AvaLerroux to represent clients on Cuban soil

The Cuban government has authorised Mexican-Spanish firm AvaLerroux’s representation agreement with local firm Conabi, meaning the international firm can now visit the island to advise clients on foreign law.

AvaLerroux to represent clients on Cuban soil Velázquez (left) with Conabi's president, Noel Martín Díaz (right), at the signing ceremony held earlier this month in Mérida, Mexico

The agreement is significant because it will allow AvaLerroux’s lawyers to accompany their clients on business meetings in the country, while advising them on international law. Without a representation agreement, foreign firms may only refer work to local outfits and cannot set foot on Cuban soil while serving their clients in an advisory capacity. The agreement does not allow AvaLerroux to advise its clients on local law.Cuba’s Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs gave AvaLerroux the green light earlier this month. “With this agreement, we can openly represent clients and attend meetings on the island of Cuba, assisted by our Cuban partner firm,” says AvaLerroux managing partner Agustín Velázquez, who believes the deal is the first of its kind.AvaLerroux also hopes its closer relationship with its Cuban partner firm will create benefits outside of the country. In Mexico, Velázquez says the Cuban government has already contacted his firm through Conabi for advice on filing civil claims and collecting debt. The agreement between AvaLerroux and Conabi is years in the making. Velázquez began investigating the possibility of a tie-up prior to the merger of his firm Avah with Spain’s Lerroux & Fernández-Pacheco last year. After meeting with Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cuban Board of Attorneys to understand the requirements, Velázquez scheduled a series of meetings with local firms, ultimately deciding on Conabi. AvaLerroux initially entered an informal relationship with Conabi, before drafting a representation agreement. This agreement, which lays out the terms of their alliance, was then submitted for government approval. After obtaining government authorisation, the two firms signed their representation agreement into effect in Mexico on 11 March.AvaLerroux is not the only international firm interested in Cuba. Spain’s Olleros Abogados and Chicago-based McDermott Will & Emery agreed to share client referrals and coordinate their wider commercial strategy in the country in 2015, while Paul Hastings LLP has a longstanding partnership with another Spanish firm that has offices in Havana. Other firms, such as Akerman LLP, Greenberg Traurig LLP and Holland & Knight LLP, prefer to use Cuba working groups, often arguing that a presence on the island is unnecessary given its close proximity to the US.Velázquez embarked on his Cuba venture at a time of growing rapprochement between the US and Cuba. In December 2015, former President Barack Obama announced his administration would end its “outdated approach” to the island. The US government then began to ease sanctions and travel restrictions, leading some to predict an end to the Cold War-era embargo. However, newly elected President Donald Trump has threatened to reverse much of Obama’s work and the White House is now conducting a wholescale review of US policy toward the Castro administration.Velázquez says political developments in the US are not a major concern. “A lot of other countries got excited about Cuba opening up, so there is already a lot more investment in the country,” he says. Last year, the country welcomed a record number of tourists, providing a much-needed boost to the economy.Mariel, a deepwater container port and free-trade zone, may be another major investment draw. The zone allows companies to establish 100% privately owned entities – something unheard of prior to its establishment in 2014. “Mariel could be to Cuba what Hong Kong is for China,” says Velázquez.AvaLerroux’s new partner firm Conabi was founded in 2006 and has nearly 20 lawyers. Services listed on its website include administrative, corporate, disputes, IP, labour, maritime, regulatory and tax advice.

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