Mexico’s economic situation gives grounds for cautious optimism. GDP grew by 2.5 % in 2015, and things look brighter still for 2016, if recent estimates released by the National Statistics Institute (INEGI) are accurate: for the first quarter of 2016, the institute predicted growth of 2.7 %. The positive figures reflect growth in all three of the main sectors of the Mexican economy, despite recent cutbacks in oil production and a slowdown in the US economy, with the country’s automotive manufacturing industry in particular remaining a key driver. On the downside, the demand for export goods in the manufacturing sector remains comparatively weak, and the country will have to adjust to falling oil prices. Ratings firm Moody’s has warned that the country could be downgraded if the slide in consumer confidence – as seen during the first quarter of 2016 – continues in the months to come.
Foreign investment remains relatively high, with many companies from the US, Europe and Asia entering the Mexican market, although the number of companies establishing local branches and subsidiaries has decreased slightly since 2015. Investors’ caution has contributed to an increase in internal corporate restructurings and reorganizations, while other notable areas of activity include energy and telecoms (in both cases as a result of the 2013 reforms initiated by President Peña Nieto) and also private equity.
In the competition and antitrust arena, the market remains wary of investigations into various industries. Founded in 2013, the Federal Economic Competition Commission (Cofece) and the Federal Institute of Telecommunications (IFT) –which is responsible for telecoms regulation– are now in consolidation mode, and law firms are expecting an increase in the prosecution of anti-competitive behaviour. Controversially, Cofece is entitled to lead investigations even in the absence of anti-competitive behaviour, so growing uncertainty in the market is unsurprising, and more and more companies are seeking legal advice on compliance issues. Recent work for Cofece’s investigative arm has included challenging the scheduling rules at Mexico City International Airport, claiming that there was a lack of healthy competition in the take-off and landing slots arena, a situation leading to higher consumer prices and discouraging new carriers from entering the market.
In the area of IP, lawyers are watching the ongoing negotiations over the recently signed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal closely, with some claiming it will likely lead to an amendment of domestic patent legislation (with significant implications for the pharmaceutical and generics sectors) as well as to changes to trade mark and copyright laws. Elsewhere, data privacy is a notable area of activity. The IP-legal market saw patent guru César Ramos, Jr. – a longtime partner at Olivares – move to Calderón & De La Sierra; trade mark expert Manuel Soto retire from Uhthoff, Gómez Vega & Uhthoff, SC; and in mid-2016, the former Avahlegal merge with Spain’s Lerroux & Fernández-Pacheco to become AvaLerroux, marking a strategic change towards a full-service model.
Following the country’s recent energy reforms, the implementation of new regulations to open the energy industry to the private sector is well under way. Early 2016 saw the launch of a wholesale power market, and the reforms have also brought a new clean energy law, approved by the Mexican Senate in late 2015 after months of modifications. More and more law firms are trying to establish themselves as serious players in the energy arena, with notable names including Solcargo, Ontier, Bello, Gallardo, Bonequi y García, S.C. and the newly established Energia e Infraestructura Asesores S.C..
The legal market continues to see the establishment of specialist boutiques, one of the most notable recent examples being labour and employment firm De la Vega & Martínez Rojas, S.C., whose two founding partners are among Mexico’s most renowned labour law experts. On the telecoms side, Gerardo Soria – long-time practice head at López Velarde, Heftye y Soria, SC (now Dentons López Velarde) – has set up Soria Abogados, S.C..
The tumult in Mexico’s tax sector has continued virtually unabated with Galicia Abogados SC being the latest corporate firm to seek to develop a practice in the sector with the incorporation of Gabriela Pellón as practice head, and Arturo Pérez Robles as counsel (plus four associates); both arrive from the former Ortiz, Saínz y Erreguerena (“OSE”). The latter firm also saw the departure of José Miguel Erreguerena to Rizo Garza-Cantú – now Rizo, Erreguerena y Garza-Cantú, S.C.. As a result, the former OSE has restructured as Ortiz Abogados Tributarios S.C. under the capable leadership of Gabriel Ortiz. Other notable market movements have seen the ‘return’ of Ortiz Abogados Tributarios S.C. –aka “OSY”– to independent private practice after ending its association with KPMG in March of this year; and the departure of Jaime Espinosa de los Monteros from Muñoz Manzo y Ocampo, SC for Hogan Lovells BSTL, S.C..
More generally, however, the heart of the corporate/financial transactional market remains dominated by its ‘big 5’ (alphabetically): Creel, García-Cuéllar, Aiza y Enríquez, S.C., Galicia Abogados SC, Mijares, Angoitia, Cortés y Fuentes S.C., Nader, Hayaux y Goebel, SC and Ritch Mueller, Heather y Nicolau, SC. Hard on their heels comes a heterogeneous group of firms led by the increasingly competitive Jones Day and ever present White & Case S.C., but also including other players with a broad service offering including international players such as Baker & McKenzie S.A.S., Hogan Lovells BSTL, S.C. and Greenberg Traurig, S.C., and additional key domestic players including González Calvillo, SC, Santamarina y Steta, Von Wobeser y Sierra, SC and Basham, Ringe y Correa, S.C..