Q&A: Stefano Simontacchi on BonelliErede's new African law offices
International law firm BonelliErede has recently opened its first offices in Africa - one in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the other in Cairo, Egypt. We interviewed joint managing partner Stefano Simontacchi, the man responsible for spearheading the venture. He also worked closely with the Italian government on the Africa Act; naturally, we quizzed him about that too.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your role at BonelliErede?
In the past few months, much of my attention as Co-managing Partner of BonelliErede has been taken up focussing on expanding our international presence. We have now officially opened two offices in Africa, as part of our wider Africa project – one in Cairo, and the other in Addis Ababa.
My role as head of the Africa Committee has involved helping set up the Committee’s organisational structure. The Africa Committee is in charge of setting up the Africa Project, and ensuring the best possible teams are in place to operate in these regions as successfully as possible. In Egypt, we have a team of senior professionals currently comprising three local partners who, in cooperation with our Egyptian partner law firm Kosheri, Rashed & Riad, look after international clients interested in doing business in Egypt and across African in general.
In Ethiopia, the team is being spearheaded by partner Gianpiero Succi, along with a group of senior professionals. This team is responsible for co-ordinating all matters relating to the Africa project, as well as working with our Ethiopian partner Teshome Gabre-Mariam Bokan Law Office. BonelliErede also have a strong working relationship with local law firms in other African countries on cross-border matters.
The Africa Committee is also steering the scouting of other priority countries in Africa and the Middle East and the potential launch of new officesthere.
The Africa Committee is also in the front line for spearheading educational and cultural initiatives in Africa such as cooperation with local Governments for the drafting of new legislations and partnerships with Universities - as we did in Ethiopia - for joint seminars.
Why has BonelliErede decided to open two new offices in Africa?
BonelliErede have always had an interest in Africa as a continent full of opportunity and which shows the greatest growth prospects in the coming decades. Historically, Egypt and Ethiopia also have close ties to Italy, not just geographically but also in terms of culture and trade relations, which compliments BonelliErede’s heritage.
We chose Egypt because we believe it offers the ideal mix of market size, thanks to massive international investment, and it has close ties with Italy, not only in terms of geographical proximity, but also in terms of culture and trade relations (Italy is the top export destination for Egypt and its third largest importer after the US and China).
Ethiopia is also one of Africa’s most important countries, due to its increasing openness to international investment, the growing European / Italian business community and one of the highest GDP percentage growth rates. Ethiopia is another linchpin for our development in East Africa.
In addition, Ethiopia is playing an increasingly decisive role in the integration of Africa (the African Union – an international organisation comprising all African countries except Morocco – is based in Addis Ababa, which is also home to the headquarters of the European Union Delegation to Africa) and in trade between Africa and Europe.
Now is an exciting time in Africa as international investors look with increased attention to enter into the market and develop their businesses on the continent. Our goal is to bring our international expertise to such a growing and thrilling region, by offering legal and business support to our current and potential clients who are looking to build a presence in Africa.
What opportunities are there for Italian investment in Africa?
Africa is bursting with opportunities in their consumer goods, natural resources and infrastructure & agriculture markets. It is not surprising that international investors are looking to African countries with increased attention, and for some time now, many multinationals have developed strategies to enter and develop their businesses in the continent.
BonelliErede intends to be at the front line, on hand to offer its international legal expertise to foster foreign direct investment in Africa that ‘passes through’ Italy. Our goal is to bring a service to our current and potential clients in Africa, offering expertise in project finance, international taxation and transfer pricing, corporate/M&A, international arbitration and anticorruption.
Can you briefly explain Italy’s African Act as well please?
The Italian government has recently launched the African Act, which is designed to encourage and help create opportunities in Africa, and also for Italy to become the hub for investment into Africa. Again this comes back to the cultural ties that bind Africa and Italy together.
It is our aim to be at the forefront of this initiative and offer international legal expertise to foster foreign direct investment that ‘passes through’ Italy. We have established a strong network of local and highly reputed African law firms with whom we work seamlessly, which further allows BonelliErede and our clients to work across borders.
Italy’s recovery may start from Africa: our country must take concrete actions to create conditions for a privileged partnership with the African continent, once again taking a leading role in the global economy.