Rabih Nasser is a founding partner of the law firm Nasser, and has 25 years’ experience in the fields of arbitration, business, antitrust and international trade law. He has worked extensively in business transactions and negotiations in various sectors and industries. Besides acting as counsel, arbitrator and mediator, Nasser is professor of international trade law at FGV law school in São Paulo. He has also authored many publications on matters of international economic law, trade law and arbitration. Nasser is part of Brazil’s indicative list of panellists at the WTO, and is a member of the permanent group of experts of the committee on subsidies and countervailing measures.
What inspired you to pursue a legal career?
It was the possibility of defending interests, fighting for certain causes and helping people solve problems. Also the diversity of legal fields and the impact that law can have on persons, countries and society as a whole.
How has your international trade practice evolved since the beginning of your career?
My interest in international law in general, and more specifically international trade, began at university, in the beginning of the 1990s. What interested me most at the time was the impact that trade could have on economic development and how international cooperation through treaties and conventions could contribute to that. As a lawyer, I have been able to work on international trade issues for more than 20 years now, and for almost the same time I have been teaching in the field, which has always been very rewarding.
What new trends and regulations do you see emerging regarding trade remedy investigations in Brazil?
Since the change of government in 2019, the trade remedies system is undergoing reforms. First, the Ministry of Development, Industry, Foreign Trade and Services, which used to conduct trade remedies investigations, was merged into the now powerful Ministry of Economy. The idea was to give more coherence to economic and trade policies. Second, the public interest assessment (ie, considering the effect of trade remedies on the broader interests of economic players and consumers) began to be conducted by the Undersecretariat of Trade Defence and Public Interest (SDCOM). The purpose was to grant more predictability and transparency on how public interest can affect the decisions on trade remedies. New regulations have been enacted, and there are proposals to implement changes and consolidate some practices followed by the trade remedies authority. Besides that, the Chamber of Foreign Trade, an inter-ministerial body responsible for trade policy in Brazil, has also been reformed with the purpose of segregating strategic and operational matters and making the decision process more effective. To what extent all these changes were needed, or will be successful, is yet to be seen.
How would you assess the interplay between multilateral negotiations at the WTO and bilateral agreements such as the US-China agreement?
The multilateral trading system is facing difficult times. There are calls for reform of the WTO, but it is unclear what must or will be done and at what pace. Multilateralism in general is being undermined by unilateral actions and agreements outside the WTO. The trade war between the USA and China is an example of events that can be disruptive of multilateral cooperation. The US-China Phase 1 Agreement reached at the beginning of 2020 is at odds with the idea of free trade that is a core value of the multilateral trading system.
What do you make of the ongoing EU-Mercosur trade negotiations?
The negotiation was concluded in mid-2019, but the agreement was not signed yet. It is undergoing legal revision. It was the first relevant trade agreement concluded by Brazil and Mercosur in many years. However, there are doubts on whether and when it will be ratified by all the EU and Mercosur countries. It is facing objections in some European countries, in part motivated by sectors that can be negatively affected by Mercosur exports – especially of agricultural products – and in part caused by genuine concerns about certain policies being followed by the current Brazilian government. In any case, even if these difficulties are overcome, it will probably take some years until the agreement begins being implemented.
Have there been any recent changes to trade regulations in response to the covid-19 pandemic? If so, how are these affecting practice?
Yes, many emergency trade measures were adopted, going in two directions. On the one hand, there was a reduction of import tax on more than 500 products considered important in the fight against covid-19. On the other hand, restrictions were imposed on exports of some of these same products, to ensure there was a supply in accordance with national need. These restrictions were based on provisions of international agreements providing for a country’s right to adopt restrictive trade measures that are necessary to protect public health. It is still to be seen whether these measures will have a lasting impact on trade policy more generally.
What challenges did you face when setting up your own firm?
The main challenge is the feeling of uncertainty. No matter how prepared one is, you never know for sure if a new project will be successful. But the 11 years of professional experience I already had at that point, and the strong relationships I had built with some of my clients, gave me the confidence needed to take this step. After that, I had the privilege of being joined in the firm by a group of very talented people. They have helped to broaden our client base, diversify our practices and build a successful law firm over the past 13 years.