There are a variety of global trends impacting the international trade landscape. The effects of the trade war between the US and China have been evident in both countries as GDP slows, consumers are hit with higher prices for goods and job growth suffers.
In the sanctions field, the US continues to play a heavy role in bringing actions against countries such as North Korea and Venezuela. Practitioners also report that Brexit-related trade work is starting to crop up, pointing to a nascent market as the UK potentially draws near to leaving the EU. In the legal world, these matters have sparked considerable activity as lawyers work to support international and domestic clients through changing trade protocols and to understand the commercial implications of tariffs, sanctions and a fast-developing developing global market.
Lawyers were quick to highlight an increase in activity deriving from the US-China trade war, with one stating, “Trade issues have risen to the forefront and there is lots of work in the space,” while for others, “International trade work has boomed, especially with the Trump administration stance.” As tariffs continue to be used by the Trump administration, lawyers report a “strong uptick in enforcement actions consistent with the administration’s trade priorities” while also noting, “Enforcement measures are much more political in nature now and we’re seeing extreme results which we have not seen previously.” Commentators also highlight a change in the methods of enforcement, noting that traditional cases such as anti-dumping and countervailing duties claims are being supplemented by previously little-used elements of the 1974 Trade Act such as s301, which allows the US to circumvent certain enforcement requirements under WTO rules.
Sanctions work is equally strong, also driven by US and EU enforcement in the area. Practitioners from around the world note a high level of activity in the space, describing it as “a booming area”. Respondents note, “Economic sanctions work has been keeping us busy due to activity against Iran, Venezuela and Russia.” The difference in the economic sanctions posed by the EU and the US is a critical element of the boost in work for practitioners, as the diversity in the penalties require a significant level of sophistication in the compliance protocols of client. Lawyers highlight this, stating: “The disparity between the EU and US regimes is creating complexity for clients.” Several mention that they are working to develop the global compliance programmes for companies keen to remain onside with US and EU sanctions rules.
Adding to these important considerations for lawyers is the burgeoning market for Brexit work. Lawyers note that they are “seeing questions about Brexit and implications for WTO obligations” and “market authorisations in relation to Brexit”. While activity is currently limited to client questions and requests for market analyses, the lack of clarity surrounding the political activity spells the potential for another source of work for lawyers in the space.