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“The world,” says Charlene Barshefsky, “is an endlessly fascinating place.” She should know. The former U.S. trade representative has been around it so many times, she says, she quit counting years ago. Now, as the senior international partner at WilmerHale, Barshefsky, 57, stands out in the trade field, her sophisticated counsel sought by Fortune 100 companies on a range of issues. In advising clients, she draws on her extensive government service — five years as U.S. trade representative and three as deputy USTR — and the 300-odd trade agreements she negotiated, including the deal that brought China into the World Trade Organization. Her expertise in the Far East has borne fruit in private practice: Barshefsky estimates that about one-third of her work today is related to China. Cisco Systems Inc. offers a good example. About five years ago, the company turned to Barshefsky to resolve a difference of opinion with a Chinese competitor over the use of Cisco’s intellectual property. General counsel Mark Chandler says Barshefsky’s “appreciation of the way the Chinese authorities would view the issue was vital to getting a workable solution.” Last year, Barshefsky helped Chandler prepare for testimony about the Internet and human rights in China before a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee. Her expertise, he says, “allowed us to provide information in a way that was responsive to the concerns of the committee.” Chandler continues, “Her level of knowledge about how things will work in a very complex area is really extraordinary. There are a lot of good lawyers who can look at a sheet of music and tell you what the notes are. Charlene understands the melody, as well.” Tim Dattels, a partner at Texas Pacific Group, also known as TPG Capital, is equally effusive. “I view her as a very high-level strategist, as opposed to a lawyer per se,” he says. Dattels spent a week with Barshefsky in Vietnam prior to his private equity fund’s 2006 investment in Hanoi-based FPT Software. He praises Barshefsky’s extensive contacts in government and industry and her “very, very keen political sense.” Plus, after 50 meetings in three days, he says, he was completely exhausted, but she was “as fresh at the end as the beginning. She’s absolutely tireless.” Barshefsky and partner Robert Novick currently lead the Wilmer team representing Boeing Co. in a pair of mammoth WTO disputes. In 2004, the United States filed a WTO complaint against the European Union, alleging that the French plane maker Airbus has received more than $100 billion in benefits from low-cost or no-cost government financing. The European Union countered that Boeing has received $23 billion in U.S. government aid, primarily in the form of tax breaks and research grants. A WTO panel is expected to issue its report in the U.S.-filed case in December and weigh in on the European Union’s complaint in June 2008. As outside counsel to Boeing, Barshefsky is working closely with lawyers at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — familiar ground, given her eight years at the agency. In 1993, then-USTR Mickey Kantor recruited her as his deputy. When he first contacted her, Barshefsky recalls, “I didn’t know him from Adam.” But after a two-hour meeting, he offered her the No. 2 job at the agency. “I said no,” she says. “I enjoyed my law practice, and I had young children.” After mulling it over for 10 days and talking to her family, she changed her mind. She has no regrets, she says. When Kantor moved to the Commerce Department in 1996, Barshefsky became acting USTR; she was confirmed by the Senate in 1997. She calls it “truly one of the great Cabinet positions.” During her tenure, which she describes as one of the most active periods in the agency’s history, she oversaw the negotiation of many trade deals, including the bilateral trade agreement with Vietnam, the free trade agreement with Jordan, and global agreements on financial services, telecommunications, and high-tech goods. Along with China’s Zhu Rongii, Barshefsky was the principal negotiator and architect of the landmark agreement that paved the way for China’s accession to the WTO in 2001. “It was a phenomenal experience,” she says, “but quite grueling.” Barshefsky knew from the moment she earned her law degree from Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law in 1975 that she wanted to pursue international work. “I’ve always had a great curiosity about the world,” she says. She joined D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson and, for the next 18 years, counseled corporate clients on trade disputes over steel, tuna, lumber, and more, as well as lobbying and testifying on Capitol Hill. When she left the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in 2001, she joined Wilmer along with Novick, who had been general counsel at the agency. Other noted colleagues at the firm include John Greenwald, Gary Horlick, and Charles Levy. But before starting at Wilmer, even the indefatigable Barshefsky admits, “I first slept for two months.”

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