LUIS RUBIO BARNETCHE

Mexico 2020 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

To further strengthen its presence in the market, Holland & Knight seeks to pursue available opportunities in the market even in challenging times.

Luis Rubio Barnetche
BIOGRAPHY

Luis Rubio Barnetche is Partner at Holland & Knight's Mexico City office. His practice focuses on representing domestic and international corporations on complex corporate matters, and he is well-versed in M&A, divestitures, joint ventures, international contracts, and international trade proceedings. Rubio pioneered the practice of dispute resolution in Mexico under Chapter XIX of NAFTA and was a member of the team that negotiated NAFTA on behalf of the Mexican government. He also advises major industrial, mobile telephone, and satellite operators in Mexico. He completed Harvard Business School's owner/president management (OPM) program.

How big of a role does Mexico play within the firm's international business strategy?
The largest market by far for most businesses catered to by the firm is the US, which will not change, although Mexico plays a highly strategic role. First, Mexico is a great trade partner of the US, its largest investor. Mexico comprehensively serves many of the firm's key clients. We certainly do not cover all areas, but on the commercial side, we cover employment, transactional and environmental, and IP litigation. We do not engage in criminal law, or specific law practices, where we work with other highly specialized firms. Mexico plays a crucial role, accounting for large transactions in Latin America. We are able to team up with US attorneys or colleagues in Colombia for such transactions across Latin America, cost-effectively. And with many being Spanish speakers, we enjoy a major advantage over US attorneys.

Can you tell us more about your largest projects in Mexico?
In 2019, we closed a unique and groundbreaking project locally, as Telefónica inked a crucial agreement with AT&T to share infrastructure on which to provide mobile telecom services. It will make both companies much more efficient and able to compete with dominant player America Movil. This maximizes efficiencies and savings in the payment of spectrum, and both companies can take advantage of new technologies including the approaching 5G era. I expect end-users to benefit from this. Certainly, Telefónica and AT&T will benefit from this, as well as the general market. It is a significant agreement. Meanwhile, we also represent Fibra Uno, and many investments were made in the real state sector. I would also mention the sale of the Pizza Hut franchise in Mexico by Premium Brands and the re-structuring of the entire franchise network. Premium Brands operates across Latin America, owning Pizza Hut and Kentucky Fried Chicken franchises. This restructuring will separate the brands and franchising to address different markets, and was an interesting transaction from many perspectives. We have been working on some of those transactions, and it has been a particularly challenging year of restructuring for many companies.

It sounds like you cover a wide variety of sectors, from fast food to real estate and telecoms. Is telecoms and ICT the firm's biggest segment in Mexico?
The industrial and telecoms sectors were the most active in 2019. We had an active energy sector two or three years ago, but many national energy projects have been halted. We were particularly active in nonrenewable energy. Eolic projects were not active in 2019.

As a law firm, what strategies are you planning to use to further strengthen your presence in Mexico?
I would highlight being price competitive, which is challenging in this market. Second, we have been keen to retain and attract talent, which has widely been a challenge. A mentor of mine said “never let a good crisis go to waste," and indeed, there are always good opportunities. We have to remain up to date with change and close to the administration as we pursue fresh opportunities.

What are your goals for 2020?
Our goal is to continue providing excellent service to our clients, and when I say “clients," I mean my internal clients that are those of the firm in the US, and our external clients, clients that we have brought into the firm. We aim to have the same volume of work to keep the firm busy and competitive. I expect this to be a more challenging year than 2019. I do not think there is a clear definition at least for the long term in many sectors where we are active, which will impact investments.