16 Aug 2017

MILE Alumni Profiles: Sergey Lakhno

If you want to grow as a professional in the field of trade or related fields the MILE is a must.

Lawyer Sergey Lakhno, a graduate of the MILE 3 intake, has recently returned to the public sector after ten years with a major industrial company in Ukraine. Before that he was involved in preparing Ukraine for accession to the World Trade Organization. In this interview he talks about the role the MILE has played in his career.

Tell us about the work you are doing.

After working for almost 10 years for the big industrial company Interpipe that produces oil and gas tubes, pipes and railway wheels, in May 2016 I moved to the public sector – the Ukrainian competition authority known as the antimonopoly committee (AMCU). Those were good years at Interpipe dedicated to the issues I studied at the WTI – defending the company’s trade interests on foreign and domestic markets. I dealt with antidumping, and safeguard and countervailing measures against our products in the EU, USA, Canada, Brazil, Russia and later the Eurasian Union. This was of course a two-way process – we also defended our interests by lifting trade barriers for imports unfairly entering the Ukrainian market. Antidumping and other trade remedies practice is very popular in the private sector in Ukraine (and I suppose not only in Ukraine). Tubes and pipes are the products second most frequently affected by trade distortive measures such as antidumping, which also ranks in second position of the policy instruments that negatively affect trade.

Working at the AMCU I am lucky to head the department which deals with another trade-related issue – provision of state aid to enterprises. The AMCU has had the new function of monitoring and control of the state aid granted and its impact on competition since 2 August when the law came into force. In general, competition issues overlap with trade, which made it easier for me to get on track quickly with competition issues.

You were previously involved in the preparations for Ukraine’s accession to the WTO. What can you tell us about that?

I started working on Ukraine’s accession to the WTO in 1999 when we were to a large extent still in the initial stage of the negotiating process. The first document drafted that I had a part in was the memorandum on Ukraine’s foreign trade regime. Later I gained very valuable practical experience related directly to a broad range of WTO-related issues. I was directly involved in drafting the report of the Working Party on Ukraine’s accession to the WTO, drafting the Schedule of specific commitments in services, preparation of the WTO consistent legislation, dealing with different aspects of trade, economic and legal policy and instruments including trade remedies, trade related investment measures, market access conditions and their improvement, bringing legislation into conformity with the WTO rules, participating in negotiations and many other tasks.

Those were very busy times with a heavy workload, but at the same time the job was very interesting, requiring analytical and creative skills which I really enjoyed. We had a very dedicated young team and although the majority of us were no longer working with the ministry when Ukraine got WTO membership in May 2008, I believe the team of those years laid the strong foundations for our followers to complete this long route successfully.

You were part of the MILE 3 intake and went straight into a job with the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine. To what extent has the MILE facilitated your career?

I left the ministry to study in Bern in September 2002 and returned in 2003, when Ukraine was still in the process of accession to the WTO. We really needed specialists in the field of WTO law, because in Ukraine there were no such training programmes at that time. Did the MILE help my professional growth and career advancement? Certainly, yes. After MILE, I returned to a higher position. But this was not the main thing. Another important point was that I got knowledge which I could share with colleagues, and which was desperately needed.

If you want to grow as a professional in the field of trade or related fields the MILE is a must. I say this because I experienced it myself. My study on the MILE programme contributed to my further growth in public service and successful work in a private company. Before my transition to a private company, I had worked only in the public service and on a technical assistance project. Such a track record in Ukraine is not the most favourable for transitioning to a large private company. But I assume that the keywords MILE and the WTI, together with the knowledge I gained there, played a significant role in my hiring and that was why I was able to successfully work in the company for many years. It is my strong belief that in every other country the MILE’s effect would be the same. Taking into account the successful development and progress of the Institute and its educational programmes, including MILE, over the past 15 years it has actually become a kind of a quality mark acknowledged by trade world professionals, academics, companies and international organisations.

What can you tell us about your MILE experience?

This was a great experience in all respects. I built up friendly relations with many classmates and the Institute staff. The programme’s format, structure, level of visiting professors and faculty, topics they covered and the way they did it was really highly professional.

The format of teaching when you have weekly modules fully dedicated to a particular topic and 24 hours for a written assessment at the end of the week is very intensive, challenging and sometimes stressful. But this approach is good because of its closeness to reality. During our careers we often have to face similar or even tighter deadlines. At the WTI you can write your assessment wherever you want – working in the library or lying on the beach with your notebook close to the River Aare. The main point is to produce a good piece of work. In this way, you learn to effectively manage your time and yourself, meet deadlines and fulfil your own action plan. In drafting assessments you improve your analytical and writing skills.

We also did a number of negotiation simulations dividing into teams and representing imaginary countries. During such trainings you learn to work successfully and find a common language in international teams of multicultural persons. You train to possess effective enough oral and presentation and communication skills. There is no doubt that during the MILE programme you gain many practical skills you will have great need of later in your career.

And last but not least – not only do you look at the lecturer but he or she also looks at you attentively. The better you perform in class the greater the chance you have to establish contacts with a partner in a legal or consultancy firm, a representative of an international organisation, academic institution or think tank. They are looking for young talents and may boost your career.

How important to you is it to be part of the WTI network?

Networking is probably no less important than the knowledge itself gained during the year on MILE. As our dean from Kiev National Economic University used to say: “You are here not to know everything but to know where you can get all the knowledge you need”. This is one hundred percent true about the WTI network. And you start to understand it even more clearly in the years after graduation. During that one year you get to know so many people, you make friends with your classmates, and form professional friendships with professors and practitioners who teach you. Over the years the majority of these people will grow professionally and move into higher positions in a huge variety of organisations, companies, think tanks, legal or consultancy firms. And almost all of them are very responsive and will always do their best – if not actually help you then at least advise who can help.

The WTI network is a really valuable thing, but it is not only about the professional use you can make of it but first and foremost about human communication with people with whom you are pleased to communicate. I am really happy that my modest initiative to create a WhatsApp group for MILE 3 students was met with enthusiasm by classmates at the end of year 2016 and we now have a possibility to stay in touch 24 hours a day. Taking this opportunity, I call on all MILE 3 students who are not yet in it, or anybody who knows us, to join our group.