A virtuous circle: market opportunities for lawyers
A virtuous circle: market opportunities for lawyers
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A virtuous circle: market opportunities for lawyers in assisting Australian business to make the best of free-trade agreements

Presenter: Yves Renouf
Legal Counsel, World Trade Organisation and Visiting Fellow, University of Adelaide

Chair: Des Pearson
Trade Adviser, International Engagement, Trade, Immigration and Higher Education Directorate

This seminar will be of interest to legal practitioners who deal with international trade, international transactions, cross border dealings and or multinational clients.

"There is more for private legal practitioners in the free-trade agreements (FTAs) recently concluded by Australia than meets the eye.

Indeed, each bilateral or regional free-trade agreement sets up complex legal regimes to ensure that only the parties to this FTA benefit from it. Rules of origin and additional technical standards or sanitary and phyto-sanitary requirements are but a few examples. Not only one has to know how to export, but whatever rule applies under the Japan-Australia FTA may not exist under ChAFTA, and vice-versa.

Many companies could on paper take advantage of FTAs if they didn't face in practice a steep learning curve and significant costs in trying to master these regimes. It is not infrequent for businesses of any size to conclude that it is too costly and time consuming to try to benefit from trade preferences and either give up on the idea of exporting or establishing a presence abroad, or find it cheaper to export outside the preferential regimes painstakingly negotiated by their government.

Moreover, the new FTAs include investment components. The days where only large or transnational companies invested abroad are gone. The digital revolution and the liberalization of trade in services mean that an increasing number of Australian SME have become natural candidates for foreign investment. In addition, concerns about food safety and food security in Asian countries add to the natural appeal of the Australian farming and agri-food sector to foreign investors.

Legal practitioners are ideally suited to navigate through the complex rules imposed by FTAs, relieve their clients from such tasks and allow them to focus on what they do best. In other words, FTAs expand the market for certain forms of legal services, and lawyers may wish to seize this opportunity to help Australian SME actually take advantage of the preferential regimes set up by these FTAs.

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