Gowlings dips its toes in Cuban waters

Anticipating the business boom to come as Cuba opens up over the next few years, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP announced today it is launching a service in Havana for its clients.

The introduction of the initiative comes on the heels of the announcement the United States and Cuba have begun the process of normalizing diplomatic relations.

Led by partners Paul Fornazzari and Stuart Olley, under the umbrella of Gowlings Consulting Inc., the firm’s Cuba Initiative will assist clients from Canada, Europe and other international markets who are seeking to pursue business and investment opportunities in Cuba.

“I’ve got a lot of internal e-mails volunteering to set up an office in Varadero,” jokes Peter Lukasiewicz, Gowlings’ firm managing partner, external.

Due to the regulatory structure in Cuba, foreign law firms are not permitted to practise law in the country. That is not peculiar to Cuba — many countries have restrictions on non-domestically owned law firms practising law in their jurisdiction.

“At the moment, the Cuban legal market is restricted to Cuban law firms, however we have had for some time a subsidiary company — Gowlings Consulting Inc., and we have over the years delivered services through it through both lawyers and non-lawyers,” says Lukasiewicz.

The initiative will draw on a number of Gowlings partners, including Ralph Lean and Olley, who have experience in helping clients with Cuba-related business activities across a range of industries, such as energy, construction/infrastructure (private and public), real estate, telecommunications and hospitality-tourism and transportation.

“If Cuba is opened up to the United States, it is anticipated there will be a significant increase in transportation — particularly shipping,” he says. “As Cuba enters the world economy there will be significant opportunities for traditional import/export trade, in terms of products, goods and services between Cuba and Canada.”

Lukasiewicz declined to name specific clients that have expressed interest in the isalnd nation, but says the firm has already been retained by several significant Canadian companies looking to enter Cuba, demonstrating a rising interest in this emerging market.

Gowlings expects between six and 12 lawyers will be actively involved in the initiative. It has also recently welcomed Spanish-speaking transactional lawyer France Tenaille, whose Latin American background will be a strong asset to the initiative.

The firm will tap the expertise of Gregory Biniowsky, a Canadian lawyer based in Havana whose on-the-ground experience as a consultant to foreign businesses operating in Cuba spans two decades. Biniowsky’s extensive local knowledge and experience will help Gowlings explore ways in which it can best deliver service to clients through its Cuba initiative.

“He’s working with us to explore the regulatory options for us, but we have identified one of those which is to work with a Cuban law firm,” says Lukasiewicz. “We are in the process of identifying law firms and then will enter into discussions about developing a relationship so we can work with them so we can provide Cuban law advice to our clients.”

“Cuba’s current trade climate offers a unique window of opportunity for Canadian and international companies to strategically position themselves in an emerging economy,” said Scott Jolliffe, Gowlings chairmain and CEO. “Through our Cuba Initiative, we look forward to helping our clients take full advantage of Cuba’s expected rapid economic growth.”

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