This week we lost two great people: Aretha Franklin and Kofi Annan. One was a singer, one of the greatest singers recorded since recordings became available, the other was president of the United Natioms.

I could talk a blue streak about Aretha. How her music brought soul to life, how she was direct and emotive when she sang, how her music moved me. But that’s not relevant to a legal blog. So, instead I’m going to discuss a little bit about international organizations like the UN, and how they help developing countries like Vietnam.

I remember when Vietnam joined the WTO. It brought a huge amount of billable to lawyers because each good or service had to be checked in the WTO accession agreements schedules. But that was good, because the WTO accession led to a roadmap of deregulation and international investment.

I remember checking the schedules for services: education, entertainment, construction, transportation, and on and on. The schedules became friends they were so familiar. I also read the othe agreements and found things that were not being followed or applied, though no one seemed to mind. That is, except for the various chambers of commerce established in Vietnam.

Each good or service contained in the schedules was reserved for so many years and stepped down over so many more. It was a practice in international law, something that prepared me for dealing with INCO terms and other international agencies.

In Laos, I remember the WTO accession. We were in the middle of an arbitration with the government because they were in the process of nationalizing our assets, and we even talked about trying to stop the accession vote. But we were too little, too late, and Laos was voted in, and soon thereafter ratified the accession.

I wasn’t working in a law firm at the time, and as an in-house counsel I was little affected by the change,  though we did have a fun time with the stated rules for gaming. (That was sarcasm by the way, something I point out because it’s hard to write and be understood.) Otherwise, Laos saw little benefit while I was there, though Chinese investors were planning lots of construction projects at the time.

Besides the WTO, the World Bank, ODA, and the IMF all show their hands in the developing world. And there is ASEAN. I worked a little with ASEAN when I first started with Indochine Counsel. Setting out current rules and shortcomings in the legal framework for a single customs window across the regional body. I saw this too, in Laos, and saw the way that Laos had very few laws set out to deal with something like that.

And then Cambodia. There the rules are different, for while Laos’ National Assembly often mimics Vietnam’s, Cambodia is a kingdom, not a socialist republic, and is very sensitive to the constant interference it sees in international organizations and NGOs.

That is neither here nor there, and Vietnam remains the focus. But looking at the country’s efforts at fixing broken bank policy, de-nationalizing state owned enterprises, and setting a regional example for climate change efforts one can see that Vietnam has gone a long way towards integrating its economy into the global reach.

It is interesting, too—as a final thought—that the United States treats Vietnam like a runty little brother to China. In its trade definitions it treats the two countries identically, seeing in them the remains of communism and acting accordingly. This is an unfortunate viewpoint on the part of the United States as Vietnam is distinct from China in so many ways. Particularly, in its attention paid to international organizations and public opinion.

And finally, I want to give my respects to the recently departed, both sought to speak to the world, though in different ways, and now their voices are silenced. Rest In Peace.