judges in Colombia.
The Center provides the full scope of training services including the design and development of curriculiae, programs, modules, materials, case studies and more. With a focus on making training practical, our programs use a learn-from-practice methodology, with simulations, breakout sessions, one-on-one feedback and mock trials as their main focus. Our training programs go beyond the scope of oral trials and include a variety of commercial law areas, such as cross-border enforcement of judgments, commercial contracts, secured transactions law and practice, competition law and policy and alternative dispute resolution, among others. Each training course is adjusted to the audience and the legal and cultural context to ensure maximum learning and skill building.
Finally, our cadre of trainers is composed of members of the our Board of Directors, staff, and consultants, most of whom are experience trial lawyers or judges. For more information on our past trainings, visit our past events page.
Access to Credit and Secured Transactions
How can we create sustainable economic development that empowers micro, small and medium-sized businesses and that is propelled by the local market instead of by large infusions of foreign aid? The answer is by reforming the secured transactions Legal framework. The Center promotes prosperity through reform of the secured transactions legal framework that facilitates access to credit for micro, small and medium-sized businesses allowing them to use their assets as collateral and also acquire assets, expand their activities and create jobs in their communities. Based on the pioneering work of Dr. Boris Kozolchyk, the Center was instrumental in drafting the 2002 Organization of American States (OAS) Model Inter-American Law on Secured Transactions, and the 2009 OAS Model Registry Regulations, which have served as models for the new secured transactions laws of Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and Peru, and as an inspiration for similar work at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). We participate in UNICTRAL meetings as a contractor to the U.S. State Department and are part of the International Finance Corporation’s cadre of experts.Globally recognized for our expertise in secured transactions law reform, we have led and participated in successful secured transactions law reform projects throughout Latin America and Africa. In 2007, the Millennium Challenge Account-Honduras contracted the Center to lead a comprehensive legal reform effort in Honduras. The results were a world class secured transactions law, regulations and an electronic registry which Secretary of State Clinton cited as the example for other developing countries to follow. The International Finance Corporation has since retained the Center to assist in secured transactions legal framework reform projects in Ghana, Malawi and Colombia. We have also worked with Mexican officials to reform and modernize their secured transactions laws which resulted in the creation of the Unique Registry of Movable Guarantees (RUG).
Our methodology is highly effective because it combines an understanding of the local business and credit environment with a sophisticated understanding of various secured transactions regimes around the world. We begin by designing a Roadmap for the reform based on extensive interviews with local business people, judges, private sector associations, government officials and lenders as well as an analysis of macroeconomic data. By going out in the field and talking with micro, small and medium-sized business owners, our experts gain an understanding of the cultural and socio-economic context in that country. Based on our findings, we make a recommendation to local policy makers regarding amendments to the secured transactions laws that would yield the best results. We then work with the local policy makers and legislators to draft new laws and regulations and to respond to questions as they arise. Finally, we provide comprehensive training to the local business people, lenders, borrowers, judges, banking regulators and others involved in secured transactions.
For the NLCIFT 12 Principles of Secured Transactions Law in the Americas please click here.
Promotion of Alternative Dispute Resolution
Disputes are inevitable in business. An essential element of a business-enabling environment is dispute resolution mechanisms that are fair, affordable, predictable and efficient. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) options such as arbitration and mediation supplement the court system with streamlined alternatives for resolving contract disputes.
We provide support to the U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Legal Adviser on Private International Law in its role as co-Chair of the NAFTA 2022 Advisory Committee on Private Commercial Disputes (NAFTA 2022 Committee). The role of the NAFTA 2022 Committee is to promote trade among the NAFTA countries by encouraging private parties to use arbitration and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve private cross-border commercial disputes. The rationale is that businesses will be more likely to trade within the NAFTA region if they believe that they would have an efficient and cost-effective option and would not need to go to court in a foreign country in the event of disputes. This is especially true for small and medium-sized enterprises.
ADR Outreach and Education
In order for businesses to use ADR to resolve their disputes, they need to be aware of the benefits and how to include ADR provisions in their contracts. Education and outreach is an important part of the work of the NAFTA 2022 Committee. The Center, in conjunction with the Department of State and the NAFTA 2022 Committee, delivers outreach and educational programs in the NAFTA region to promote ADR, with a particular focus on small and medium-sized enterprises, lawyers and judges.
ADR is particularly effective when it is tailored to the specific customs and practices of the sector in which the dispute arises. For example, the Center is currently working on a series of guidelines and rules for ADR involving cross-border trucking disputes. Gathering input from various experts and stakeholders in the trucking industry from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, we are helping to create the guidelines and training so that cross-border trucking disputes are resolved by arbitrators and mediators who have a deep understanding of the trucking industry and who will apply standard guidelines whether the dispute is resolved in Mexico, the U.S. or Canada. Sectoral ADR has been proven successful in other regions and industries such as the banking, diamond and cotton industries.
NatLaw World Database
NatLaw World is a one of a kind legal on-line database containing a collection of laws, regulations, case law, and secondary source materials for countries in the Americas. This collection, primarily in original language (Spanish or Portuguese) but with increasing numbers of materials translated into English, is updated daily and arranged in over 25 topical areas related to trade and investment. Such areas include agriculture, mining and cattle industries; alternative dispute resolution; antitrust; banking and credit; bankruptcy; business organizations; communications; consumer law; customs; electronic commerce; energy; environment; family law; foreign investment; government administration; government procurement; immigration; insurance; intellectual property; labor law; medicine and health; personal property; real property; securities; taxes; and transportation. Users can subscribe to and access NatLaw World here. Users can also choose to purchase specific documents and Translations. Currently, NatLaw World is accessed primarily by major research universities, international law firms, large multinational corporations, exporters (small and large) from a variety of sectors, and government agencies.