China’s Ministry of Commerce establishes first formal panel

The Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) of China has launched its inaugural panel, with a total of 20 international firms and 18 Chinese firms winning spots.

It is the first time the MOFCOM has established a formal legal panel, which consists of two sub-panel lists, international investment, and world trade organisation (WTO) and regional trade agreements (RTA) dispute resolution.

The panel was formed via a public competitive bidding procedures conducted by procurement agent CMC International Tendering Company on behalf of the MOFCOM. The tender invitation was sent out on 6 September and the panel appointments were announced last Friday (18 October).

According to the MOFCOM, the panel will be reviewed and re-appointed every two years through public tender.

On the international investment sub-panel, 12 international firms, 8 of which are US firms, have taken spots, meaning that they are qualified to represent the Chinese government in economic and trade agreements negotiations related to investment as well as international investment dispute cases. Also on the same sub-panel, 10 domestic firms have been appointed for PRC related legal advice. King & Wood Mallesons is the only firm in this sub-panel to have won both places, for international as well as PRC advice.

On the WTO and RTA dispute resolution sub-panel, 15 international firms and 10 PRC firms have been appointed (see below for a full list of panel firms).

Among the international firms, seven have been appointed to both sub-panels, Baker & McKenzie, Bennett Jones, Dentons, Jones Day, Sidley Austin, Squire Sanders and Steptoe & Johnson. Four Chinese firms have also won places on both lists, they are Jun He, JT&N, King & Wood Mallesons and Zhong Lun.

“It’s ground-breaking because this is the first time the Chinese government has formalised its procedures on instructing external counsel and has done it through official procurement agent,” says Jiang Liyong, a partner of Beijing-based Gaopeng & Partners, which has won a spot on the WTO and RTA dispute resolution panel.

“We, along with a number of other firms, have been working with the government on many WTO and trade cases, but mandate instructions will be given in a more formal and transparent way following the panel launch,” Jiang added.

It is understood that WTO and trade cases is one area where the government body pays the highest fees to external counsel each year. Chinese firms AllBright, Gaopeng, and King & Wood Mallesons, along with international firms such as Sidley Austin and Van Bael & Bellis, have regularly represented the government body in WTO and international trade related matters.

The panel launch came just weeks after MOFCOM issued new measures for instructing external counsel. The key guidelines include prioritising internal resources before considering instructing external lawyer and only instructing foreign counsel when necessary, and internal approval procedures when instructing external counsel. The measures also set out that feedback on external firms needs to be filed on the record within a month of the service completion. The panel will be reviewed and re-appointed every two years through public tender.

The MOFCOM is in the process of setting up another sub-panel for legal services in relation to US 337 investigation and trade barriers investigations. Through a public bidding process by CMC International Tendering Company, it is looking to appoint a maxium of 15 international and 15 domestic firms to the sub-panel. The winning bidders are expected to be announced in the next few weeks.

Full list of Panel firms

1. international investment

    International firms:

  • Arnold & Porter 
  • Baker & McKenzie
  • Bennett Jones
  • Dechert
  • Dentons
  • Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Jones Day
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Mannheimer Swartling Advokatbyra
  • Sidley Austin
  • Squire Sanders
  • Steptoe & Johnson

   PRC firms:

  • Dacheng
  • Huizhong
  • Zhonglun W&D
  • Zhong Lun
  • Shidai Jiuhe
  • Jun He
  • JT&N
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Global Law Offices
  • D&H

  2. WTO and RTA dispute resolution

    International firms:

   PRC firms:

  • Co-effort
  • AllBright
  • Zhong Lun
  • Jun He
  • JunZeJun
  • Huanzhong
  • King & Wood Mallesons
  • Hylands
  • Gaopeng & Partners
  • JT&N