Barlow Lyde & Gilbert is launching its first Chinese office, in Shanghai, as the Chinese government considers widening the insurance market for foreign companies.
The firm is planning to enter the region in July with a staff of five, including consultant Heida Donegan and associate Hermes Pazzaglini, who are relocating from the Hong Kong office.
Barlow Lyde was awarded its licence to open the representative office in China at the same time as Ince & Co, which also plans to set up an operation in the region (The Lawyer, 29 May).
Commenting on Barlow Lyde's decision to open in Shanghai rather than Beijing, head of the China desk Claudio de Bedin says: "We feel it is the financial centre for northern China. The government has been more actively promoting it as a centre of financial and economic growth."
The firm will primarily be practising company and commercial law in the region. But de Bedin says that the government is planning to relax restrictions allowing insurance companies into the region. "There have been categories for different businesses in China, they have either been encouraged, permitted, restricted or prohibited."
He adds that foreign insurance companies can only base a certain percentage of their business in the region.
"It really depends on the level of activity a company is doing, for example whether you have 100 per cent of a company in China and what levels of business they might do in China," he says.
The move coincides with China's application for membership to the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The country has already been granted permanent normal trade relations, increasing business links with the US and also heightening its chances of becoming a member of the WTO.
CGNU, Axa Insurance and Royal & SunAlliance are already present in the region and Paul Taylor, national senior partner at Berrymans Lace Mawer, says insurance clients have advised the firm to open in the Far East.
However, he says it has not been decided whether the firm will move into the area of not.
Shanghai: Barlow Lyde opted for the city over capital Beijing