Clifford Chance‘s Shanghai office has won its first major instruction for Carrefour, displacing the company’s preferred adviser in China, Coudert Brothers. Corporate partner Stephen Harder is advising the French supermarket giant, which opened its first store in Beijing in 1994, in connection with its plans to double its presence in China by opening 40 supermarkets over the next three to five years.
Clifford Chance has an established relationship with Carrefour through Paris managing partner Yves Wehrli. The Lawyer understands that the firm now advises Carrefour in all of the eight jurisdictions in which the supermarket chain operates. Historically, Carrefour’s preferred adviser in China was Coudert Brothers and even though the US firm is still being retained the move is a serious blow to relationship partners Jingzhou Tao and Owen Nee, who refused to comment on the extent of their role in the expansion plans.
The Lawyer understands that Coudert advised Carrefour during its original expansion plans in China, which came to a dramatic standstill last year after the retailer entered into contracts to open regional branches with local governments without state approval. Carrefour escaped a fine and the closure of its stores in 15 cities, but was banned from opening the 10 new outlets it was planning that year. The ban was lifted in November 2001.
Carrefour’s expansion plans coincide with a report in the South China Morning Post that says the Chinese government is due to publish regulations aimed at tackling malpractice and ‘blind’ expansion of chain-stores in the country.