Charting a new course

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As the region feels its way through the fog of the global pandemic, we enlisted some of Asia’s top general counsel for a virtual roundtable to plot a roadmap for recovery. Here are the highlights of the conversation moderated by Mithun Varkey

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2020 has been a year like no other in our lifetimes. While there is hope that we will successfully ride out the pandemic, one thing is certain – the old days are behind us and we need a new playbook. And that’s what brings us together, sharing ideas to script a new way ahead. We have a carefully assembled a team of leading in-house legal counsel from across the Asia-Pacific.

Our panelists include Sun Bin, who is the chief legal officer for Beijing, China-based Xiaomi Corp; Nilanjan Sinha, who is the head of legal for India and Southeast Asia at Mumbai, India-based lender ICICI Bank; Grace Yunica Janse, who is general counsel for Indonesian e-commerce company Sale Stock; Masako Takahata, the Tokyo-based director and general counsel for Japanese infrastructure company IDI Group; Olivia Khor, the general counsel for PricewaterhouseCoopers, Malaysia; Arlene Lapuz-Ureta, the president of the Legal Management Council of the Philippines, and legal counsel for Nissan Philippines; Yang Jay-son, president of the 1,800-strong In-House Counsel Forum in Korea, and senior legal counsel for Citibank Korea Inc; and Dessi Berhane Silassie, president of Singapore Corporate Counsel Association and general counsel, Asia-Pacific, and global head of IP for IHS Markit, a London-based information and technology platform.

Q1: What are the major legal issues and challenges companies will encounter as they come out of lockdown and countries slowly open up?

Nilanjan Sinha: Although it’s not a legal challenge, I think one of the things we’ll have to start getting better at is how we collaborate and come to a consensus while staring at a computer. And that’s going to be perhaps one of the biggest “new normal” challenges as I see it.

Talking about India, a slew of reforms have been announced by the government, including a lot of relief packages. One can divide the packages into four “Ls” – land, labour, liquidity and laws. Our reform packages are addressed to cover these four aspects, and the challenges and legal issues really emanate from there.

From the labour perspective, a whole new law that would consolidate various labour laws into one code, has been proposed. It will then mean a lot of unlearning and relearning in so far as how the laws would pan out. India has laws [emanating] from the time we were a British colony. What the government is trying to do is to look at rationalizing these laws. To give you an example, we had an Epidemic Diseases Act, which is from the 1800s. The first time it was amended was in April 2020, because it is the first time that we actually had a need to amend that law. Similarly, we are now looking at all laws.

As lawyers, we have to really start looking at all of these rationalizations of laws, which presents a big opportunity as well. While we talk about issues and challenges, a big opportunity I see is of legal advocacy. All of us as GCs have to play [a legal advocacy role] as these laws are getting shaped. We already see the government is coming out with a lot of talk papers, white papers, whether it is in the securities laws, corporate laws or stamp duties. This is our opportunity to actually get to frame the ecosystems of some of these laws. So, of course, the challenges will emerge from there.

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