Better together? Ukraine and Russia’s contrasting trade alliances

Ukraine Photo Ivan BanduraHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

After months that have seen widespread demonstrations, bloodshed, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, snap elections and ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, it is easy to forget that it was the decision by former President Viktor Yanukovych to pull out of a much-anticipated trade pact with the European Union that sparked the protests in the first place.

Wind on nine months and the EU has signed an association agreement with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Russia has also forged ahead with expanding its own trade relationships and signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) with Belarus and Kazakhstan. As the fallout from the tragic downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July continues and relations across the EU and beyond become increasingly strained, the question remains: is it always better, together?

Lourdes Catrain, Vice-Chair of the IBA International Trade and Customs Law Committee and director of Hogan Lovells’ European international trade and investment group, believes the June association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is a significant step for European trade relations. ‘It’s important to remember that it was the proposed Ukrainian association agreement with the EU that triggered the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and which shows that Ukraine has made a strong bet for the EU,’ she says.

‘The association agreement with the EU shows that at least, a very large part of the population in Ukraine is prepared to follow the EU. Given the size of Ukraine that’s an important message. [Although] Georgia and Moldova have much smaller economies, it’s significant that the three of them have joined what could become a very deep association with the EU.’

Published on 04-08-14. Read on here

Crises highlight energy dependency concerns

Natural gas pipeline Photo Harald HoyerHere is my latest column published in IBA Global Insight:

The current turmoil in Ukraine continues to dominate the headlines in Europe, but the ripple effect has been felt much further afield. ‘The crisis in Ukraine has once again shown a close correlation between extreme political volatility and energy markets,’ says Pablo Alliani, Chair of the IBA Section on Energy, Environment, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Law and senior partner at Alliani & Bruzzon Abogados in Argentina. ‘Globalisation has interconnected the energy markets in such a manner that a crisis of this sort in any part of the globe will affect the whole world, regardless of any distance.’

For Alliani, there is cause for concern much closer to home: in Venezuela, where civil unrest and political demonstrations continue. ‘Venezuela’s role as one of the region’s leading oil producers means that a crisis in the country would have regional and international ramifications if the oil flow were disrupted,’ he says.

Although protests have been concentrated in the country’s main cities, far away from key production centres such as the Orinoco Belt, Lake Maracaibo and Monagas, the disorder threatens to destabilise the global energy market further. ‘In this respect,’ Alliani adds, ‘even if the oil industry remained insulated, prolonged unrest could severely affect Venezuela’s economy, with major consequences for its key trading partners.’

Published on 06-06-14. Read on here

Venezuela: protests heighten concern over rule of law

Venezuela_protests_against_the_Nicolas_Maduro_government,_Maracaibo_03Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

As the situation in Ukraine grows increasingly complex by the day and draws the world’s attention, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic,Venezuela endures the worst protests it has seen in more than a decade.

What started as a mere isolated, student-led protest in early February has evolved into a widespread demonstration of discontent, highlighting the government’s failure to provide adequate security measures, basic food supplies and its mishandling of the country’s finances. The protests have drawn comparisons with the unrest that ravaged the country in 2002 and are the most serious challenge yet to the government of Nicolás Maduro, who was elected president in April last year following the death of Hugo Chávez of cancer, after 14 years in office.

Although similar to earlier demonstrations, former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas, says the scale of these protests has taken the country and the government by surprise. ‘We have not seen governmental repression quite like this in recent years: based on different reports, in 17 days of protests there have been 18 deaths and 1,044 arrests,’ he says.

Published on 05-03-14. Read on here

Chile and Wales lead renewed drive for opt-out organ donation scheme

Organ Donation Community

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

While World Cup qualification is arguably the most prominent thing in most Chilean and Welsh people’s minds right now, the two countries have another topic of conversation in common: organ donation.

Chile and Wales are the two latest countries to vote in favour of introducing the controversial opt-out organ donation system, where individuals are presumed to have given consent for their organs to be donated unless they choose to opt out.

Wales made history in July this year when it became the first country in the UK to adopt the system in a bid to counteract a shortage of organ donors. The new law, which is due to come into force in 2015, aims to increase the number of organs available in Wales by around 25%.

Just the previous month Chilean President Sebastián Piñera signed into law an amendment to convert the country’s existing opt-in system – la Ley de Donante Universal, which was first adopted in 2010 – into an opt-out system.

Published on 07-09-13. Read on here

Guatemala: historic Ríos Montt conviction overturned

Here is my latest piece published in the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

On 10 May it looked as if history had finally been made when former Guatemalan dictator General José Efraín Ríos Montt became the first person ever to be convicted of genocide in a domestic court.

86-year-old Ríos Montt, who came to power in Guatemala following a coup on 23 March 1982, stood accused of implementing a counter-insurgency policy that massacred more than 1,700 and displaced thousands of other members of indigenous group the Ixil Maya in 1982.

The three-judge panel ruled that Ríos Montt should be sentenced to 80 years in prison, which includes 50 years for genocide, with an additional 30 years added to his sentence for crimes against humanity.

The verdict in itself was of unparalleled historic significance for Guatemala, Central America and human rights as a whole. However, despite the damning 718-page judgment released on 17 May, just ten days later the country’s Constitutional Court dramatically overturned the ruling, effectively resetting the trial back to 19 April.

Published on 22-05-13. Read on here