Babita Ambekar is Head of Duane Morris & Selvam’s India and Japan Practice Groups. She advises multinationals on transactions involving India, Indian companies on their global expansion, in Singapore and abroad. She regularly advises Japanese companies on regional and international matters and is actively involved in the firm’s Myanmar and Sri Lanka Practice Groups.
In December, 2016 she was named among 30 people to watch in the business of law in Asia in 2017 by Asia Law Portal. As part of Asia Law Portal’s continuing coverage of trade and investment facilitation within and between the Asia-Pacific region and foreign jurisdictions, here’s an interview we conducted with Ms Ambekar on her views on the current state of Asia-Pacific region trade and investment, with a particular focus on India, Myanmar and Japan:
What current trends are you seeing in India-Japan cross-border investment?
It is clear that the Indian government continues to welcome investment by Japanese corporations in India and Japanese investment is a key priority. To this end India has now established dedicated ecosystems for Japanese investors in certain parts of the country with the aim of facilitating further investment by the Japanese in India. It is also hoped that these special ecosystems will address some of the challenges faced by Japanese companies in seeing initiatives through to completion within the past couple of years.
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There have been recent requests by the Japanese business community for review of specific aspects to support their ongoing involvement in major projects. I am sure that these will be considered at depth due to the will of the two nations to continue to grow their special relationship.
How is Myanmar’s economy developing and where do you see it in the next 5 years? Next 10 years?
What one must remember is that Myanmar, as a nation, has been subject to tremendous change over the past 5 years. On the economic front, now seems a quieter period as we await the implementation of key legislative change in the area of company law. Having been witness to its development over the past few years however, I believe that the country will continue to advance and develop at a notable pace.
In addition to its potential as a regional hub for industries such as textiles and agriculture, it has a sizeable domestic market of interest to foreign investors in specific sectors and therefore presents interesting opportunities from that perspective. I have recently returned from a conference held for the Indian generics sector in Yangon and it is evident that there is significant opportunity in that sector based on projections of domestic consumption. It is evident that the Myanmar of ten years on will be materially different to the Myanmar of today and it is a pleasure to witness this change.
Do you see further liberalization afoot in India’s foreign investment regime?
India has already liberalised a majority of industry sectors and is, according to Prime Minister Modi, one of the most open economies in the world. While the majority of liberalisation has likely already taken place, there will be further liberalisation in certain sectors: the legal market is expected to be one of these and we are watching it with interest. From a broader perspective, I anticipate that the Indian government will make further change where needed in specific areas to support the existing wave of liberalisation.
What opportunities exist in the Asia-Pacific region for foreign companies seeking to make local acquisitions?
The world is looking to Asia Pacific as a growth region and there are opportunities in multiple markets. Of course India is a major market of interest due to its sizeable domestic market and pace of reform however markets such as Vietnam, Myanmar and the Philippines have also been in flavour in recent times due to reform in specific sectors and economic growth/opportunity. While acquisition opportunities present themselves on a regular basis, one of the challenges in bringing transactions to fruition remains the gap between the seller’s perception of the value of their business and what the buyer is willing to pay for it. In emerging markets in particular, buyers also need to be prepared for somewhat scant historical documentation and country specific business practices when compared with what would be the norm in more mature markets.
Having worked across the Asia-Pacific region, what advice do you have for any aspiring international lawyers currently studying in law school?
Being qualified in a major international jurisdiction will lend you flexibility in an international legal career however it is equally important to continue to build upon and expand your expertise in practice areas and industry sectors of interest. While law is by nature jurisdiction specific, common law principles are a basis in many countries. Take the opportunity to learn about those systems in conjunction with the local counsel that you work with. Taking up languages has proven advantageous for me and means that I feel comfortable on the ground in many parts of Asia. If a role involving travel presents itself in the earlier stages of your career, take it up if you have the opportunity to do so as this will effectively give you on-the-ground experience in different geographies. Secondments are a great way to gain similar experience. Most importantly, have an international perspective, take an interest in matters of international concern and involve yourselves in regional or global initiatives. I am sure that you will find an international approach to be as rewarding as I have!