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Francis Snyder: Find Your Center of Gravity

OCT . 22 2018
Peking University, Oct. 21, 2018: Recently, Professor Francis Snyder from School of Transnational Law, Peking University, receives 2018 Chinese Government Friendship Award. Below is an interview given in 2016.


Professor Francis Snyder is C.V. Starr Professor of Law, and Director of STL’s Center for Research on Transnational Law. He is also Founder and Co-Director of the Pearl River Delta Academy of International Trade and Investment Law (PRAIA), based jointly in Macau and at STL. He also holds a part-time Special Endowed Chair Professorship for Food Safety at Northwest University of Agriculture and Forestry (NWAFU), Yangling, Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, where he serves as Research Director on Food Policy and Law at the Sino-US Joint Research Centre for Food Safety (JRC).

Professor Snyder is a member of the Foreign Experts Advisory Committee (FEAC), State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs (SAFEA), of the People’s Republic of China. He is on the list of arbitrators of the South China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (SCIETAC) / Shenzhen Court of International Arbitration (SCIA) for WTO Law, EU law, and food safety.  He is a member (inactive) of the Bar of Massachusetts. In 1988 the French Republic awarded him the honour of Officier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques. He is listed in Marquis Who’s Who in the World and in International Authors and Writers Who’s Who.

Among recent professional engagements, Professor Snyder was invited to serve as the leading foreign expert to China’s Central Government for reform of the food safety system in China and contributed to reform of the 2009 Food Safety Law. He also attended as an invited guest the speech of China’s President XI Jinping at the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium in April 2014, during President Xi’s visit to Europe, and gave a speech at the High-Level Seminar on ‘China’s Reform and Its Impact on the EU and the World’ organised by the College of Europe EU-China Research Centre and the China Institute for Reform and Development, Hainan.

Nanyan Observer: How did you get to know STL? Why did you come to STL to teach law?

Professor Francis Snyder: Some years ago, when I was a guest professor at Peking University in Beijing, I was invited to a conference at PKU Beijing about the WTO and China. There I met Professor Jeffrey Lehman, and then later we got in touch and we talked about STL. I was very interested in the project, and I was very excited about the possibility of joining the new law school.

I was very interested to
come here for several reasons. First, I have been coming to China since 1997, first at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, and then to the Law School of Tsinghua University, and then to Peking University Law School in Beijing. Second, my research for many years now has been on China – European Union relations, in particular international trade, especially anti-dumping law. So the possibility to work full time in China was very exciting.

Third, another element in STL that I appreciated was the possibility to teach in English. I taught my courses at Tsinghua and also at Peking University Law School in Beijing in English, but of course most of the courses there were in Chinese. Students in my classes spoke English very well, but most of the other students probably didn't speak English so well.  To come here, having the chance to work in English with colleagues and students who spoke both English and Chinese, was very attractive.

Another reason was that I wanted to study Chinese language. I studied Chinese language when I was in Europe and also when I was in Beijing, but only occasionally. So I thought when I came here, I would have much more time to study Chinese language. So far I have not achieved all my objectives, but I hope to be able to do so in the future.

Nanyan Observer: You have different teaching experience in different universities in different countries, what do you think makes STL distinctive and special?

Professor Francis Snyder: I think there are several important elements. First, historically, STL began with a vision, to internationalize PKU's legal education and Chinese legal education. That is a very distinctive feature. Second, the combining of teaching in English and teaching in Chinese. This provides a type of legal education which is unique in the world, for both students and teachers. Third, STL has a wonderful, very intelligent group of students, who work very hard, sometimes too hard, but for teachers that is a real gift, which I appreciate very day. One more thing to add about STL is that the combination of Peking University and Shenzhen and its region is fantastic, not only for Peking University and Shenzhen, but also for the students and teachers.  It is a unique environment in the world, from many points of view, including the legal perspective.

I am particularly interested in food safety law, and Shenzhen in this area is the leader. In addition, technology, innovation, and intellectual property law have developed very rapidly here, for example, Hua
Wei and many big companies, which are at the forefront of innovation. Soon we will have the Qianhai new zone, where the financial law, investment law, and arbitration law will become much more important. Also, I am interested in WTO and international trade, and of course Shenzhen has been the heart of international trade since the beginning of reform and opening. In fact, the first time when I come to Shenzhen was in 1998. I was doing the research on toy industry. I had good fortune to visit a toy factory in Shenzhen to interview the director and lawyers about the codes of conduct, the non-legally- binding codes of conduct, a new type of rules which potentially are so important in many businesses throughout the world. Shenzhen has been the center of China's economic miracle long before then, and it continues to be a model for innovation of many kinds.

It's true that Beijing has more law firms, and many students graduated from STL go to Beijing for their career. In all countries, the capital city exercises a magnetic attraction for students, regardless of which university they graduated from. But it doesn't mean that all the best students or all the best universities are or should be in the capital.  On the contrary, we need to have regional balance and diversity. Shenzhen has many advantages. It is a very dynamic, increasingly international city. Working conditions are good. The government supports the university sector and innovation. In addition, Shenzhen has a good climate. I think there is a balance in every country. In summary, Shenzhen is a great place to teach and do research.

Nanyan Observer: You founded the Center for Research on Transnational Law in STL and said it would work closely with China’s new national food safety research center at Northwest University of Agriculture and Forestry. Can you share more about this Center? How does it work?

Professor Francis Snyder: I have been at STL for seven years. Since the beginning the Center has offered faculty and students a forum and venue for their research. It has organized a major transnational conference, for example, in 2012 we held the International Workshop for Young Scholars (WISH) for young researchers around the world. It was the first in China. In the Center, the lines of research so far have been mainly on food safety and on international arbitration. For both professors and students, the Center has helped to develop international networks, facilitate participation in conferences and so on. In particular, students who have worked with the Center have gone on to very successful careers. I hope that the Center has contributed to this.

Coming back to the food safety research at the Center, we are a part of a major, international project based at the Sino-US Food Safety Research Center at Northwest University of Agriculture and Forestry, in Yangling, one hour from Xi'an. We represent the legal, economic and policy dimensions. The other parts are bio-chemistry, plant science, veterinary science, computer science, and big data for tracing food. So it's mainly science, and we are the only legal and policy
part. I think that this division of labor shows the high quality of the research which is been done in STL and the great contribution we could make to improvements in food safety in China and of course other countries.

Currently, our project focuses on two topics. First, food safety standards. We focus on what is called alignment, which refers to relations between Chinese food safety standards and international standards. Whether Chinese standards should be the same as international standards, or the same as the standards of China’s main trading partners, or whether Chinese conditions are so different that China should develop its own distinctive standards, are very important policy questions. Regarding food safety, they may have extremely significant effects on international trade, consumer protection and public health. So that's one big topic we focus on. Recently I myself have worked for it a lot, on product standards and on standards for apples, of which China is the world’s leading producer and potentially a major exporter.

The second topic is Internet sales of food. The Food Safety Law of 2015 regulates the internet sales of food. This is a very exciting and innovative area of research, because China is really a leader in this field. There are many reasons for its prominence. Population is an important factor. China has a largest number of internet users in the world. So it is a very big market. That means foreign companies and also Chinese companies are very interested in Taobao and other platforms, not only for clothing, computers and other products, but also for food. It is a very big potential market for Chinese companies and for foreign companies, much bigger than the European or the US markets, for example. Another reason is that China has made tremendous leaps in Internet technology. China is advancing very rapidly and in a very innovative way. I think Internet sales of food is just one example of this transformation.

From recent visits to London I know that Internet sales of food are becoming more and more popular in other countries. So I think our research at STL has the potential to make a very big contribution to this topic, concerning for example relations between internet platforms and food producers and consumers, responsibility for any problems with consumer health and safety, how to balance different social and economic interests such as  food safety and Internet sales, the role of government in regulating this area, the consumer demand for international sales of food, and internet sales as a medium for foreign trade, both imports and exports. So a lot of new legal issues have been coming up. STL has the potential to make a major contribution here.

Nanyan Observer: Would you like to share some of your recent academic research which might be related to students?

Professor Francis Snyder: After my book Food Safety Law in China: Making Transnational Law came out in January, I started doing research in the context of the international research project. Recently I have worked on two articles. One concerns European Union, China and product standards. Product standards are everywhere in our daily lives, for example, furniture, computers, cellphones, cars, robots, etc. Every product is based on many standards, which may have been developed by different countries or different international organizations. Today, there is a big competition in the world between the leading actors like China, US, and EU to promote their own standards to be the world-wide standard. From the economic point of view product standards are very important. So my article looked at some of the different fields, such as domestic standards in China and Europe, cooperation between China and EU in developing standards, and the role of international standards made international standardization bodies and used by the World Trade Organization and by all countries in international trade. Though only a short article, it goes beyond food standards to look also at chemicals, nanotechnology, biotech and other products. The article will be published by Routledge Publishes in London in a new leading handbook on EU-China relations.

The second article that I am working on now is an article about international trade of apples. We chose apples because Shaanxi and especially the Yangling area is probably the biggest apple producer in the world. The US and China have recently signed an agreement about trade in apples. Europe also imports many Chinese apples. So this is very interesting from the legal and economic points of view. We can consider apples as a representative of many types of products, raising complex legal, economic and social issues. I start with the economics of apple production, consumption and trade and then look the international trade rules and the WTO rules. Then with my research team here, we did a lot of research on the apple industry in China. In my own research, I decided to look at the use of pesticides in apple production and regulation of pesticide residues in the apples we eat. I also studied the European law to see what are the barriers to Chinese exports of apples, and one of the barrier is heavy use of pesticides. Europe also uses many pesticide, and so does the United States, but China uses more. However, the use of toxic pesticides and differences in national rules about how much pesticide can be used and how much residue remains in the product can have major effects on international trade. Now it is possible to compare which pesticides are used in different countries. I found that there is one pesticide that is used in China for apple production which is prohibited by the European Union. So I am doing research on this
particular pesticide to see why it is not allowed in Europe, and tried to make some recommendations to the government and also the industry here in China about improving exports and dealing with foreign countries. For example, how do you improve the export industry, how do you improve quantity, what are the barriers used by foreign countries, either to protect public health or sometimes as devices to protect domestic industry, or both. To refer to our earlier discussion, these particular questions can refer to part of food safety standards, but also they can refer technical standards many kinds, regarding telecommunications products, computers, etc.

Therefore, starting with a very small topic, like apples, once you take a broad view of the law involved and where and how the rules are made, a research project becomes very big with many practical and theoretical dimensions.

I should add that one of the reasons I got interested in this is because last year my wife and I discovered a very delicious apple coming from Yangling. So, I have personal interest also in this topic. A combination of intellectual and personal reasons explains my current research. In this project we will go on to look more at the comparison of Chinese, European, and American standards, not only about pesticides, but also other products.

Nanyan Observer: You are an expert in food safety in China. Why did you become interested in this specific area in the first place?

Professor Francis Snyder: It's a long story. Personally, I like cooking and I like reading cookbooks, eating in restaurants and trying different foods. From a professional standpoint, however, it started when I was an undergraduate at Yale University, where I won a fellowship to do research in West Africa. Then, after studying law at Harvard Law School, I did my PhD in Paris and my PhD research was about West Africa. I lived in a village for three years, a rice producing village. I lived with a family, was in contact with farmers all day every day, and learned a lot about rice production, land law, dispute settlement, and village life, history and rural-to-urban migration as well. Years later when I started to teach European Union law, I worked a lot on EU agricultural policy. In those days the Common Agricultural Policy was the only common policy in EU and it accounted for about 70% of the case law, about the same amount to the budget, the same amount to the government officials. So starting with agricultural policy, one learned quickly about all the European Union law. I also did consulting for agricultural cooperatives, law firms and governments about the EU agricultural policy and related topics. Later I was invited to organize a conference about food safety in Europe. Then I was invited to go to Hague Academy for International Law in Netherlands to direct a summer research program on food safety.

Now the big connection between doing research on food safety and being at STL came in 2013. In 2013, I had the honor to be invited by Chinese leaders to make some suggestions about how to reform the system of food safety. China’s first food safety law had been adopted in 2009, after the melamine infant formula crisis, which is analyzed in detail in my recent book. In 2013 central government was thinking about a reform, so they asked many Chinese experts to come to help, and they asked me as a leading foreign expert to make some suggestions, so I did that. That was a fascinating exercise, I learned so much. This brought together my experience in agriculture and food safety in other countries, and my great interest in Chinese food safety and Chinese law. Since then I have continued along this line.

Food safety also involves education, consumers, government officials, training, and many areas which are important than the law. The law is only part of it. For me it is interesting because since the beginning of my career I have always taught and done research about the law from a broad perspective, using the purely technical law, of course, but also looking at it from economic, sociological, and historical perspectives, trying to understand the law in its broader context.  

Nanyan Observer: From the 2008 melamine infant formula crisis to today, China food safety law and policy have been developed, can you share briefly about your opinion about the development?

Professor Francis Snyder: That's where the reform of the law really began. There were attempts to reform before that, but like many countries, such as Europe or US, major reforms of food safety law in China were stimulated by crisis. So in 2009 the food safety law was passed and implemented. It was a major step, because before that the main law was the 1995 Food Hygiene Law. The economy was different and the whole context was different. Now in 2009 the government acted the Law which covered the whole range of safety, not just about whether the food is clean, but also about food safety. That's a big step forward.

Then as I mentioned, the Law was reformed again in 2015, with a new Implementing Regulation adopted in 2016. Now the law is so different from what it was in 2008. At that time there was no real food safety law. The law now is complete. The big challenge is implementation in many fields. For China, it is also useful to compare the law and implementation with with other large countries like Brazil, India, and my impression is that China is far ahead. But this remains to be researched.

Nanyan Observer: You are particularly expert in European Union and WTO. Those are two major roles in the process of globalization. Can you share with us about your thoughts in globalization?

Professor Francis Snyder: Recently I read an article by a leading American scholar in a newspaper saying that globalization is finished. Is this correct? What does that mean? China has gained enormously from globalization. Now we may face a different future from what we have seen in the past.  For example, as a teacher, seeking to contribute to the best education for our students, I am revising the syllabus for my WTO Law course. Maybe there is a new theme: what is the impact on international trade and on international trade law of these recent trends, such as reduction of globalization, decrease in international trade, and perhaps decrease in international investment. One important consequence could be a great increase in regional trade agreements. Another might be an increased stimulus to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative. Our job, as teachers and students, is to ask this kind of searching questions, to explore possible theoretical and practical answers, and to contribute to the well-being of society about those kinds of issues.

Another thing about globalization is that it is increasingly obvious that globalization has created winners and losers. No country or region really has a magic wand or easy answer about how to deal with the issues emerging from this contradiction. Now we see in many countries, US, Europe, also probably in China and many other countries, the losers want their voices to be heard. Look at the American election, look at the European Union crises, look at the Brexit. I think this kind of debate is going to have big effect on national governments. Different governments will deal with the consequences of globalization in different ways. But they have to deal with it. I hope that one positive result will be increased international cooperation. PKU Shenzhen and STL have great opportunities to contribute to this process and to address some of the issues that are now emerging everywhere.

Many years ago Karl Marx said that one of the inevitable consequences of capitalism is unequal development. So if we think of globalization as the form of capitalism on a world scale, it's to be expected that there will be big winners and big losers. And what is new is that I think now the losers are making their voices heard in different ways. As teachers, students and citizens, we have a responsibility to contribute to social well-being by exploring these issues.

Nanyan Observer: You have lived in China and researched on China issue for many years, what do you think about China?

Professor Francis Snyder: That's a big question, and the short answer is that I love China, I would not be here if I didn't. It's an honor, a privilege and also a pleasure to be here and to be able to teach our wonderful students, and also to make contribution to the reform of China.

Nanyan Observer: What suggestions will you give to STL students for their future career in law?

Professor Francis Snyder: Keep healthy, that's very important. Work hard. Try to find your center of gravity, what you really like to do, because when you find what you really like to do, you will do better in those things. This may not be the law at all, it may be something else, but it doesn't make any difference. Legal education, especially at STL and other leading law schools, is a preparation for many other careers. My son studied law at London School of Economics and Political Science and also in France, but now he is doing something completely different, and he is very happy. (laugh)

I think if you have a good education and you are fortunate enough when you are young to find out what you want to do, you will do better in that than anything else. That's one thing about my life. I am very happy to do my work and I think that's rare.

Law is like a house which has many rooms. You can find a room you like. The law is not about working in a law firm only. There are many possible careers. It is worth all the hard work and effort of imagination if you want to find room that you like.

Reported by: Chen Fengya from STL
Edited by: Zhang Jiang
Source: School of Transnational Law