How is the change in the regulatory framework affecting your industry?
Continued liberalization of the Chinese energy market, in particular the ongoing opening of LNG and natural gas receiving and distribution facilities to private companies, is delivering a more mature and efficient market which should be better equipped to meet China's medium to long-term energy demands. At the same time, it is creating a new group of industry participants who approach the business in a different manner to the traditional major players, and who will likely push for greater concessions in the regulatory framework moving forward.
What was the most significant development in your practice area in the past 12 months?
Energy price volatility and a related re-assessment of short-term energy needs has created uncertainty but also opportunities amongst many of our clients. We have seen a decrease in outbound 'big-ticket' M&A over the past 12 months as clients take this opportunity to re-assess and integrate recent acquisitions, but also an increased interest in greenfield project development opportunities in Asia and further afield.
What aspects of law in your practice area are in need of reform, and why?
The degree of control exercised by regulatory authorities over end-user energy pricing will continue to be a contentious reform issue in China, particularly as between private companies who seek a transparent and fully open market, and the government-controlled majors who have traditionally taken broader social and policy considerations into the execution of their operations.
Where do you see the 'next big thing' happening in the area you operate?
In the LNG space, we see an increased interest in the trading of LNG cargoes on a spot basis, which can be viewed as a natural development in the maturity process of any energy commodity. With significant additional volumes of LNG coming into Asia from Australia in the near future, we expect this trend to accelerate. However, we expect the spot market to remain essentially a secondary market, rather than supplanting the underlying importance of long-term offtake arrangements for LNG project development.
What are the most valuable features of your firm's career development programme and how does it help you in your professional growth?
V&E has a sophisticated online professional development programme which provides access to leading professionals in a variety of areas, regardless of their location in our global network, which is important for a firm spread over such a broad geographic area. This acts as a valuable complement to on-the-ground mentoring and learning opportunities in each of the offices.
What advice would you give to a young aspiring lawyer interested in getting into your practice area?
First and foremost you are at the table as a lawyer, so you need to know the law and be able to make clients aware of the legal issues in a given matter; beyond that, stay abreast of developments in politics, economics, trade theory and international relations because these all have a bearing on most transactions in the international energy space.