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New UK-Aus free trade agreement could create ‘tremendous opportunities’ for lawyers

21 June 20 - In the News

Author: Tony Zhang
Publication: Lawyers Weekly 
Publication date: 21/06/2020
Publisher: Momentum Media

With the Australian-UK free trade moving into the next step, the new deal could have significant positive impacts on the Australian legal profession.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says the coronavirus-induced recession has made a new free trade deal between Australia and the UK even more important.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that a trade deal between the UK and Australia would bring “wonderful” Tim Tam biscuits to Britons at a “reasonable price”.

The British government hopes trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand will aid the coronavirus recovery by opening up new markets for businesses and creating jobs.

Its analysis suggests the value of UK exports to the two countries could increase by $1.46 billion as a result of trade deals.

Carl Hinze, Holding Redlich corporate and commercial law partner, told Lawyers Weekly that the commencement of negotiation of the UK-Aus FTA presents tremendous opportunities for the Australian legal profession.

“The institutional and person-to-person links between the legal sectors in Australia and the UK are deep and profound,” Mr Hinze said.

“We also share with our colleagues in the UK a commitment to the rule of law and to open and rules-based international trade and investment.”

Mr Hinze said that the UK-Aus FTA could see a sharp rise in Australia’s already strong levels of legal services exports. 

As a result, Australian legal professionals can look forward to increased opportunities to advise on cross-border trade and investment and to deliver legal remedies where necessary.

The FTA could also help to further enhance market access for providers of legal services and facilitate transnational legal practice.

The Law Council also said that the bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with the UK has the potential to offer a range of opportunities for the Australian legal profession.

Law Council president, Pauline Wright, said that an FTA will further strengthen the ties between our two nations, with the potential to benefit both countries.

“Our legal system is intricately linked with that of the United Kingdom, and we share a commitment to the rule of law and to an open and rules-based system of international trade,” Ms Wright said.

“While Australian lawyers presently enjoy good access to the UK legal services market, there is still room to improve market access and deliver a best practice framework to support transnational practice and trade in legal services – including by promoting mutual recognition and limited liability partnerships.

“Removing restrictions on trade in legal services would better facilitate and underpin two-way trade across all goods and services sectors. Therefore, strong and meaningful market access commitments for providers of legal services must be a priority.”

Impacts on Australia's legal industry 

Although English law has been the law of choice underpinning much of transnational trade and investment, according to the Law Council of Australia, “Brexit” will likely increase the need for advice covering Australian, English and third-country law.

The LCA noted that, for example, Australian lawyers can work together with UK lawyers currently assisting clients to set up companies in the UK. 

Such companies can currently trade without unnecessarily restrictive barriers in the European Union (EU) single market.

Australian lawyers are also presently able to work with UK lawyers to assist Australian companies based and operating in the EU, even though company law has never been harmonised in the EU. 

“This is possible because the single market allows limited companies to be set up under the laws of England and Wales even if they are based, for example, in Germany, France or Italy,” Ms Wright said. 

In the face of this uncertainty, and in order to effectively respond to whatever new trade and investment relationships are created post-Brexit, it is more important than ever that clients continue to have access to high-quality legal services covering the laws of multiple jurisdictions.

The “Brexit” decision also creates broader uncertainty about the future of the UK’s commercial law regime, according to the Minerals Council of Australia. 

Brexit raises questions about the UK’s application of the EU’s common market legal regime which ensures harmonised commercial policies in areas such as competition law, resulting in a period of commercial uncertainty particularly in relation to cross-border or international transactions.

These issues and uncertainties have the potential to disadvantage Australian businesses with direct or indirect exposure to UK financial services, capital markets and broader business law and regulation.

“It’s a lot to do at the same time. The scale of the trading partners that the UK is negotiating with at the same time, it’s unprecedented,” said Aline Doussin, a trade partner at law firm Hogan Lovells.

“Australia is a key priority for the UK government and perhaps that might be an easier one than Japan or the US, but we don’t know.”

The UK was Australia’s third-largest two-way goods trading partner in 1973 but is now the 12th.

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