As the threat of a China-U.S. trade war continues to escalate, an attorney who previously was head of Baker McKenzie’s China trade and supply chain practice group and of Deloitte’s global trade practice has launched a boutique law firm in Hong Kong.
William Marshall has founded William Marshall & Co., a firm that will focus on advising clients on customs audits and regulatory investigations in China, Hong Kong, and across the Asia Pacific. It will also advise on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy proceedings under World Trade Organization rules.
The firm is starting out with six lawyers, including one partner, three of counsel and two associates.
Marshall, who most recently led the Asia customs and global trade practice for Big Four auditor Deloitte, said he plans to expand the team. He expects the firm will have three partners and 15 lawyers within the next 18 months.
“Customs and trade regulators have been increasing the scrutiny that imports and exports have already been under, and this heightened enforcement environment has been leading to some uncertainties for our clients,” Marshall said.
The increase in enforcement has led to the need for additional audits and investigations for clients with trade operations in China in particular, he added.
Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said his administration planned to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum, in order to bring back domestic jobs related to steel and aluminum production in the United States.
Trump, who later tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” was attempting to make good on his “America First” promise, and to punish countries such as China that are deemed responsible for exporting cheap products to the United States and taking away American jobs.
In addition to inquiries related to steel and aluminium tariffs, Marshall said clients are also calling for trade remedies surrounding intellectual property in China. In August 2017, in a rare move, the Trump administration opened investigations into China’s IP practices under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act that allows for the U.S. government to impose unilateral sanctions against China.
Marshall, who is qualified in New York and Hong Kong, left Baker McKenzie in 2013 to join Deloitte. Last year, Baker McKenzie recruited Nike Inc.’s former assistant general counsel, Jon Cowley as a Hong Kong-based partner focusing on customs and international trade.
Marshall said that U.S. trade policy under Trump has meant a large increase in work for trade lawyers in the region.
“It has caused a great deal of uncertainty and tension for … business[es] … in the region … and is also negatively impacting foreign direct investments … from U.S. companies as they decide to hold on certain expansion projects,” Marshall said.