Law firm Squire Patton Boggs is sharpening its Asian engagement strategy, with former Lavan partner Tony Chong appointed to head its Asia desk in June.
Mr Chong’s newly established role will integrate work on cross-border transactions, particularly incoming Asian investment, and local businesses trading with Asia.
“The idea is to service those connections better in a coordinated fashion,” Mr Chong told Business News.
Mr Chong said he would be based in Perth, as it was the leading city for Asian engagement in Australia.
Other firms have also looked north, including Minter Ellison, with Perth-based China markets leader Adam Handley; and Mallesons Stephens Jacques, which merged with Hong Kong-based King & Wood in 2012.
“We as lawyers need to be much more than lawyers, trading with Asia requires you to be very commercial, very connected to people on the ground,” Mr Chong said.
“(Clients) are looking for us to be able to tell them who are the right parties to deal with, what are the risks, not just the legal risks but (business risks) and reputational risk.”
One area on the radar is China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure program connecting Eurasia.
“I don’t think many (local) people do know the opportunities from the Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
“We’ll use our network overseas to promote our expertise to deal with (issues that arise from it).
“It’s not just what’s happening in Perth, it’s what expertise we can provide within Australia and overseas.”
Mr Chong is vice-president of the WA Chinese Chamber of Commerce and has experience in Asian-Australian business relationships.
The elephant in the room, he said, was the recent diplomatic tension between Australia and China, although that had not yet hit investment.
The free trade agreement, which took force in 2015, had been beneficial, notably by changing restrictions on Foreign Investment Review Board approvals.
Yet there remained some uncertainty in overseas markets about the process, Mr Chong said, partly driven by reporting in the media and by decisions such as opposition to the original proposed acquisition of S Kidman & Co by a Chinese interest.
Locally, hiking stamp duty on foreign buyers didn’t help, he said, but moves to cut company tax were a positive to encourage investment.
“Tax is a factor, a big factor,” Mr Chong said.