Thawing Cuban Market Offers Opportunities for Canadian Law Firms
If you’ve caught any international news headlines over the past few months, you’re probably aware of the historic talks taking place between Cuba and the United States in an attempt to normalize their diplomatic relations.

For one Canadian law firm, this development presents an interesting opportunity. Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP recently launched a Cuban initiative with the purpose of advising clients that might be seeking to invest in the island as new possibilities emerge.

Anticipating the ‘Boom’

Gowling’s initiative is focusing on offering counsel to both Canadian and European businesses interested in Cuban expansion. Many outside observers stress the likelihood of a building boom in preparation for the onslaught of U.S. tourists. These businesses could find opportunities to build new hotels, pave new roadways, and construct other important infrastructure.

While these diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Cuba, which are being brokered by Canada, are a hopeful sign, it is still likely that a number of years lay between now and the date of the official lifting of the U.S. trade embargo.

This means that it will be sometime before U.S. companies can enter the market, leaving a significant and beneficial window for companies based in Europe and Canada. As expressed by Scott Jolliffe, chairman and executive of Gowlings, “The real opportunity for Canadians is, we have a normal relationship now. There’s obviously going to be a significant opening up, but at the moment we are not competing with U.S. companies to enter into the market.”

Staying Ahead of the Curve

While foreign law firms are not expressly permitted to practice law in Cuba, Gowlings, operating under the banner Gowlings Consulting Inc., will be strategically partnering with a local law firm and says they will be routinely sending staff to the island for consulting purposes.

Because Gowlings will not be establishing a permanent Cuban office, Jolliffe says his firm will be unaffected by the terms of the U.S. embargo, which has led to other Canadian businesses active in Cuba being banned from entering the U.S. Additionally, the firm plans to offer their services to American companies looking to use Canada as an avenue to circumvent the embargo and invest in Cuban expansion indirectly.

A Historical Precedent

This is not the first liberalizing country that Gowlings has seen as an opportunity. The firm historically opened its’ Moscow office in 1990, preceding the final collapse of the Soviet Union but only months after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Gowlings partner Gregory Biniowsky believes that Cuba is going to be exploding with opportunity in the coming years. Just in the tourism industry alone, the island’s current trend of three millions visitors a year is expected to increase dramatically.

“You have a tourist infrastructure that has to double, if not triple, in size... That’s a lot of hotel rooms, a lot of airport space, that’s a lot of cruise ship terminals,” says Biniowsky. Already, Gowlings has about 10 clients interested in Cuban investment opportunities, including a medical tourism business focused on flying patients seeking hip replacements and other procedures into the country to take advantage of Cuba’s well-known medical system.


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Posted by: DSR
Friday, May 1, 2015
Tag: Legal
Business Start Ups
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