Balancing Act: Challenges of Free Trade Zones to Be Examined at 2018 Middle East and Africa Conference

Published: October 15, 2018

INTA’s 2018 Middle East and Africa Conference: Innovation, Investment, and IP will take place December 10‒11 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and will examine the most pressing issues for intellectual property (IP) owners in this complex and developing region. In addition to addressing practical approaches to topics including cross-border enforcement, counterfeiting, and harmonization, the conference will feature an inspirational keynote from athlete Michael Haddad, whose paralyzing jet ski accident at age six did not stop him from winning three world records in walking, climbing, and snowshoeing, and ultimately led to breakthroughs in spinal cord research and advancements in exoskeleton technology (see box).

On day one of the conference, Session 2 will examine “The Role of Free Trade Zones to Promote Economic Growth.” Particularly in developing regions, free trade zones are crucial for attracting investment and commercialization, but they open the door to counterfeiters and enforcement problems for IP owners. Lara Kayode (O. Kayode & Co., Nigeria) will moderate this session, which will feature panelists from Dubai Customs, Louis Vuitton, the Emirates Intellectual Property Association, the Nigerian Office of Trade Negotiations, and private practice. Ms. Kayode spoke with the INTA Bulletin about her expectations for the session and the conference overall.

A Special Opening Keynote

Michael Haddad battled back from a spinal cord injury stemming from a jet ski accident at age six, which left him paralyzed from the chest down. Through a collective effort to raise awareness on climate change, water pollution and marine life, and reforestation, Mr. Haddad accomplished three world records in walking, climbing, and snowshoeing in Lebanon’s extreme environments.

Mr. Haddad’s athletic achievement became a “game changer” for the spinal cord injury research field and with his participation and collaboration has led to studies and advancements in exoskeleton technology.

Hear this inspiring story, which is living proof of what technology and innovation can do in our daily lives.

How will your session approach the topic of free trade zones?
The panel I’m moderating comprises officials from law enforcement, customs, private practice, and in-house counsel. Each member will discuss their relevant experiences in the region, and we are hoping to have an interactive discussion among the panellists. I believe these various perspectives will be enlightening for attendees, as these are the people on the ground who are dealing with the issues that arise from free trade zones in this region.

What are some of the unique challenges for governments when setting up free trade zones in the Middle East and Africa in particular?
The general challenge is balancing the necessary protection of IP rights (IPRs) holders with the need to generate income and encourage investment in the various countries. In this region, inadequate infrastructure and resources, foreign exchange restrictions, security concerns, trade agreements, and international obligations further complicate this balance.

What are the main challenges for IP owners in these free trade zones?
Inadequate legislation and inefficient enforcement mechanisms against possible infringement of IPRs within the free trade zones are the main challenges for those seeking to protect their IP.

Which countries in the region have successfully employed free trade zones to further economic development?
In the UAE, there are about 37 free trade zones, and in Africa, there are several, including in Djibouti, Egypt, Gabon, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Tunisia.

You will have to attend the session to find out how many have been able to successfully utilize these free trade zones!

Are there other sessions/topics or events you’re looking forward to attending at the conference?
I am looking forward to attending all the sessions, of course, and I am particularly keen not to miss out on the keynote speaker, Michael Haddad, whose story is inspirational and very relevant to innovation.

What do you think the value is for INTA members in attending the conference?
The content of the conference is diverse, and I believe it will be an opportunity for members and non-members alike to learn more about the development and importance of innovation, IPR, and investment in this vast and increasingly economically relevant part of the world.

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