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Editorial

How fleeting was the so-called “Mexican moment”? – that public relations chimera which greeted the incoming administration of President Peña Nieto in 2012 when a cross-party consensus facilitated the passage of “structural” (ie: constitutional) reforms, opening the way to liberalization of the energy sector and key state entities PEMEX and CFE (in the hydrocarbons and electricity areas, respectively). Five years on, Peña Nieto is little more than a lame-duck president and in political terms, all eyes are looking to the 2018 presidential election in which the only declared candidate is left-wing populist Andrés López Obrador. With Peña Nieto’s PRI largely regarded as a spent force (recent elections in the State of Mexico notwithstanding), alliance negotiations between the PAN (on the right) and PRD (on the left) reek of some desperation in the face of “AMLO’s” continuing popularity. Arguably, this very popularity points towards the catastrophic failure of Peña Nieto’s PRI administration in socio-political terms, with the country wracked by ever increasing, quasi-endemic, levels of violence and corruption. The horrendous Ayotzinapa case –and its subsequent handling– both opened a new social divide domestically, and profoundly damaged the country’s international reputation; while corruption, according to statistics compiled by Mexicanos Contra la Corrupción y Impunidad (México: Anatomia de la Corrupción 2nd ed.) costs the country 10% of its gross national product annually – some MXN$ 43bn ($2.4bn US).

Into this scenario, the late 2016 the arrival of Donald Trump to the US presidency exploded like a rhetorical bomb. His anti-Mexican vitriol, and calls for the scrapping of NAFTA (now ‘downgraded’ to a renegotiation of certain chapters) and calls for a continuous wall the length of the US-Mexican border proving too much for a debilitated administration and a fragile currency, which promptly fell some 12-13%, a drop unseen since the post-‘Tequila crisis’ falls of 1994/5. Six months on, however, and future political uncertainties notwithstanding, the country’s scenario has brightened considerably. The peso has recovered considerably as the Trump-factor has been factored into both political and investment equations – as the considerable ongoing investment into the automotive sector (principally in El Bajío) serves to illustrate. Indeed, ironically, it is the economy (or at least certain aspects of it) that constitute the brightest points on the Mexican horizon. As of mid-2017, automotive exports to US are at historical highs, as are remittances from the US back to Mexico; and a tax repatriation amnesty during the first half of the year has proved enormously successful. Moreover, the reverberations of the government’s structural reforms continue to emanate and have driven a wave of business and legal activity in the energy sector (both power and hydrocarbons), and which has also reached into the infrastructure sector (eg: pipeline projects such as Las Ramones).

FIRMS IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Jáuregui y Del Valle, S.C.

Jáuregui y Del Valle, S.C. was founded in 1975. It is the result of the merger between Jáuregui y Navarrete, S.C. and Del Valle Torres, S.C., one of Mexico’s foremost multidisciplinary law firms specialized in international business transactions. - See more at: /firms/51322-j-uregui-y-del-valle-s-c/offices/53985-mexico-city-mexico/profile#sthash.7bGk4sVv.dpuf

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Infrastructure development has, arguably, been one of the great failures of the current administration; above and beyond energy sector matters, the new Mexico City International Airport, and some ‘social infrastructure’ (primarily hospitals and prisons), there has been relatively little activity and the government has profoundly failed to harness the sector as a motor to drive development. While the country now has a new investment instrument, the Fibra-E, which is designed to facilitate energy and infrastructure financing, the sector largely remains a future promise.

Elsewhere, legal market activity has mirrored the country’s economic fluctuations. The peso’s severe fall in late 2016 decimated capital markets activity, severely curtailed M&A transactions and saw numerous investment projects placed on hold. While there has been a gradual recovery and reactivation since April, it is doubtful that economic activity levels will recuperate fully before pre-electoral hesitancy once again cools the markets. As a result, many law firms have sought to increase the sophistication of their offering in relatively novel areas such as banking regulation, data privacy, corporate compliance and contentious-administrative matters among them.

With the longstanding presence of firm’s such as White & Case S.C. and Baker McKenzie S.C., as well as innumerable Texan (eg: Haynes and Boone, L.L.P.) and/or bi-national firms (eg: Thompson & Knight LLP, Cacheaux, Cavazos & Newton or Gardere, Arena y Asociados S.C.), the Mexican market has perhaps become accustomed to the presence of foreign firms – and as a result has therefore been relatively sanguine about recent arrivals. However, the scale of such developments, (the recent arrivals of Dentons López Velarde, DLA Piper Gallastegui y Lozano, Mayer Brown Mexico, S.C. and Cuatrecasas, for example), should give the market pause for thought. Certainly firms such as Jones Day and Greenberg Traurig, S.C. are increasingly on the shoulder of the elite group of firms with a full or broad service offering that currently dominate the market (namely: 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), and we can expect them to be increasingly aggressive over the next presidential sexenio as the process of establishing themselves gives way to one of growth. It is certainly the case that firms in the mid-market, and/or those boutiques that are seeking to grow and broaden their service offerings, are facing increasing competition for both clients and talent.

In the interim, procedural reforms in the labour sector have largely been welcomed, but the increasingly aggressive policies of other state entities is causing businesses discomfort that result in mandates for law firms. In the competition and anti-trust sector, the Competition Commission (COFECE, and in the telecoms sector, IFETEL) has taken an increasingly harsh line, a factor that some regard as favouring larger law firms over competition boutiques (which –it is suggested– struggle with the ever-increasing volume of paperwork and requirements). In this, COFECE echoes the recent posture of Mexico’s Tax Administration Service (SAT) which, the repatriation amnesty notwithstanding, has taken an increasingly aggressive line in terms of tax audits and assessments. This position, and the perceived tendency of the tax courts to generally back the tax authority’s position, has seen a drop in litigation in favour of negotiated ‘acuerdos conclusivos’ (final agreements) with tax-dispute resolution body, PRODECON.

And it is precisely the tax sector where many of the stresses of increasing legal market re-accommodation have been most clearly visible. Following considerable movement during 2015-16 (which included the return of Ortiz, Sosa Y Asociados, S.C., which had spent two years in association with KPMG, to independence; the dismemberment of the former Ortiz, Sosa y Erreguerena, leading to the emergence of Ortiz Abogados Tributarios S.C. and full service-player Galicia Abogados SC’ establishment of a tax department); early 2017 saw Ritch Mueller, Heather y Nicolau, SC join the group of leading ‘full-service’ firms with a significant tax offering when it incorporated two partners and a 9-strong mixed-team of accountants and lawyers, groups with a strong orientation towards energy sector-related tax matters, from Ernst & Young. More recently still, Creel, García-Cuéllar, Aiza y Enríquez, S.C., arguably the leading protagonist in terms of developments in the sector, has taken a further step with the opening of a fully-fledged transfer-pricing practice.

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