Student reports from Working Group I: Micro, Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises

By Heath Mitchell

Being a dedicated law student is a tough up-hill battle, there is no avoiding this reality. Yet, if you have the stamina to pull through the challenges, and get back up time and time again, opportunities and progress eventually open up for you. Being selected as a student delegate at the United Nations headquarters in New York is certainly not exemption!

The particular working group I attended was Working Group I: Micro, Small to Medium-Sized Enterprises, (MSME’s) falling within the mandate of United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL).

While MSME’s have always been the greatest contributor to economic activity, in the age of innovation, technology, and micro-entrepreneurs, MSME’s are increasingly becoming the lifeblood of developed and underdeveloped economies alike. The continued prosperity of MSME’s also plays a crucial role is empowering certain members of society who have traditionally struggled in accessing the workforce.

Yet, for MSME’s worldwide, there remain significant legal barriers to market entry. In addition, stubborn legal hurdles exist, inhibiting a MSME’s evolution. One of the effects is that a significant portion of MSME’s remain in what is known as the ‘informal economy’ where tax obligations are not met, limited protections are afforded to stakeholders (including for example employees and creditors) and the business are otherwise unmonitored by the government. It is a well-settled fact that the benefits to society of more businesses transitioning towards the formal economy are enormous.

One of the barriers to entry is the act of business registration itself, which was discussed at length over the working group’s duration. It was during this agenda item that the realities of international law reform became apparent; it is an extremely time-consuming process; particularly so when contrasted against the Artificial Intelligence (AI) the UN is looking to recommend to speed up the business registration process! In fact, some of the UN’s conventions, model law’s and legislative guides have taken almost a decade to produce. Herein lies one of the primary criticisms of the UN; it is failing to respond effectively to the rapidly changing world.

Nonetheless, it was fascinating watching delegates and experts from around the world, ostensibly working together towards a common goal, yet still delicately balancing the interests of those they represent. Indeed, the art of diplomacy is no walk in the park, unless of course negotiation literally had taken place, outside of hours, over a walk around Central Park!

It also dawned on me that international law is not as complex as one may anticipate; people are often intimated by an impression of contradictory and confusing legal principles. In reality, legal principles stemming from competing jurisdictions are actually very similar, albeit phrased in a slightly nuanced form and with their own idiosyncrasies and cultural backdrops to consider. It is the positive and collaborative individuals who seek common ground, yet still appreciate these slight variances, that often make the best international lawyers.

My interest in international trade law developed progressively over my law degree, in large part due to my extensive study abroad. I first engaged with UNICITRAL’s work in 2014 through studying their Model Law on international commercial arbitration and the effect of the New York Convention. During that time, I was studying for two semesters on exchange at Copenhagen Business School. One year later, while on exchange at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I extended my understanding of these legal instruments.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my supervising delegate Anne Matthews and the Chairman of the UNCCA Alan Davidson for this opportunity and their continued support throughout the experience.

Heath


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