When navigating the complexities of Canada-China commercial transactions, it helps to speak the languages of all involved. But the proficiency that matters most is fluency with the laws of the two countries.
Ottawa Associate Yufei Luo is equally at home in either country, fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. She grew up in the busy port city of Guangzhou, a four-hour drive from Hong Kong, and studied in Beijing, Guangzhou, Kuala Lumpur and Toronto. She has obtained master of law degrees in both Canada and China.
Before coming to Canada, Yufei worked at one of the most prestigious law firms in China, providing counsel for high-profile Chinese domestic and North American companies and advising on Chinese foreign investment laws, commercial lending, corporate law and employment matters.
A few years ago, Yufei followed her family to Canada and subsequently earned her legal credentials for the Ontario Bar. Today, she is a Chinese-qualified lawyer, admitted to practice in both China and Canada with specialties in mergers and acquisitions, private equity and general corporate law.
We spoke to her about practicing law between two nations and cultures.
Q: What is the appeal of practicing law?
Yufei: To me it's the art of going from the abstract to the specific and from the specific back to the abstract– breaking the facts of the matter into pieces, analyzing and synthesizing them to determine how best to apply the law. I enjoy such a process. Lawyers repeat these kinds of exercises every day in one way or another no matter what areas of practice they are in.
Q: Why did you choose mergers and acquisitions with your particular focus?
Yufei: When I started my practice in China, the legal landscape of foreign investment was undergoing significant changes. New laws and policies had been instituted to tighten restrictions on mergers of foreign investors with Chinese domestic businesses. Such changes had significant impact on foreign investors trying to tap into Chinese key industries and Chinese companies looking to access foreign capital through backdoor listings. In the early days of implementation, guidelines on operation and interpretation of these new laws and policies were scarce. M&A lawyers at that time were in high demand. That's how I came into the M&A world.
Q: What added value do you believe you bring to clients because of your background and language proficiency?
Yufei: The increased complexity in cross-border transactions, given the need of dealing with different legal systems and cultural differences particularly, demands transactional lawyers who are able to engage all negotiation parties in discussion with an open-minded approach. Lawyers are perceived by clients not only as advisors on legal matters but also as critical business partners. The mix of my experience and education contributes to both the client and our team in building such as a business partnership.
Q: With headlines being made by the NAFTA negotiations and a new TPP agreement, what do you consider to be the top challenges/opportunities facing companies today?
Yufei: I think Canadian small-and-medium enterprises are under pressure to look beyond North America amid the uncertainty surrounding the NAFTA renegotiations. This will present an opportunity for the governments of Canada and China to advance free trade talks.
Although the Canadian public remains divided on whether and how the Canada-China trade deal can benefit the Canadian economy at large, I think we should let the market guide our decision.
We do see more deals and collaboration at different levels between the two countries. The challenge companies in both countries continue to face is how to embrace the differences of the economic and political systems, and identify and emphasize the many common grounds.
Q: What misconceptions do companies in each country have about that?
Yufei: We talk about this perception that Canadian companies have about China – lack of government transparency, bias against foreign firms, bureaucratic justice system, etc. But things have improved significantly. Take the development in China's IP protection as an example, which has long been openly criticized by western business. In fact, as China transitions to a more sophisticated and innovation-oriented global economy, China is now the No. 1 country in terms of the number of patent applications.
Specialized IP courts have been created in most of the major cities in China, which could provide faster resolution at lower costs than in other countries like the U.S. More and more foreign companies choose China as the forum to litigate IP disputes, which has demonstrated a very high win rate for complainants. Quite opposite to the Canadian perception about the Chinese judicial system, foreign complainants often receive special attention in courts because Chinese authorities see the value of building a healthy investment environment by ensuring a fair legal process.
For Chinese companies, they should look beyond Canadian sectors like beef, pork, lobster, ice wine, hotels, mining, and oil and gas. There is a lot more Canada can offer and for Chinese companies to explore for business collaboration that can really complement the economies of each country.
Q: What do you do for fun away from the office?
Yufei: I'm a good cook. I like entertaining my family and friends by preparing good meals. All the prep of chopping ingredients is a good way to relax. I like to experiment with the Instant Pot programmable multi-cooker, which was invented by software engineers here in Ottawa.
To read the full Capital Perspectives: Ottawa Newsletter, please click here.