U.K. law firms will be able to keep their Seoul offices if the U.K. leaves the European Union, as Britain and South Korea agreed to a post-Brexit free trade agreement.
On Monday, U.K. Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox signed a joint agreement in Seoul with Korean Minister for Trade Yoo Myung-hee stating there would be trade continuity between the two countries in the event that Britain leaves the EU later this year. In the meantime, the U.K. will continue to be covered by the EU-Korea FTA agreed to in 2011.
“The deal is significant as it eased uncertainties sparked by Brexit amid the already challenging environment for exports [in] the escalating trade row between Washington and Beijing,” Yoo told Seoul-based Yonhap news agency. ”We will make our best efforts to help South Korean businesses maintain their operations with Britain without troubles.”
The FTA will be ratified shortly, after both the British and Korean parliaments approve.
The U.K.-Korea FTA will allow the four U.K. law firms in Seoul—Clifford Chance, Linklaters, Stephenson Harwood and Allen & Overy—to continue operating their foreign legal consultant offices after Brexit. Under Korean regulations, only law firms that are based in countries with a live FTA with Korea are allowed to operate offices in Seoul.
“We are pleased to hear the news of a trade deal which will allow for firms such as ours to maintain our local presence, supporting our longstanding Korean clients on international law matters and disputes,” Geraint Hughes, Clifford Chance’s Hong Kong-based Asia Pacific regional managing partner, said in a statement released by the U.K. government.
“We are delighted with this recent development,” a Hong Kong-based spokesperson for Allen & Overy said. “We remain committed to supporting our Korean clients on the ground from our Seoul office and will continue to monitor the situation closely.”
The Financial Times reported that the agreement may be subject to renegotiation within two years.
Without a U.K.-Korea FTA, British firms would have had to close their Seoul offices temporarily following Brexit. Herbert Smith Freehills re-registered its Seoul office as an Australian firm in March.
The four U.K. firms in Korea maintain a small presence in Seoul, with three to six lawyers in their Seoul offices, according to the firms’ websites.
The U.K. and EU agreed in April that Britain has until Oct. 31 to negotiate a withdrawal agreement approved by members of Parliament. Prime Minister Theresa May announced last month she will step down once the Conservative Party appoints a new leader.