5 Jul 2017

MILE Alumni Profiles: Lerato Ntlopo

The reading culture sharpened my research and analytical skills.

For MILE 10 graduate Lerato Ntlopo the MILE was a stepping stone to a career in international trade that has taken her from Geneva to Windhoek with various stops in between. In addition to her work with the Southern African Customs Union, she is undertaking a PhD in trade in services.

Where are you from originally, and what brought you to the MILE?

I am a Mosotho, from the Kingdom of Lesotho, fondly known as the Kingdom in the Sky, in Southern Africa. I started off with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration, and worked for the Ministry of Trade and Industry from 2003. I joined the External Trade Department in 2004 dealing with trade policy and trade negotiations. In 2007, I had the opportunity to pursue a Postgraduate Diploma in Management Practice (Trade Law and Policy) at the University of Cape Town under the Trade Law Centre for Southern Africa (Tralac) programme.  My inquiring mind led me to enrol on the MILE programme in pursuit of more knowledge of international trade regulation. The interdisciplinary nature – a mix of international relations, law and economics – was the element that attracted me as I strived for an international trade-related career.

Where are you working now?

I am currently working at the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) Secretariat based in Windhoek, Namibia. I assumed the office of Deputy Director Trade Negotiation in the Policy Development and Research Directorate in January 2016. My main duties include to coordinate and support the five SACU Member States in their regional integration agenda as well as their unified engagement with third parties in trade negotiations aimed at integration in the global trading system.

How do you look back on your time in Bern?

My time in Bern was both challenging and exciting. Challenging, because I commenced my studies without a scholarship. Fortunately, I was then afforded sponsorship by the European Free Trade Area (EFTA) Secretariat in Geneva, whom I am very grateful to for honouring their capacity building initiatives within the free trade agreement with SACU. I am also grateful to the WTI for the tuition waiver for, without their consideration, I may have not enrolled. Exciting, because I consider Bern to have been a fundamental step in my career development. During the programme, I read more than I ever had and possibly would ever do again. The reading culture sharpened my research and analytical skills.

I also met people from different corners of the world from whom I learned valuable lessons. I toured so many European countries and learned different cultures. And yes, having to run to catch the train each morning is one of the things I can’t forget; at one point I thought why not join the Soweto Marathon!

Another amazing experience was the moot court; I didn’t even know I could get stage fright to that extent! Truly, my Bern memories remain as alive as if it was just yesterday while it was actually seven years ago. Special appreciation goes to professors Thomas Cottier and Pierre Sauvé as well as MILE staff Margrit Vetter, Susan Plattner and all the highly skilled lecturers who were always willing to assist the students.

How has the MILE shaped your career since?

Immeasurably: it was a stepping stone to my international career. Immediately after MILE, I was afforded an opportunity at the Lesotho Mission in Geneva, as an intern under the WTO Mission Internship Programme.I made a commitment to impart knowledge to colleagues upon my return to Lesotho from Geneva, which I gladly honoured. From 2011 until 2013, I was Chief Trade Development Officer, leading the Lesotho trade in services negotiations team under the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Thereafter I joined the SADC Secretariat Economic Partnership Agreement Unit in December 2013, staying until May 2014. I subsequently joined the Commonwealth Hubs and Spokes Programme [trade capacity building programme for Africa, Caribbean and Pacific groups of States], and was a National Trade Advisor for the Republic of Uganda until December 2015. I joined the SACU Secretariat in January 2016. What I learned during the MILE was like a compass for my future endeavours.

You are also doing a PhD. Can you tell us about that?

I am pursuing a PhD in Public Constitutional and International Law at the College of Law, University of South Africa (UNISA). My area of focus is trade in services, which is interesting, although it requires extra effort because studying combined with a congested African negotiating schedule can be overwhelming. The first chapter of my thesis is due for submission in August 2017.