Business / Industries

Antitrust lawyers a 'hot commodity' in China

By Reuters (China Daily) Updated: 2014-07-04 08:43

Foreign corporations turning to 'hired guns' for deal clearances

China's increasing regulatory influence over international mergers and acquisitions has helped create the hottest new commodity in its legal industry: antitrust lawyers.

Six years ago, China did not even have a legal system for regulating the impact of M&A on competition. But now, its Ministry of Commerce is the biggest wild card for those trying to get a major cross-border deal past antitrust regulators.

Antitrust lawyers a 'hot commodity' in China

Antitrust lawyers a 'hot commodity' in China
The ministry's decision last month to reject Danish shipping group A.P. Moller-Maersk Group's planned alliance with Swiss and French rivals came as a "big surprise" to Maersk Chief Executive Nils Smedegaard Anderson, whose team had been in close contact with the regulator up until just days earlier.

That rejection, on grounds that it was not in the interest of Chinese consumers, was the first time the regulator had blocked a deal that involved no company from China.

With global M&A volume reaching $1.75 trillion in the first half of the year, up 75 percent year-on-year, according to Thomson Reuters data, lawyers who can help companies steer a deal past China's antitrust regime are much in demand.

International law firms such as Linklaters LLP and Mayer Brown JSM have recently bolstered their teams, while Norton Rose Fulbright LLP and King & Wood Mallesons said they are looking to expand their China competition practices.

"From last year, I really feel like spring has come," said Zhaofeng Zhou, counsel at Taylor Wessing LLP in Beijing.

"At the beginning, headhunters would not call you because there were too few jobs, but now they call you all the time."

While recruitment of competition lawyers has been growing since China introduced an antitrust law in 2008, headhunters say there has been a sharp uptick in the past year, even for foreign law firms that are shrinking in other practice areas.

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