The Inter-Pacific Bar Association Annual Meeting begins tomorrow here in Seoul – and I thought this would be a good opportunity to outline in particular what opportunities exist for lawyers in Korea and the US to capitalize upon the growing bilateral trade relationship between the US and Korea.

Some background

Just over one year ago the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement (KORUS) went into force.  The United States Trade Representatives office (USTR) called the agreement America’s “most commercially significant free trade agreement in almost two decades.”

USTR outlines that: “The U.S. International Trade Commission estimates that the reduction of Korean tariffs and tariff-rate quotas on goods alone will add $10 billion to $12 billion to annual U.S. Gross Domestic Product and around $10 billion to annual merchandise exports to Korea.”

The agreement liberalizes markets in agricultural, financial services and professional services (including a liberalization of the Korean legal market) and creates more open access to public procurement markets. The FTA also addresses non-tariff barriers in a wide range of sectors.

The US Korea Council provides a superb general overview of the benefits of the agreement, as well as an analysis of how individual US states will benefit as well as sector-specific analysis of opportunities.

The opportunity for Korean and US law firms

Law firms in Korea and the United States would be wise to study the agreement carefully and establish a focused business development effort around opportunities the agreement creates.  Establish where your practice areas have the ability to add value to sectors growing as a result of the agreement.

Too – Korean firms in particular should take a proactive business development position to protect local market share and expand revenue via new business generation efforts in response to the newly liberalized domestic Korean legal market.

Cautious optimism after a promising first year

The Korean Economic Institute’s Peninsula Blog reports first year results are promising, with an uptick in bilateral trade activity – however cautions that any first year numbers should not be considered reflective of what may come next, particularly in light of a slight downturn in economic growth in Korea.

What lawyers need to do now

Lawyers and law firms in the United States and Korea need to take considered but proactive action in order to take full advantage of this historic free trade agreement.  Any firm that does so will see a substantial long term benefit from Korea-US cross-border legal business development efforts designed and implemented effectively.

Posted by John Grimley

John Grimley edits and publishes Asia Law Portal and is the author of A Comprehensive Guide to the Asia-Pacific Legal Markets. He specializes in providing writing, editing, research and strategy services to the corporate and professional services sectors. Between 2002 and 2008, he established and directed the European representative business development office of US AmLaw 100 law and public policy firm Patton Boggs LLP. At the inception of his career, he served as a writer to the President of the United States in the White House. A licensed American lawyer, he holds a Juris Doctor from the University of San Diego School of Law.

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