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China work tipped despite Chinalco flop
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China work tipped despite Chinalco flop

The collapse of the $19.5 billion Chinalco-Rio Tinto deal should not deter two-way trading and investment with China, president of the Australia China Business Council and partner at Hunt &…

The collapse of the $19.5 billion Chinalco-Rio Tinto deal should not deter two-way trading and investment with China, president of the Australia China Business Council and partner at Hunt & Hunt Jim Harrowell AM told Lawyers Weekly on Wednesday.

Harrowell said China has a policy called the "go out policy" which encourages Chinese businesses to look at investment opportunities outside the country, which he believes could create more legal work in Australia.

"I think the development of China can have a huge positive impact on this country and they want to work with [Australians] - we're regarded well in China. China likes dealing with Australians and we should encourage it. I get very frustrated that sometimes we spend far too much time trying to find negative points in relation to China," he said.

"There are so many positives at the moment. The Australian China Business Council has recently launched a publication which shows that China trade can provide a potential benefit of an average of $3400 per Australian household. That must be good."

Lawyers, said Harrowell, should encourage inbound investment with their foreign clients to generate more legal work.

"The emerging markets in South-East Asia, China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam ... are a real growth opportunity for Australian lawyers and we have the expertise - in fact, we have a terrific amount of expertise dotted around the law firms in Australia - and we should be proud to export and be ready to encourage inbound investment," he said.

"The work for lawyers will include mergers or acquisitions where Chinese businesses are acquiring equity in Australian businesses. There will be due diligence work [and] regulatory work to the extent that the investment requires FIRB approval. There will be ongoing work acting for new significant clients in Australia which will include some of the Chinese companies that invest here. So there is potential for completely new clients in many ways."

Despite the rejected Chinalco deal, Rio-Tinto announced that it has chosen to raise capital by way of a $US15 billion ($18 billion) rights issue and will also enter into a joint venture with BHP Billiton on their respective iron-ore assets in Western Australia worth about $US10 billion.

Rio's legal team on the collapsed deal was Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver and Jacobson, Wachtell Lipton, Linklaters and Allens Arthur Robinson. Acting for Chinalco were Clifford Chance, Mallesons and Haiwen & Partners.

However, Allens Arthur Robinson will be working on Rio's rights issue as co-principal advisors with Linklaters and as principal advisors on the joint venture with BHP.

Harrowell said legal work would be generated from the joint venture but may not be ongoing.

"The problem it presents is once that process has been gone through, then the legal services providers to BHP and RIO will settle down and just keep doing the thing they've always done for those companies. So it might be a burst of legal activity for the joint venture, but, in terms of ongoing legal work, it will pretty much be the status quo I would think," he said.

The decision of RIO-Tinto to work together with BHP, rather than to pursue the Chinalco deal, was a commercial decision which the two companies made and should not be seen as a "rebuff" for China or suggest that Australia is not interested in two way trade and investment, said Harrowell.

He said China was looking to invest in Australia, particularly in the resources area, for several reasons including ensuring long-term security in relation to their resource need for iron ore and coal and to continue the growth of the Chinese economy.

"China has a lot of building and construction to do. They are renewing infrastructure in China - the railway systems, a lot of building construction and they need raw materials and they need technical expertise," he said.

- Sarah Sharples

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