Fabrizio Di Gianni
Office:
Glaverbel Building
Chaussée de la Hulpe 166 Terhulpsesteenweg
B-1170
City:
Brussels
Country:
Belgium
Tel:
+32 2 647 73 50
Fax:
+32 2 640 64 99

Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Brexit

Fabrizio Di Gianni is a partner in Van Bael & Bellis’ Brussels office. He holds two master’s degrees in law, from the College of Europe and Georgetown University. He practises EU and Italian competition law, and EU and international trade law, and is recognised by the major legal directories for his expertise in these areas of law. He also assists clients in other aspects of EU law, including free movement of goods and regulatory law, particularly the car industry.

DESCRIBE YOUR CAREER TO DATE.

I was drawn to EU law from my studies at university and found my way to the firm of Van Bael & Bellis through Ivo Van Bael, who lectured us on anti-dumping and competition law at the College of Europe. Even at that stage, the firm had an unparalleled reputation for both international trade law and EU competition law. From the first days of my professional life, I found both trade law and competition law to be a natural fit for me. I joined VBB in 1990 and became a partner in 1998.

DESPITE THE UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING BREXIT, WHAT STEPS ARE YOU TAKING TO ENSURE THAT CLIENTS IN THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE FIELD ARE PREPARED FOR ITS EFFECTS?

Under the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, the UK would be free to negotiate, sign, and ratify FTAs during the implementation period and to bring them into force from January 2021. So, there is a strong likelihood that such FTAs would to a great extent reproduce the network of trading relationships that the UK currently has as a member state of the EU. Needless to say, no final decision can be taken pending the conclusion of the negotiations and the subsequent action to be taken by the UK. In the meantime, we are closely monitoring the withdrawal negotiations and updating our clients via our Brexit Knowledge Hub on our firm’s website.

HOW WILL STATE AID DISCUSSIONS BE AFFECTED BY BREXIT?

Technically, state aid legislation only applies to measures granted by member states, even though preferential trade agreements negotiated by the EU in recent years often include provisions mirroring articles 107-109 TFEU.

The UK, which has long been a proponent of a rigorous State aid system, has declared that it is committed to continuing the control of anti-competitive subsidies by creating a UK-wide subsidy control framework, under the supervision of the national competition authority (CMA). However, it remains to be seen whether after Brexit the scope and intensity of the control by the CMA will be fully aligned with that of the Commission (in this regard the UK has already declared its intention to develop an autonomous policy regarding payments to farmers, its public procurement policy and its tax regime).

WILL BREXIT HAVE ANY EFFECT ON EU COMPETITION ISSUES MORE GENERALLY? 

In contrast to state aid, which involves political decisions to a certain degree, in the application of antitrust law it may be expected that the UK will vigorously implement its competition law in line with the Commission practice. As a matter of fact, the Commission will retain its competence to apply articles 101 and 102 to UK undertakings even after Brexit, provided that certain conditions are met.

The UK has led the way globally in the field of competition law and enforcement and has one of the strongest competition regimes in the world. After the UK leaves the EU, it is likely that the CMA will continue to cooperate strongly with the Commission.

It is likely that the UK will seek to work with the EU to build on established cooperation arrangements, such as those found in existing FTAs, in order to manage parallel merger and antitrust investigations. These should include provisions on sharing confidential information and working together on live cases, and ensuring that the UK and the EU continue to take a robust approach in enforcing competition rules.

WHAT EFFECT DO YOU THINK BREXIT WILL HAVE ON REGULATORY POLICY-MAKING IN THE EU? 

The effects of Brexit on regulatory policy-making in the EU will have to be assessed in the longer term. It is likely that the performance of the UK economy after Brexit will affect the situation in many member states which are currently advocating greater sovereign discretion and ultimately at EU level.

WHY IS VAN BAEL & BELLIS WELL-PLACED TO OFFER CLIENTS BREXIT-RELATED TRADE ADVICE?

Over the past 30 years, Van Bael & Bellis has been extensively involved in the practical aspects of the implementation of trade and competition law, both at the EU level and in non-EU jurisdictions. Moreover, it has substantial experience in WTO law. This strong background puts Van Bael & Bellis in a unique position to assist its clients in respect of the developments which Brexit may produce in connection with trade and competition.

WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR CLIENT’S CONCERNS REGARDING BREXIT?

At the moment, our clients are concerned about all of the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, in particular the scope of, the new regime and the timing of its entry into force.

IN YOUR OPINION, HOW DO YOU THINK THE INTERNATIONAL TRADE PRACTICE AREA WILL CHANGE OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?

Over the past few months, particularly after measures were imposed on steel based on US Section 232, the world trading system has been experiencing a kind of turmoil as never before. At this time, free trade seems to be sacrificed for the sake of protectionism. It will have to be seen whether this protectionist trend will continue or whether, hopefully, multilateralism based on a constructive dialogue on an international scale will resume.

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