Summary and Recommendations
National Law Symposium on Trade and Commerce
September 28-October 1st, 2009
RLJ Kendeja Resort and Villas, Robertsfield Highway
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the
Law Reform Commission and the RLJ Companies
Supported by The US Federal Trade Commission and
Washington & Lee Law School
The goal of the symposium was to create a forum for law practitioners, members of the private sector, and stakeholders in the commerce of Liberia to address key issues around commercial law reform in Liberia. Commercial law reform was discussed in the context of the Poverty Reduction Strategy, Liberia’s ascent to the World Trade Organization, Liberia’s National Trade Policy, Consumer Protection Law, and the Fair Trade Law of Liberia. Below are some key recommendations that emerged from the conference.
Key Conclusions and Recommendations
• The Government of Liberia has lots of work to do in the area of consolidating the administration of commercial transactions i.e. at the port, government Ministries, etc, so that doing business is not so painful.
• Laws in Liberia need to be harmonized with those of regional and international organizations such as ECOWAS and WTO other countries. The Commercial Law, the Association Law and the General Business Law need work. These laws also need to be overhauled and brought to present day standards.
• Laws must protect the ultimate stakeholder, the consumer. In this line, existing industries must also be protected.
• The Consumer Code needs to be made uniform. These flows into basic / practical issues as simple as: when a consumer buys goods, there are currently no codes and laws indicating when and under what terms these goods can be returned.
• There is a lot of work to be done between the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, BIVAC and consumer protection bodies to ensure that the quality of goods on the market meet international standards.
• Laws should reflect punishment for bringing in drugs and narcotics into the country, and punishments should be levied within a reasonable timeframe.
• A critical review of draft policies and existing trade agreements needs to be done to align objectives across these policies and agreements.
• A Commercial Court has been designated; however the administrative rules for the court need to be drawn up. Break out session groups at this forum suggested that the Commercial Court should have three judges and no jurors. Judges in this court should specialize in particular areas of commercial law rather than being generalists.
• The final draft of the Commercial Code will be ready for submission in the middle of 2010. The IFC has made a commitment to the timeframe of this project.
• IFC and the World Bank are currently organizing a study tour in Ghana to allow Liberian practitioners to assess how other countries in the region are handling issues of commercial law. Members of the Liberian Judiciary as well as Bar members will be among those chosen for the tour.
• Liberia currently does not have well regulated manufacturing practices. Industry policy checklists and better standard policies need to be developed by the government.
• Care has to be taken so that trade agreements remove barriers, but not to the detriment of developing local entrepreneurs and encouraging local industries.
• Dispute resolution through arbitration boards or similar bodies is always less costly than court litigation. In this light, arbitration boards should be considered as one of those options for handling commercial disputes in Liberia.
• Although we clearly have significant constraints in this area, we must eventually develop our advertising laws to protect consumers by requiring claims to be based on research and scientific evidence. This includes protecting consumers by requiring product testing.
• We must either create a new body, or empower an existing national body / organization that can hold businesses accountable for claims they make concerning their products. This is particularly necessary in an economy like ours, where the potential for consumer deception is high.
• Because all studies show that competition is what drives productivity, government laws in Liberia must not limit competition, but encourage it, if we want to see the economy grow.
• Competition forces producers to do their best and forces them to offer consumers more attractive product options, and prices.
• Liberia’s juror system needs a complete overhaul. Currently people take being a juror as a profession (where a living can be made), and this means the system is simply not fair to those on trial.