Edwin Vermulst is highly respected among peers who highlight him as “a top name”, “the best” and “a leading authority on WTO law”. One impressed source describes him as “the man for all your trade disputes”.
Edwin Vermulst has practised international trade and EU law since 1985 and is a founding partner of VVGB. Mr. Vermulst specialises in the representation of multinationals, governments, trade associations, exporters and importers in trade remedy and WTO cases. He has co-authored nine books and is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of World Trade and a faculty member of the World Trade Institute in Bern. He is invariably selected as a top trade practitioner by leading directories such as WWL (trade lawyer of the year for six years).
What inspired you to pursue a career as a trade lawyer?
My internship at DG Trade of the European Commission in 1983 and subsequent studies in the United States from 1983 to 1986 where I worked for Professor John H Jackson, the world’s leading authority on the GATT and later the WTO, while finishing my SJD under his supervision.
What do you enjoy most about working in the field?
Working in an international environment with clients in many different industries from all over the world which share an interest in free and fair trade.
How does VVGB Advocaten distinguish itself from the competition?
By combining technical and policy expertise with academic achievements.
In your opinion, what will be the long-term effects of the covid-19 pandemic on the trade and customs sector?
An increased workload as a result of massive subsidisation and industries’ painful adjustment to the post-covid-19 era. At the moment virtually everything is done online as a result of covid-19-related travel restrictions, but I expect that things will get back to normal quickly once a vaccine has been found.
What impact has the development of technology had on the practice of trade law in recent years?
We increasingly use e-meetings and online filings. With regard to the latter, we benefit from relatively sophisticated systems of online filings that DG Trade of the European Commission and the WTO dispute settlement divisions have established.
What type of matters are clients currently seeking advice on most frequently? What would you say is driving this?
Trade remedies, EU-China relations and consequences of Brexit, driven by globalisation, the protectionist trade policies of President Trump and their snowball effects in other trading blocs such as the EU and third countries. We expect these matters to become even more important once the full effects of the economic crisis caused by covid-19 can be better assessed. On the positive side from a free trade perspective, we are seeing an increased interest in advice to governments and industries relating to FTA negotiations.
Is international trade becoming more politicised?
To some extent. On the one hand, trade remedy investigations are largely technical in nature, and while some of them have political overtones, the more ‘nuts and bolts’ cases tend to remain technical. On the other hand, some of the trade policies of President Trump, such as the Section 232 measures, are clearly political in nature and unfortunately other countries then feel forced to respond in a similar manner.
How do you see the World Trade Organisation changing its focus in the next five years?
I believe the dispute settlement function will continue, with the MPIA to some extent replacing the Appellate Body, albeit as a poor substitute. However, the legislative function will continue to languish, as a result of which many WTO members will speed up efforts to negotiate FTAs to cover areas where WTO agreement is not possible. In this respect, the EU is leading by example.
What advice would you give to younger practitioners looking to succeed as a trade and customs lawyer?
I would recommend younger practitioners pursue post-graduate studies with a specialised trade and customs-focused curriculum and/or gain practical experience.
Your career has been an outstanding one to date. What else would you like to accomplish?
I am happy where I am at and with the excellent members of our team.