Laurent Ruessmann cuts a distinguished figure as a “very experienced practitioner with a good overall insight in customs and trade matters”. He is further praised for his “great and deserved reputation in trade remedy investigations in which he primarily represents petitioners”.
With a background in public accounting before taking up law, Laurent specialises in a broad range of EU and WTO international trade issues including anti-dumping, anti-subsidy, and safeguard procedures and litigation, as well as customs and export control matters. With substantial experience in product safety and life sciences regulatory matters, as well as with EU environmental law and intellectual property rights, Laurent regularly advises clients on handling these issues from an international trade perspective.
What inspired you to pursue a career in trade law?
I find it extremely interesting to assist businesses in very different sectors, the foundation of our economy in terms of employment, growth and innovation, to navigate the regulatory framework of international trade in very dynamic and challenging circumstances. There is a particular satisfaction in helping clients achieve trade goals in situations where the relevant government(s) are not aware of the stakes and/or are focused on other major policy objectives.
What is the most interesting case you have been a part of to date?
There have been many, ranging from the EU’s first anti-subsidy case against imports from China (coated fine paper from China), to the first time any country initiated simultaneous anti-dumping, anti-subsidy and safeguard investigations of the same product from the same country (wireless modems from China). There were also the largest trade cases in any country ever (solar modules and cells from China, where the exports in question had a value of over EUR 20 billion), as well as the first anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations of imports of electric vehicles (e-bikes from China). There were also the first anti-subsidy investigations where the EU countervailed subsidies granted both by the local government and those from a third country government (China) also directly subsidising the local production (glass fibre fabrics and glass fibre reinforcements from Egypt).
Another major highlight has been the work on behalf of EU manufacturing sectors, with support from many stakeholders including EU labour unions, to ensure that the EU did not simply grant China market economy status in 2016, and to help shape the new anti-dumping methodology the EU ultimately adopted in 2017 for imports from China.
What impact has the EU Green Deal had on the nature of your work and the sector more broadly?
Even before the adoption of the Green Deal, EU green policies were increasingly having an impact in discussions about how best to address various trade issues and were increasingly the focus of trade practitioners because of distortions resulting from the way those policies were designed or implemented. From a trade perspective, the challenge is to ensure that green policy objectives are given their proper place when trade issues are being addressed, but that green policy measures are not designed and/or implemented in a way that distorts the EU market in favour of imports which are in fact not greener than EU products. The current work on a Commission proposal for a carbon border adjustment is an example of a recognition that the EU needs a level playing field to assure coherence in climate policies and not to simply encourage the shift of polluting activities to third countries.
In June 2020, the EC adopted a White Paper concerned with the distortive effects caused by foreign subsidies in the single market. Do you see this as having a wide-ranging impact across multiple sectors? If so, how?
Depending on what legislative proposal or proposals the Commission ends up making, the White Paper could indeed end up having a very wide-ranging impact. A very basic question is how narrowly the scope of a new tool or tools would be defined. If there is a general tool which applies in any sector and to any foreign subsidies which distort economic activities in the EU (regardless of the place of establishment of the beneficiary), the impact could be very wide and beneficial indeed.
How has the EU’s shift to an “open strategic autonomy” framework impacted trade policy reviews? What potential changes are you anticipating?
The Commission’s Trade Policy Review appears designed to collect input to be used to flesh out its new “open strategic autonomy” framework. The main change with this new framework appears to be more one of emphasis than of basic content. There has indeed been a growing recognition that the EU reliance on the good faith of trading partners in the existing multilateral framework has been badly abused, and that it must have the tools to take an effective stand against unfair trading practices, pending an agreement on new rules and true cooperation at international level. Time will tell how well the EU rises to the challenge, both in bolstering existing tools and in devising new tools.
How might changes to EU anti-circumvention laws improve the enforcement of trade defence measures?
In a recent article focused on that issue, I highlighted that the EU’s anti-circumvention rules have not been substantially updated in the 21st century while the actions of governments affecting international trade activities have evolved immensely. Simply put, a number of relatively straightforward changes are needed to ensure that measures actually stop the destruction of EU manufacturing through unfair trading practices.
What challenges are you anticipating the trade industry will encounter in 2021, and how are you preparing to navigate them?
The challenges will be manifold because the world is facing such uncertainties in the context of covid-19 and related government measures. My job is to help businesses get and keep the attention of policy makers, for addressing the trade issues that matter most to them and to the future of sustainable EU manufacturing growth, employment and innovation.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Focus on getting the quickest and best practical results for your clients, and always anticipate the other side’s best arguments by putting yourself in their position.