JAPAN'S renewed interest in Australia as an investment opportunity is driving Australian law firms to open up offices in the city of savvy clients and sushi.
Law firm Blake Dawson announced today it would become the first Australian law firm to open an office in Tokyo, a move it hopes will strengthen its presence across Asia.
Deacons, meanwhile, will have a Tokyo presence when it merges with international firm Norton Rose in January next year. The firm says its clients are "very very positive" about the prospect of a Tokyo base for the lawyers and partners it currently uses with Deacons.
Blake Dawson said the new office, which is expected to open its doors in early 2010, will enable the firm to have close contact with some of its current clients and Japan's leading trading houses, financial institutions, energy and resources, infrastructure and consumer products companies.
The firm's north Asia group head, Ian Williams, said: "Blake Dawson has led the way in acting for Japanese client in Australia, Indonesia and PNG over the last 15 years."
Blakes' new Tokyo office will be headed by Natsuko Ogawa, who has been appointed an international partner in the firm's Asia practice. Natsuko acts for a broad cross section of Japanese clients in M&A, joint ventures, energy and resources projects.
Deacons partner Adrian Ahern, who recently spoke on a panel at the Lowy Institute on Japanese investment in Australia, says the country is still Australia's largest trading partner. Investment in the past 18 months has taken off, he said, and so Tokyo is a sensible option for a firm to place its lawyers.
"In the last couple of decades a lot of Japanese investment has been focused on the mining, oil and gas sector generally. But in the last 18 months, large Japanese trading houses that have been here for a long time have been investing in sectors where they haven't otherwise invested," Ahern said.
He said the firm had seen a major Japanese trading house being a participant in the successful consortium of building the Melbourne desalination plant. It has also seen some of the companies that usually invest in "straight up and down mining and gas now investing in mining oil and gas ventures that are outside the ordinary. Maybe there is some innovative technology involved", he said.
Ahern said that in the past year there has been significant investment in the food and beverage sector, most notably Kirin buying Tooheys, and Asahi buying the local assets of Cadbury Schwepps.