EU and Mercosur reach agreement on trade

The EU is the first major partner to strike a trade pact with Mercosur, a bloc comprising Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement concluded today will cover a population of 780 million and cement the close political and economic relations between the EU and Mercosur countries. It represents a clear commitment from both regions to rules based international trade and will give European companies an important head start into a market with an enormous economic potential. It will anchor important economic reforms and modernisation undergoing in Mercosur countries. The agreement upholds the highest standards of food safety and consumer protection, as well as the precautionary principle for food safety and environmental rules and contains specific commitments on labour rights and environmental protection, including the implementation of the Paris climate agreement and related enforcement rules.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said: “I measure my words carefully when I say that this is a historical moment. In the midst of international trade tensions, we are sending today a strong signal with our Mercosur partners that we stand for rules-based trade. Through this trade pact, Mercosur countries have decided to open up their markets to the EU. This is obviously great news for companies, workers and the economy on both sides of the Atlantic, saving over €4 billion worth of duties per year. This makes it the largest trade agreement the EU has ever concluded. Thanks to the hard and patient work of our negotiators, this is matched with positive outcomes for the environment and consumers. And that’s what makes this agreement a win-win deal.”

Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström added: “Today’s agreement brings Europe and South America closer together in a spirit of cooperation and openness. Once this deal is in place, it will create a market of 780 million people, providing enormous opportunities for EU businesses and workers in countries with whom we have strong historical links and whose markets have been relatively closed up to now. The agreement will save European companies over €4 billion in duties at the border – four times as much as our deal with Japan – whilst giving them a head start against competitors from elsewhere in the world. It also sets high standards and establishes a strong framework to jointly address issues like the environment and labour rights, as well as reinforcing sustainable development commitments we have already made, for example under the Paris Agreement. Over the past few years the EU has consolidated its position as the global leader in open and sustainable trade. Agreements with 15 countries have entered into force since 2014, notably with Canada and Japan. This agreement adds four more countries to our impressive roster of trade allies.”

Phil Hogan, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, said: “The EU-Mercosur agreement is a fair and balanced deal with opportunities and benefits on both sides, including for Europe’s farmers. Our distinctive, high quality EU agri-food products will now get the protection in Mercosur countries that they deserve, supporting our market position and growing our export opportunities. Today’s agreement also presents some challenges to European farmers and the European Commission will be available to help farmers meet these challenges. For this agreement to be a win-win, we will only open up to agricultural products from Mercosur with carefully managed quotas that will ensure that there is no risk that any product will flood the EU market and thereby threaten the livelihood of EU farmers.”

Main features of the EU-Mercosur trade agreement:

The EU-Mercosur region-to-region agreement will remove the majority of tariffs on EU exports to Mercosur, making EU companies more competitive by saving them €4 billion worth of duties per year.

  • As regards EU industrial sectors, this will help boost exports of EU products that have so far been facing high and sometimes prohibitive tariffs. Those include cars (tariff of 35%), car parts (14-18%), machinery (14-20%), chemicals (up to 18%), pharmaceuticals (up to 14%), clothing and footwear (35%) or knitted fabrics (26%).
  • The EU agri-food sector will benefit from slashing existing Mercosur high tariffs on EU export products, chocolates and confectionery (20%), wines (27%), spirits (20 to 35%), and soft drinks (20 to 35%). The agreement will also provide duty-free access subject to quotas for EU dairy products (currently 28% tariff), notably for cheeses.

Mercosur countries will also put in place legal guarantees protecting from imitation 357 high-quality European food and drink products recognised as Geographical Indications (GIs), such as Tiroler Speck (Austria), Fromage de Herve (Belgique), Münchener Bier (Germany), Comté (France), Prosciutto di Parma (Italy), Polska Wódka (Poland), Queijo S. Jorge (Portugal), Tokaji (Hungary) or Jabugo (Spain).

The agreement will open up new business opportunities in Mercosur for EU companies selling under government contracts, and to service suppliers in the information technology, telecommunications and transport sectors, among others. It will simplify border checks, cut red tape and limit the use of export taxes by Mercosur countries. Smaller companies on both sides will also benefit thanks to a new online platform providing easy access to all relevant information.

While delivering significant economic benefits, the agreement also promotes high standards. The EU and Mercosur commit to effectively implement the Paris Climate Agreement. A dedicated sustainable development chapter will cover issues such as sustainable management and conservation of forests, respect for labour rights and promotion of responsible business conduct. It also offers civil society organisations an active role to overview the implementation of the agreement, including any human rights, social or environmental concerns. The agreement will also provide for a new forum to work closely together on a more sustainable approach to agriculture and, as part of the political dialogue under the Association Agreement, address the rights of indigenous communities. The agreement also safeguards the EU and Mercosur’s right to regulate in the public interest and preserves the right to organise public services in the way they consider appropriate.

EU food safety standards will remain unchanged and all imports will have to comply with the EU’s rigorous standards, as is the case today. The agreed food safety, and animal and plant health provisions will reinforce cooperation with the authorities of the partner countries and speed up the flow of information about any potential risks through a more direct and efficient information and notification system. In this way, the agreement will increase our efficiency in ensuring the safety of the products traded between the EU and Mercosur countries.

The trade agreement reached today is part of a comprehensive new Association Agreement under negotiation between the EU and Mercosur countries. It is composed of a political and cooperation pillar – on which negotiators already reached a general agreement in June 2018 in Montevideo – and the trade pillar. Beyond trade, the agreement will enhance political dialogue and increase cooperation in areas such as migration, digital economy, research and education, human rights, including the rights of indigenous people, corporate and social responsibility, environment protection, ocean governance, as well as fight against terrorism, money laundering and cybercrime. It will also offer increased possibilities for cooperation at multilateral level. The Association Agreement will complete the network of Association Agreements in the Americas and consolidate the relations with the important partners in the region, supporting EU positions on many global issues.

Five must-dos when designing a law firm workplace

Law firms are placing ever-increasing importance on thoughtful workplace design to attract and retain top talent, making every office build-out or renovation a critical opportunity to win the talent war. With millennials expected to comprise 75 percent of the workforce by 2030, law firm design trends are being driven by an evolving culture that prioritises individual workplace experiences, health and well-being and ubiquitous technology.

The future of law firm design is rooted in change. Designers are not just designers anymore—they’re change management consultants. Architects and contractors often work with law firms’ human resources teams, facilities managers and the lawyers themselves to align the existing workforce culture with a realistic design approach. In doing so, five considerations are typically front-of-mind, if not mandatory.

1. Recruitment & Retention of the Next Attorney Generation

Just because you build it, doesn’t mean they will come (or stay), and one size does not fit all. It boils down to getting to know your people, recognising the culture and understanding the aspirations of young attorneys moving up in the workplace before applying something across the board.

For example, the idea behind open office workstations for attorneys is rooted in thoughtful cost reduction, however there are many factors that influence whether that may or may not work, including the ever-present client confidentiality factor (both from an acoustical standpoint and from a visual standpoint) and requisite privacy.

Junior-level attorneys still view the location and size of their office, and migrating from a smaller to a larger office, as a reflection of professional progress. They aspire to the highly coveted “corner office” or larger office. It seems that private offices, whether varied in size or a universal size, are a permanent fixture in law firms for myriad reasons.

A modern alternative to open officing that promotes connectedness and increases workforce facetime is the increasing application of an intercommunicating stair. Rather than a library, additional secretarial space or mock trial rooms, law firms installing a communicating stair between floors are attempting to align themselves with the collaborative nature of tech firms and corporate HQs.

2. The Workplace Experience for the Individual

While the value proposition of a dedicated private office is still strong in law firms, attorneys appreciate having choices or offices available to them outside of the four walls of their office. If the technology is available to support them, attorneys are placing more value on breakaway spaces in which to work in a collaborative setting or in an environment that is still solitary but in a different footprint, such as a comfortable-yet-functional indoor “lounge” space or outdoor space for mild weather. It has become necessary to provide law firm attorneys and staff with options to show consideration of the individual workplace experience.

Given the tremendous pressure placed on attorneys to maximise billable hours, the more opportunities they are given to leave their desks, work solitarily in a different room surrounded by something different on the wall or a different colour, with different acoustics or even meet in a small room or hang out in the café, the better.

3. Health & Well-being in a Demanding Workplace

Wellness is paramount for overworked law firm attorneys and staff. While the legal industry has historically been a slow adopter of modern office trends, it’s taking a step forward in wellness. Law firms are showing greater sensitivity to nutrition through a fresh market kind of approach, offering fruit, yogurt and different water options as opposed to soda and candy bars in vending machines. Many new law firm offices feature yoga and retreat rooms, which are only starting to be featured in other markets.

Perhaps most significantly, many law firms are creating a director of well-being role, charged with cultivating a healthy work environment and helping drive work life balance initiatives. Well known for their long hours and the struggle to maintain work life balance, law firms, beginning with office design decisions, must adopt more sensitive and thoughtful initiatives that contribute to the well-being of their people. This will help to avoid the increased trend of younger associates burning out and leaving the industry for good.

4. The Power of Ubiquitous Tech

In order to achieve work-life balance, law firms must create and follow through on work-remote policies. To successfully support such a policy, firms need a strong technology infrastructure. Ubiquitous technology is the idea that attorneys and law firm staff can be technologically supported both internally in the workplace and externally outside of the office.

Although client confidentiality concerns preclude certain platforms and technologies from being stored on the cloud, ubiquitous technology holds law firms accountable to make investments on speedy infrastructure previously limited due to operational cost controls.

In 2005, large law firms invested in technology in their conference centres, but not on the work floor. Now they are spending more throughout their spaces on AV because it’s critical to their business. Tenant workplace investment has shifted away from high-end finishes, millwork and stone to greater investment in technology and glass facades that introduce light to the interior desks sitting just outside of the perimeter office landscape.

This shift over the past 10 to 15 years means technology infrastructure improvements now represent 40 to 45 percent of the tenant improvement factor. Response time, client accommodation, speed and access are so paramount to the business that without this reallocation of investment, law firms will fall drastically behind.

5. Future-Proof Updates

Future-proofing a law firm is more possible than ever, but it requires clients to spend a great deal of time planning and analysing what role the workplace will need to serve seven to eight years into a lease term. Firms must budget accordingly to accommodate the impact of fool proof flexibility. Potential growth, staff increases, space decreases, infrastructure concerns with shifting technology and future density must all be taken into account to minimise capital expenditure over the lease term.

If possible, companies should utilise a modular approach to allow for inexpensive future changes, budget accordingly and plan for what-if factors. Firms must consider the repercussions of changes; for example, what elements would be costly to move if a wall comes down, such as a sprinkler system, and which are more flexible, such as lighting?

Traditionally, law firms renew office leases in older buildings that contain perimeter private offices and only think about future changes in carpet and paint. But, older buildings are optimal in allowing firms to build out using modules to accommodate future change with minimal impact, maintaining the traditional perimeter-office style and allowing for increased collaboration space in the core.

With the one-attorney-to-one-secretary ratio nearly obsolete, using glass as private office facades to shed light into the interior space is not as important as it was 10 years ago. The next big question in law firm design is: how do you make that interior zone experience as welcoming and desirable as that coveted perimeter?

As law firms prepare for a workforce centred on factors such as connectivity, flexibility and wellness, their workplace must reflect that shifting dynamic and be able to continually evolve. By working with their design and construction teams, firm HR and facilities leadership can create office spaces that reflect their future-focused culture.

Shoosmiths named 2019 National Law Firm of the Year

Chairman Peter Duff and CEO Simon Boss accepted the award on behalf of Shoosmiths at a glittering ceremony that took place at Grosvenor House Hotel in London, hosted by Sandi Toksvig, TV personality and writer.

The firm was also commended in the Best Client Service Innovation category for its Elite Advisory offering and shortlisted for Krugman 2 for the Best Collaboration Initiative.

The Lawyer Awards are the leading awards initiative within the legal calendar and the largest celebration of legal excellence in Europe.

The award for National Law Firm of the Year recognises the law firm that has made the most significant progress over the past year in advancing its strategy.

Judges said about Shoosmiths’ winning submission: “This exceptional winning entry showcased record financial results alongside a raft of new innovations designed to make life better not only for the firm’s clients through innovative tech-based solutions, but also for their employees with improvements in training, knowledge sharing and diversity.”

Simon Boss said: “It’s incredibly humbling to win this award, and it’s a massive recognition for everyone at Shoosmiths that we are truly delivering on our ambitious strategy of becoming the leading UK law firm through our continual pursuit of excellent client service.

“I’d also like to congratulate our Sports Division for its well-deserved commendation and all of our team involved in the collaboration that lead to our nomination for Best Collaboration Initiative. We’ve always said that we place our clients at the heart of everything we do, and we are continually evolving and innovating in this space, delivering new methods of working that bring real added-value and tangible benefits to our clients.”

It was a night of true celebration for Shoosmiths as the firm was also recognised for its other two award submissions by being:

Shortlisted for the Best Collaboration Initiative for Krugman 2, an open, supportive and collaborative working space to think about what a client might need that Shoosmiths could help them with.

Commended in the Best Client Service Innovation for Elite Advisory, a private client advisory service to manage the affairs of professionals and entrepreneurs in sport, media and entertainment.

If you would like to find out more information, please visit https://www.shoosmiths.co.uk/

Grant Thornton sells advisory business to 1825

The wealth unit, which has £1.7bn of assets under advice, consists of 100 employees, including 34 financial planners, all of whom will be joining 1825.

The deal, which has been rumoured for a few weeks, is reportedly an attempt by Grant Thornton to distance itself from potential conflicts of interest, and to “streamline its focus”.

Dave Dunckley, the recently appointed CEO of Grant Thornton UK, said, “As we increase our focus on our strategy to provide high quality audit, tax and advisory services to our core markets, it is clear the wealth advisory team’s growth potential would be best delivered by a business focused solely on the financial advice market.

“The team’s clients will undoubtedly be better served through 1825’s approach and proposition, with the businesses sharing a natural alignment in values and goals, so it makes practical sense for the team to be in an environment in which it can flourish. We wish Neil [Messenger] and the team continued success into the future.”

In the wake of proposals from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), and from the Kingman review, the accountancy profession in the UK is under increasingly sharp scrutiny. Grant Thornton in particular has come in for criticism over its audit work on Patisserie Valerie.

Last week the firm announced a major overhaul of its audit arm. The changes include a new Audit Quality Board, a £7m investment in people and technology, an independent review of audit at the firm, and new centres of excellence in London and Birmingham.

The deal is expected to be completed in Q4, 2019 and the terms remain undisclosed.

Antaq opens hearing on bidding for areas on the Itaqui Port

The National Waterway Transportation Agency of Brazil (Antaq) opened last Monday (1), a public consultation and hearing to receive contributions, subsidies and suggestions for the improvement of the legal and technical information necessary to carry out a public bidding contest related to the leasing of terminals for handling and storage of liquid fuels, located in the Public Port of Itaqui, Maranhão, Brazil.

The legal technical documents related to this public hearing are available here.

Only the contributions, subsidies and suggestions referring to the documents placed in public consultation and hearing will be considered by the Agency. Contributions can be sent to Antaq by 23:59 on July 31, exclusively through the form and electronic form available only on their website: http://portal.antaq.gov.br/.

By means of identification of the taxpayer and within the stipulated period, it will be exclusively possible to attach digital images, such as maps, plans, photos, etc., through the following e-mail: [email protected]. The contributions received by Antaq will be made available on the portal.

By means of identification of the taxpayer and within the stipulated period, it will be exclusively possible to attach digital images, such as maps, plans, photos, etc., through the following e-mail: [email protected].

The contributions received by Antaq will be made available on the portal. A public hearing will be held at a date and place to be timely defined and disclosed by Antaq.

European stocks steady as US celebrates 4th of July

European stock markets flatlined Thursday, after an uneventful session earlier in Asia, with trading volumes thin on the US Independence Day holiday, dealers said.

“European stocks have edged a tad higher while US stock futures are unchanged following Asia’s mixed session, one day after new record highs for indexes stateside,” said Oanda analyst Dean Popplewell.

“Trading remains thin due to July 4th US celebrations,” he added but sounded caution before Friday’s data release of US non-farm payrolls — a key update on the health of the world’s biggest economy.

Vulnerable Dollar

“Currently, the dollar trades broadly flat due to the US public holiday but could be vulnerable and ruin traders’ weekends if tomorrow’s US NFP data comes in on the weaker side.”

Asian equity markets experienced mixed fortunes, despite a record-breaking performance on Wall Street, as investors turned their focus to Friday’s upcoming data while hoping for a big Federal Reserve interest rate cut.

US traders went on a pre-July 4 spending spree Wednesday to push all three main indexes to their all-time highs as a string of weak economic indicators reinforced the case for the Fed to reduce borrowing costs.

With the relief rally from Donald Trump and Xi Jinping’s trade war ceasefire running its course, dealers were turning their attention to the global outlook and pinning their hopes on central bank support.

The release Friday of US non-farm payroll figures is key, analysts say, with a weak reading likely to reinforce expectations of a rate cut.

Talk of a reduction and concerns about the economy have seen the yield on safe haven 10-year Treasuries fall below two percent.

French Negative Yield

Stephen Innes, at Vanguard Markets, said the fall in yields across several asset classes “has increased investor appetite for high dividend-yielding equity risk”.

In Europe meanwhile, the French Treasury issued 10-year bonds at negative interest rates for the first time ever, meaning investors are now willing to pay, rather than receive, interest on their bond purchases.

Dealers attributed part of the rally in eurozone bond markets to the nomination of IMF chief Christine Lagarde as head of the ECB where she would be expected to pursue loose money policies.

“With increasingly dovish central bank rhetoric throughout Europe and the US, further gains look likely,” predicted Joshua Mahony, senior market analyst at IG.

The increasing likelihood of a Fed cut has, however, weighed on the dollar, with riskier currencies such as the South Korean won, Australian dollar and Indonesian rupiah all strengthening.

However, Trump hit out at China on Wednesday in a Twitter rant, accusing it and Europe of artificially keeping the yuan and euro weak to gain an advantage over the US.

He said they were playing a “big currency manipulation game” and “pumping money into their system”, adding that the US should step up to the fight by matching them.

Oil prices meanwhile sagged, with traders disappointed by the size of the drop in US stockpiles of the commodity, while worries over the global economic outlook weigh on demand expectations.