THE FEDERAL Attorney-General hopes to further develop Australia’s links with South-East Asia in law and legal services in a week-long trip to Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Ruddock claimed last week that there is further scope for building trans-national legal practices in South-East Asia to mutual advantage as Australia’s legal services continue to expand.
Australia exported legal services valued at $277 million and total imports were $132 million in 2004, Ruddock said in a statement. This involved trade predominantly with the United States, the United Kingdom and North Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Japan.
The upcoming national profession would make Australia more attractive to lawyers in other jurisdictions, said Ruddock. “With legislation to create a national legal profession set to become a reality by the end of the year, Australia continues to be an attractive option for suitably qualified lawyers from throughout the region,” he said.
“More liberal regulation of foreign lawyers who provide commercial services is vital to promoting trade in legal services which form part of the essential business infrastructure for economic growth,” he said.
Law firm Deacons, which has offices in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam, encourages the expansion of legal opportunities for Australian firms in Asia, said chief executive partner Don Boyd. However, advising Australian firms expanding the region, Boyd said “critical success factors in doing business in Asia are often more to do with strong management, open communication, and longevity in a market than finding the opportunities”.
“Understanding the legislative frameworks and the local culture are vital, but often easier said than done. I think many firms expect too much, too soon, from their forays into Asia. Our own success in Asia is due to our long-term strategy and understanding of the region, sharing of information, and a real sense of what is expected and what can be achieved for our clients,” Boyd said.
Legal cooperation activities have been taking place for some time with various jurisdictions in the region, said Ruddock. In particular, those with Indonesia had grown significantly in the past three years, he said.
“Australia has supported Indonesia’s efforts to strengthen its legal institutions through linkages between the courts and joint training activities,” he said.
“Australian lawyers have been working through Indonesian law firms for many years and these links between private legal professions will continue to develop.”
As well, links between the Australian and Thai legal professions should be strengthened through negotiations and the implementation of the Thailand/ Australia Free Trade Agreement, Ruddock said.
Ruddock added that Australia and Malaysia had a long history of cooperation in relation to law and legal services. “Malaysia has provided the highest number of students studying law in Australia for more than a decade and many Malaysian lawyers are now working in Australian law firms,” he said. “I hope legal services will be discussed as part of the negotiations for a free trade agreement between our countries.”
The Singapore/Australia Free Trade Agreement recently saw Singapore recognise law degrees from a further two Australian university law schools, Ruddock announced last week. He said there had been cooperation at a government level as well as close relations between the peak legal professional bodies in Singapore and Australia.
“While the Free Trade Agreement has liberalised some Singaporean regulation governing commercial legal services, I believe more can be done,” Ruddock said.
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