03 Jun 2021

Negotiations for UK to join trans-Pacific trade pact welcomed by Law Society

Move to sign up to CPTPP praised for 'important benefits' it promises to deliver for UK law firms in the post-Brexit landscape


A trans-Pacific trade pact will provide 'important benefits' for UK law firms and facilitate the provision of cross-border legal services, according to the Law Society of England and Wales.  

The six member nations of the Asia-Pacific trade treaty known as the Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – Japan, Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico – agreed to allow the UK to begin the formal negotiation process for entry into the trading bloc yesterday (2 June).  

The Law Society said the provisions of the trade agreement would allow a 'strong push' for the cross-border provision of legal services and 'promote its interest as a global leader' in the international trade landscape as part of its plans to refocus trade relationships post-Brexit.  

The agreement, which would be the first with the UK for several member countries, uniquely singles out the legal sector to handle the common challenges faced by UK law firms attempting to engage in cross-border work in the increasingly attractive Asia-Pacific region, the Law Society said.  

Catherine Brims, international policy adviser at the Law Society, said the agreement will serve to kickstart further discussions on increasing market access and enhance cooperation between member countries and the UK in the provision of legal services for UK firms.  

Despite this, concerns have been raised over whether the UK’s entrance to the CPTPP could be seen as legitimising some member’s existing restrictions on market access for foreign lawyers, thus discouraging them from making tangible progress towards short-term market liberalisation.  

However, Brims said that many “behind the border” restrictions faced by UK firms in international jurisdictions, including licensing, certification requirements and requalification conditions, can be addressed through the agreement’s professional services annex, which promotes greater discussion “beyond the text of the agreement itself” in relation to the provision of legal services by foreign lawyers.  

In addition, the backing of the trade deal may have the potential to lower barriers for UK law firms looking to open offices overseas by providing a consistent framework for cooperation between member countries with more closed-off legal markets.  

Former Law Society president David Greene, senior partner of Edwin Coe and senior partner and committee member at the London Solicitors Litigation Association, added that like all trade agreements, entrance into the CPTPP would generate a “knock-on effect” for the legal industry as legal work would ramp up to facilitate higher volumes of trade.  

“Trade agreements can include services and the removal of barriers such as regulations to the freedom of trade across borders,” he said. “The CPTPP does this and includes market access commitments on legal services and encourages parties to allow lawyers to advise on a fly in, fly out basis fully integrated with domestic lawyers.”