Vassiliki Avgoustidi, Founding President of the Organisation of Women in International Trade

The Brussels chapter of the Organisation of Women in International Trade (BWIT) was founded at the start of 2005.

Despite its name, BWIT is open to both men and women.

Brussels Legal asked Vassiliki Avgoustidi, Founding President of BWIT (and a trade law associate at Gide Loyrette Nouel in Brussels), for an overview of the organisation.

BL: What is BWIT's background?

VA: BWIT is the Belgian chapter of the global Organisation of Women in Trade law (OWIT) network. OWIT comprises 22 chapters in the US and eighteen non-US chapters established in (among other cities or countries): Geneva; Toronto; Nairobi; Jamaica; Egypt; Australia; Russia; Peru; Mexico; and South Africa.  It has over 2000 members worldwide.

BWIT is a non-profit professional organisation. It launched in January and is open to men and women with an interest in international trade and trade-related issues as well as in being part of a unique network. Our members are involved in many facets of international trade such as: public relations; government; and international trade law.

BL:What does BWIT do?

VA: BWIT provides a networking platform for its members, creating opportunities to meet like-minded professionals and develop strong links within the trade law community in Brussels' legal, diplomatic and business landscape.

BWIT members hold regular informal meetings to foster a sense of community within the organisation. For example in 2005, BWIT organised three networking and educational events with distinguished guest speakers:

• The first event (March 2005) was a dinner with Ms. Renate Nikolay, Cabinet member of Mr. Peter Mandelson, European Trade Commissioner, as guest speaker.  She discussed with BWIT members and non-members the "Future of EU Trade Policy: Challenges for Mr. Mandelson".

• At a cocktail reception in June 2005, Dr. Despina Spanou, Cabinet member of Mr. Kyprianou, European Commissioner for Health & Consumer Protection, informally discussed with members the "Current EU Trade Policy and Health & Consumer Protection".

•Finally, during a wine & cheese evening BWIT members met and discussed the "Preparations and Expectations of the European Commission and the UK Presidency for the Hong Kong WTO Ministerial Meeting" with both Ms. Sandra Gallina, Lead Negotiator for DDA Non-Agricultural Market Access in DG Trade, European Commission and Mr. Colin Bailey, Deputy Director, Head of Import Operations & Trade Defence, Europe and World Trade Directorate, Department of Trade and Industry (UK).

More events are being organised for and will be soon published in the chapter's website at www.owit.org/chapters.asp.

One of BWIT's future plans is to provide an on-line job search portal available exclusively for its members.

BL: What can you say about the general structure of the organisation?

VA: BWIT is a non-profit organisation and does not employ any person to manage its affairs; it depends on the voluntary work of its members who participate in the executive committee.

BWIT does not have any specific ideological or political agenda and its events do not support any such agenda. Nor does BWIT have any affiliation with any government or other public body in Belgium or elsewhere.

BL: How much does it cost to join BWIT and where can someone find out more information?

VA: It costs 30 euros for an individual membership and 50 euros for a corporate membership (any member of the company can attend events). This membership covers a reduced rate to all BWIT events, simultaneous membership to the global OWIT, right to participate in OWIT's global annual conference, access to a database of all BWIT members and contacts and access to members' only area in OWIT's website.

For more information about BWIT, contact me by email at avgoustidi@gide.com. For more information on OWIT, please go to www.owit.org.

BL: Good luck.  Thank you for your time.