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Thought Leaders Global Elite - Trade & Customs 2021

Q&A

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader

WWL says

“Pre-eminent practitioner” Folkert Graafsma is “a very talented and clever WTO lawyer” with “excellent trade remedies knowledge”.

Questions & Answers

Folkert Graafsma practises international trade law, general EU and WTO law. Folkert is top-ranked in Chambers and Partners, The Legal 500 and Who’s Who Legal. Chambers Europe (2016) described him as a “real powerhouse” and “top-notch” trade lawyer. The Legal 500 (2020) ranked him as a leading individual and described him as “very clever and pragmatic”, with “a rock-solid background and long experience in anti-dumping and other international trade matters”. Folkert is a graduate from Stanford University.

What has been your greatest achievement to date?

Probably the issue of zeroing. The EU was resetting negatively dumped transactions to zero when calculating a weighted average dumping margin under the main rule of conducting a fair comparison. We litigated all the way to the Appellate Body of the WTO which agreed that this zeroing practice was illegal. It was landmark at the time and changed the landscape of anti-dumping. Nowadays the discussion has become more complex. The question now is whether the prohibition should also extend to the exception, which in a way defeats the purpose of having that exception. Discussions can still get heated.

Why did you choose to specialise as a trade and customs lawyer and what do you enjoy most about this role? 

Always wanted to be a diplomat. Ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time! (laughs). Having failed to achieve that goal, being a trade lawyer has allowed me to vicariously live that life. Extensive travel, seeing the world, adventures aplenty; it has been a privilege. Living and working in and around Indonesia in the 1990s was awesome.

What do clients look for in an effective trade and customs lawyer?

Clients not only want results but also devotion, attention to detail and top quality. And preferably all of that together on any given day, for any given assignment. All this is probably not different to any other field of law.

How has the market changed its perception of anti-dumping since you first started practising?

From a client’s point of view anti-dumping used to be terra incognita. Nowadays anti-dumping is widely known, and many lawyers claim to be able to ride that wild horse. Yet, few lawyers are genuinely capable of mastering both the granular details of its mathematical mechanics as well as its arcane legal aspects. Thankfully these days the market has matured and clients know how to separate the wheat from the chaff. In fact, they probably know the legal market much better than we sometimes realise. Price-wise, we have noticed the market become ultra-competitive.

How do you see the World Trade Organisation changing its focus in the next five years? 

As I have said before, trade law, born and grown after the Second World War appears to be ‘aging’. While some might see this as part of adolescence, others would argue that we are in the midst of a full-blown mid-life crisis. Whichever it is, tectonic pressures are at work, with some of the fault lines coming together in Geneva.

To me it seems that reform is around the corner. I strongly believe that the likely to be reformed organisation will eventually rise stronger after the current skirmishes get solved. Regardless of the polemics, the WTO remains a great organisation. I was already fascinated with it during my legal studies when it was still called GATT and did my thesis on the nascent Uruguay Round.

To what extent is international trade becoming more politicised?

Trade law has always been part of politics but has become more visible. Some silent diplomacy used to be relatively hidden but is now on display. Meanwhile the sound volume of some players has increased as well. 

What are the greatest challenges the industry face with the advent of covid-19?

Much about the pandemic is still unknown and underestimated. Nobody knows how this is going to end but hopefully it will end soon. The risk is that when this is all over we fail to start preparing for the next one. As Bill Gates forecasted, climate change is going to be the next big challenge of our lives, yet awareness is still lacking or being suppressed for the sake of other interests. We need to educate our peers, children, and dare to confront this issue head-on.

What is the greatest piece of career advice you have received? 

As the senior partner of HFW, a brilliant guy, once advised: find a good mentor, work hard and be focused. Out of 50 opportunities, it is better to do 10 stellar jobs instead of 50 inadequate ones. I fully agree. And, there is always the ‘luck factor’: myself I have been very lucky to work with great colleagues and fantastic clients. 

Global Leader

WWL Ranking: Global Elite Thought Leader
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