The large-scale shift to telework brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is prompting businesses around the world to explore new avenues to engage with clients and friends. Harris Bricken is no exception, and we are happy to provide this podcast series: Global Law and Business, hosted by international attorneys Fred Rocafort and Jonathan Bench.

In Episode #37, Jonathan and Fred look back at the podcast’s first year and look ahead at 2021.

Some of the highlights:

We look forward to your continued listenership in 2021!

This podcast audio has been transcribed by an automatic transcriber.

Fred Rocafort  0:08 

Global law and global business go hand in hand, but never seem to keep pace with each other. The importance on the global stage of developing and developed nations waxes and wanes, while consumption and interconnectedness steadily increase all the while laws and regulations change incessantly requiring businesses to stay nimble. But how do we make sense of it all? Welcome to global law on business posted by Harrisburg ns International Business attorneys. I’m Fred Rocafort.


Jonathan Bench  0:37 

And I’m Jonathan bench. Every week, we take a targeted look at legal and economic developments in locales around the world as we try to decipher global trends in law and business with the help of international experts. We cover continents, countries, regimes, governance, finance, legal developments, and whatever is trending on Twitter, we covered the important, the seemingly unimportant, the relatively simple and the complex.


Fred Rocafort  1:02 

We hope you enjoyed today’s podcast, please connect with us on social media to comment and suggest future topics and guests.


Jonathan Bench  1:22 

In this first episode kicking off 2021 Fred and I thought we would spend some time talking about what we saw in 2020. What we’re looking forward to and what we’re not looking forward to in 2021. So buckle up, we’re going to have a in house conversation here. And we’re happy to have your feedback. So please engage with us. And stay tuned for future episodes.


Fred Rocafort  1:45 

So Jonathan, let’s kick things off by reflecting on the work we’ve done with the podcast. What are your impressions after more than a half year of working on this this podcast? And what are you looking forward to next year?


Jonathan Bench  2:00 

You know, podcasting is something that I was relatively new to, I always like audiobooks. And so for me, I think my goal in doing the podcast with you was really to be able to cover things that we were interested in. And which is why I think we cast the net as broad as we did with global law and business, but also having it engaging enough that people would want to keep tuning in. And we have to tell personal stories. And that’s why we’ve always wanted to start with the person that we’re talking to, and understand where they’re coming from and what their history is. Because I think a lot of us are continually gauging where we are in our lives and whether or not we want to make a change in our career or change in our employer, changing the way we think about life or live our lives. And so I think for me, the podcast has really helped broaden my horizon to people around the world, you know, your friends, my friends, friends of friends, people with all kinds of different perspectives from different cultures, different ages. And that has been a very rewarding thing for me to be a part of this year. What about you? What do you think about how it’s gone so far?


Fred Rocafort  2:58

Well, first of all, I’d like to point out what a great experience it’s been to work with you. And also with with Madeline, our our producer, our listeners haven’t had the pleasure yet of listening to her. But at some point, we’ll have to turn the tables around a little bit and then let her tell us her story. So that’s that’s the first thing. It’s just been a wonderful experience in terms of who I’m working with, but also what we’re doing right. And of course, the kind of guests that we’ve been meeting, taking into account that this has been a year, when social contact has been so limited. I think it’s been particularly enjoyable and welcome to have the opportunity, even if it’s done virtually to to meet new people and to stay connected to old friends. And to do it in a way that really makes the encounters meaningful, right? I mean, you can exchange WhatsApp messages with an old friend. But in this setting in which we interact with them. It definitely brings a new facet to the communication. So that’s been great. Also, I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned this to any of you. But it’s actually my second attempt at podcasting. Many years ago, I think this would have been 2012 2013 I had this crazy idea to contribute to the world of podcasting by having a Spanish language podcast on on China, I saw that there was a real dearth of programming in Spanish. There still is, frankly, but it was a lot of work. I didn’t have a teammates, let alone great ones like you guys. So in the end, I couldn’t make room for the podcasting. It did give me an appreciation for how how fun it can be. So I’m really glad that this has taken place and taking shape and the way that it has and that I can incorporate that into my work. Looking ahead at 2021. What what are some of the things that we can look forward to in terms of the podcast? What are some of the changes Just as we’ve been discussing, or perhaps things that we hadn’t discussed that you’ve been thinking about?


Jonathan Bench  5:04 

Well, I think that the first thing is we’ve been kicking around the idea for quite a few months of adding video to the podcast. And I joked with Madeline the other day, that means that I can’t wear my pajamas when I do this. And I have to do my hair somehow. So I mean, that’s going to be a change, I think it’s an exciting change, I very much enjoy seeing people’s faces. You know, I don’t think that every meeting needs to be a zoom meeting. But I think that it is fun for those who want to tune in and see us and see our guests that that will be an exciting addition. And I think also, you know, we’re looking at coming up on our one year anniversary in May, I believe. And so thinking about, you know, how to make that a special thing for us and for our listeners. And so I’m, I’d love to find out from our regular listeners, if you have suggestions, you have connections, someone who you think would be a great fit for our one year anniversary, or for any other episode, where we’re definitely open to those suggestions. We are continually broadening our network and know that relying on our friends to help us do that is the best way really to build a really coherent global network. What about you, Fred?


Fred Rocafort  6:08 

So definitely looking forward to the video version of the podcast, although as you anticipated, it will, it will mean making some adjustments in terms of dress code and appearance. Another thing that we’ve been talking about is starting some some offshoots, perhaps of the of the podcast, specific ideas that that has been discussed as having some podcasting in Spanish, the programming wouldn’t be as regular as what we’re doing with this podcast. But at least every once in a while, the produce some content for the Spanish speakers, I can tell you from experience that even for those who understand English, well, there’s just something special about having programming in their own language. So hopefully, we can, we can start doing a little bit of that with us involved. And maybe in some instances, not necessarily, with with us participating directly having some our colleagues step in and offer something in other languages. That’s definitely something to look forward to. This year, we launched a Spanish language Twitter handle. And it’s been it’s been fun to work on that. So I see having some Spanish language episodes as a as a logical continuation of that. definitely looking forward to hitting the one year mark. At that point, it will be interesting to to start having some some guests come back on the podcast, and sort of have that historical perspective that we can draw on that I’m sure that’ll that’ll make for interesting programs. Naturally, we tried to keep the programming as diverse as possible, not have too many guests from a particular country or a particular part of the world. But as time goes on, I think we will be in a position where it will make sense to start having other guests from a particular country. So that’ll that’ll add a certain depth to what we’re doing. Shifting slightly, Jonathan, our podcasting is ultimately a part of our work, even though it’s a probably more fun than than just about everything else we do. But looking at the quote unquote, serious work, because I consider the podcasting to be serious as well. But But looking more broadly at work, what are what are some of the things that you anticipate going into into the new year? How do you think it will be different from 2020? And how do you think it’ll be similar to 2020?


Jonathan Bench  8:42 

I think I’ve seen a preview of this in the fourth quarter. So in my transactional practice, I do a lot of international work. And so, you know, we saw China start to dip very early in 2020. You know, our workload lightened up quite a bit in first quarter. And then as China started recovering, getting COVID, under control, we saw a slight bump in quarter two, and third and fourth quarter were were significantly busier than than I think even I expected us to be. So I expect that the rest of the world will kind of follow that curve. I mean, I think even the fourth quarter of this year has been indicative because everybody in my world needs to get their deals done by December 31, you know, for the end of their tax year. And so I’ve seen a pickup there. And so I think that we’ll see some natural growth, I think probably quarter one will be busier than we normally have in quarter one, because people are still, you know, the countries are still recovering from COVID. I think we’re going to be dealing with that. So it’ll be interesting to see how COVID impacts that, you know, we may see more regeneration of work from Central and South America, from Africa from Southeast Asia, as those countries get COVID more under control with the rollout of the vaccines. So that’s kind of what I’m, I’m thinking we’ll see is that we probably will see a modified curve from the way a normal year is Just kind of slow in the first quarter and then picks up steam gradually toward the end of the year. You and I talked about PPE, why don’t you fill everyone in on what you do? And you and I work together quite a bit on on PPE related deals, especially in this COVID era. And what do you think is going to happen with that in 2021?


Fred Rocafort  10:16 

When the pandemic started, or I should say, when when we first started to see a concerted response to the pandemic, obviously, one of the big topics was the the lack of PPE, and then the rush to source PPE in China and other countries. And of course, this was taking place in the context of a trade war, where the US had been making some aggressive moves against China, particularly in terms of tariffs. So it wasn’t just that there was this rush to source product in China, but also under conditions that were clearly not the most conducive to smooth business. Very early on, we essentially established a Coronavirus practice Group, a big part of that was was PPE given my own work with customs related matters, there was a logical fit for me and within within that team, we were dealing with export issues out of China, we were dealing with both import and export issues in the United States and import issues and in other countries where goods were being sent either after transshipment through the United States or directly from from China. So there was a there was a logical fit there, we’re still seeing the the lifecycle of all this play out, where we’ve definitely seen a pickup recently, in MPP. related matters as companies and individuals who who purchased PP are beginning to deal with the fallout of their transactions. In some cases, there are quality issues. In other cases, there are payment issues. So I anticipate that 2021, especially first second quarter will continue to have a very strong PPE flavor, probably even more so than what we’ve seen in 2020. More broadly, of course, we all know that the pandemic brought on incredible disruptions across the business world from pretty much from the start, the the legal ramifications of all this were felt. And then I think both of us attended a number of seminars, talking about the different foreclosure and other related causes and jurisdictions around the world. But I think as we go deeper into 2021, we’ll start seeing some serious legal Fallout, including, of course, litigation, arising out of the the pandemic, and all of the business deals that were were impacted by it. Obviously, COVID is going to be front and center for for all of us. And it will continue to be at least for for a large part of 2021. I cannot see a scenario where that’s not the case. But of course, that’s not the only thing that we’re going to be looking at. So Jonathan, what are some other things that you’ll you’ll be looking for in the coming year?


Jonathan Bench  13:15 

I’d like to echo what you said about force majeure.I think that for the first, you know, 8, 9, 10 years of my practice, I it was, it was always a provision that I took note of, but it’s in a section of contracts that we call boilerplate. because traditionally, you know, in, in cross border transactions, or purchasing sales of goods, you know, you would exchange purchase orders, and then the buyer or seller  would attach their, you know, their standard terms and conditions to, you know, on page two, and send it, you know, send it to the buyer or seller. And so, and usually those get modified, right, those were just kind of accepted or not, you know, and sometimes the other party would send back, you know, the acceptance with their own boilerplate terms. So a lot of times, I guess in the in the contracting world, that’s what we call the flyover zone, right, is that once once people get to that part of the contract, their eyes start to glaze over because you get to about 10 or so 10 15, 20 and a boilerplate provisions that are fairly standard, but that you can always modify as well. And force majeure is, is one of those provisions. Right. And it basically says that the parties, you know, one or both of the parties will be excused from performance of this contract, if there’s a supervening event, you know, something that’s outside the party’s control that they didn’t anticipate, and a lot of times, you know, that is not detailed. Sometimes it is where it’ll say, you know, flood, famine, war, pestilence, you know, natural disasters, things like that. Right. And so, I know that every other lawyer like me, transactional lawyers, and of course litigators, too, every time a contract comes across our desk now for the rest of our working lives, and we, we see force majoure, we’re gonna have a, you know, a punch to the pit of our stomach, and we’ll remember 2020 and think, oh, it could happen again. Right? And so we’re going to pay close attention to that. I would say other things that that I’m very interested in that I’ve been keeping tabs in 2020. And we’ll certainly keep an eye on in 2021. And I’ll just list these. And then if we want to talk about them in detail we can, I think the first one for me is the growing alliances around the world to counter China. You know, especially I think a lot of us were kind of surprised that the Trump administration, this started happening under the Trump administration, because he was very much in America first is still president is still America first policy. And so seeing that, you know, China did what, what President Trump had no inclination of doing, which was to really force us to start building our alliances, you know, two party three party four party alliances around China to counter China’s influence around the world. So we saw that India, making closer ties with Japan and Australia and the US. And, you know, the talk of Japan joining the Five Eyes Alliance, which is the US and several of its allies to share in national security information. And so I think that’s a big thing for me to see how the the national level how things are shifting how the dialogue is shifting, and where those alliances are shaking out. The other couple more, I think, a lot of manufacturing, moving from China to Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, right, seeing which countries of those are going to work out to be the winners, to what extent that drain will continue. And you know, how long people’s memories will last in terms of realizing that it wasn’t a good idea to have all of our eggs in the China manufacturing basket. I think that just kind of China generally will continue to be a massive topic, you know, China’s such a huge economy is, is on pace to outpace the US in terms of economic size, just based on the sheer number of people, right? And so I think that’ll be interesting to watch and see what’s happening with China. And certainly you and I will, we’ll try to sit on our hands and not bring up China in every podcast that we have in 2021. But China is the other elephant in the room, and it’s hard to ignore what’s going on and how China’s actions impact the rest of the world. And last, I think the you know, seeing cannabis, you know, our, in our practices, at our firm, we end up doing a lot of work in the cannabis space. So you know, whether that’s state legal marijuana programs, or hemp, you know, as as legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, you know, there are lots of things going on in the cannabis world and alternative substances as well. And so I think keeping pace with that, and seeing what’s happening in the US and how that’s being mirrored in other countries, you know, with Mexico and cannabis and and other other countries that we’ve talked about on the podcast, in terms of where, where it’s growing, where it’s which countries are making strides to take advantage of that. And whether it’s in Southeast Asia or Latin America or Africa. What about you, Fred?


Fred Rocafort  17:53 

just to add a little bit to what you said, first of all, regarding cannabis, I have to say, I mean, on election night, as people were naturally looking at what was happening with the presidential race, and other, you know, the congressional races, I was looking very closely at the the cannabis initiatives that were presented to voters, and was actually rather rather excited to see that all of them succeeded and that at the end of  the night, in addition to everything else that was going on,  we had basically added five states to  the world of legal cannabis, including states that I would have never thought would would have voted for for recreational cannabis at this stage in the game. That in itself is an exciting development to see that the pace at which legalization efforts is proceeding, you know, for working at a firm that has a strong cannabis practice that that can only be an encouraging sign. I’m looking forward to doing more work. And in the states that have now legalized either recreational and or medical cannabis, we saw examples of both. Also looking forward to what will be happening in 2022. For example, when when more initiatives are presented to voters as a matter of fact, I think Virginia might be voting in 2021. That’s when they vote for governor and I think that might be when they vote on their cannabis initiative. So definitely excited about that. One of the cool things that we get to do as you alluded to is you get to track what’s happening in other countries as well as international lawyers as cannabis lawyers, that’s actually a great intersection to explore. And even though in some cases, there might not necessarily be a practical angle to keeping tabs on the legislative initiatives that are that are being presented. It’s still interesting from from a company Law perspective and also just more generally, as cannabis law practitioners to see the sort of things that are that are happening elsewhere. So, um, it’s it’s, I like the fact that I have more things to get excited about, you know, including cannabis bills being presented in random legislature’s across the world. with China. Absolutely. There’s There’s so much to look for there. Obviously, the how the trade war changes and character, I don’t think it’s going to end, I think we’re going to see some sort of evolution, as the new presidential administration takes over. For those who pay attention to history, we know that these first few months are bound to be a delicate time, especially if we are faced  with a sort of unexpected turn of events. I mean, we can expect China and other nations such as Russia, we can expect them to test the mettle of the new administration. But if you add to that, the possibility of some unexpected incident as we have seen over the years that the many different things that can happen, there’s a fascination of course with with what might happen. But of course, as a citizens, there are also some some concerns there. The overall topic of relocation absolutely there, there have been some very interesting developments in terms of relocation to do new manufacturing destinations or alternative manufacturing destinations. Interesting to see the the evolution of China plus one strategies, also nearshoring reshoring. All of this is is not only interesting, from a, from an intellectual perspective, but also, as lawyers, of course, it gives rise to new business opportunities, new matters. I think that at least at a human level, if you you know, going beyond the macroeconomic aspects of things and the geopolitical aspects, to the extent that some of these shifts result in American companies ramping up activities in the US, or even companies from other countries deciding  to look for opportunities in country to get around issues such as terrorist, I think there’s, there should be a part of us that that welcomes that. The more jobs that can be created at home, that the more economic growth that can be spurred, that’s, of course, something to celebrate. So I will definitely be keeping an eye out on what’s happening in China, as well as cannabis.


Jonathan Bench  22:39 

So I think from my parting thoughts, you brought up a great point about the the personal side of the business that we do. And I think it’s always important to remind myself that, you know, behind every contract behind every business deal, you know, there are people who have real lives who have real needs, you know, who cares about their families and want to be, you know, want to be safe. I mean, whether that’s safe from, you know, the specter of a global disease, you know, income security, food security, water security, you know, I mean, there’s so much that, you know, when I have time to really stop and think about what I want in my life, and what I want for other people, you know, is, is really just to exert some kind of positive influence, you know, in my neighborhood, and then wherever else we can to really bring that to people, right to give them an opportunity to, you know, from a lawyer perspective, to help them gauge their risk and make a good decision. So their business can move forward, and they can keep employing people and, and feeding them and feeding their families and bringing opportunities to others in whatever that industry is. So I guess my my wish for everyone in 2021, is that you will find what your find what you’re looking for, and that the the hardships that we’ve had to go through and in 2020 you know that refocusing of our lives will really continue. So that we can spend time doing what we what we care about most and what we think will bring about the most good in our lives in whatever ways important to us.


Fred Rocafort  24:07 

My own parting thought I’d like to extend a very sincere thank you to everyone who listens to our podcast, I know that because of the the nature of the of the technology, it’s not possible to acknowledge the interaction in a more direct way. But nonetheless, when we look at the numbers, when we see how many people are actually listening to the podcast, downloading it, it just fills me with great joy, frankly, to know that at least for some people, what we’re doing has has value and again, I’m an avid podcast listener myself. And I know that there is a tension of course, between the time it takes to listen to podcasts and getting on with everything else in your life. We know that time is valuable, right. So we we definitely thank you all for your time. And on that note, Jonathan, maybe maybe we can talk a little bit about what we saw in terms of those stats. Maybe we can tell our listeners, which shows were the most popular.


Jonathan Bench  25:04 

I think that’s a great idea. I also want to express my thanks to all of our listeners, it is kind of amazing to think that that people care about what we have to say, Fred. I mean, some people pay us and pay us well to talk. But this one we give for free. Right? And it It certainly is. It is fun. I mean, I think those of us who are in the international space, just love We love people, right? We love international people. We love those experiences. And I think it is helpful to to talk about who were our superstars this year in terms of overall lessons, right? These are the these are the audience Choice Awards, based on the number of listens. So our top three guests by the number of downloads was first Geetha Kandiah discussing Southeast Asia and IP, which makes perfect sense, Fred, if we’re looking at what we’re forecasting for 2021 in terms of, you know, how do you port your IP from the US or from China to a country in Southeast Asia where you’re going to be doing your new manufacturing. Our second most downloaded episode was one with John Brittell discussing East Africa. And then our third was with Dr. Jose Raul Perales discussing Puerto Rico. So we want to thank our All Stars certainly are looking forward to catching up with them and with others, of our others of our friends who were willing to give us their time and and share their thoughts. I think certainly going to be interesting to see how 2021 goes, and we’ll see you then.


Fred Rocafort  26:30 

See you in 2021.


Jonathan Bench  26:34 

We hope you enjoyed this week’s episode, we look forward to connecting with you on social media to continue discussing developments in global law in business. This podcast was produced by Harris Bricken with executive producer Madeline Williams music composed by Stephen Schmitt. Tune in next week for another episode. We’ll see you then.


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