“Understanding the Spirit of the Law”
Partner in the project practice at Weerawong Chinnavat & Partners in Thailand, Jirapat Thammavaranucupt is the only lawyer from Thailand exclusively represented in the IFLR Asia Future Leaders 2021 Framework for PPPs in the Eastern Economic Corridor.
Be a dealmaker
Why did you choose a legal career? Was there an aha moment?
My passion is to contribute to the development of the infrastructure in my country and to remove the legal obstacles that limit economic opportunities. People often believe that the law limits economic opportunities; However, government agencies can use appropriate legal tools and strategies to stimulate economic activity.
What makes your approach to dealmaking unique or different from other lawyers?
Understanding the needs and constraints of the parties involved ensures that we can offer quality solutions to our customers. Once we understand these things, we can begin figuring out the best way to get deals done.
Can you give three examples of recent transactions and the role you played in them?
First I represented the Thai government, Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), in the joint investment agreement of U-Tapao Airport and the Eastern Aviation Development Project for the development of U-Tapao Airport and Eastern Aviation City.
The new airport is part of the Department of Transportation’s development plan to create Thailand’s Eastern Airport City and a regional air traffic hub. The concession was awarded to the company BBS Joint Venture (consisting of Bangkok Airways, BTS Group Holdings and Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction). The agreement was signed in the government building on June 19, 2020 and was witnessed by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha. The project is valued at nearly THB 300,000 million ($ 10 billion).
On another occasion, I represented the Thai government, Office of the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), but this time as part of a public-private partnership (PPP) to develop the high-speed rail project between Suvarnabhumi, Don Mueang and U-Tapao airports.
The high-speed rail link is the largest PPP concession project in Thailand and the first concession for a high-speed train project. The most important project operators in the private sector include the Charoen Pokphand Group (CP), the Italian-Thai Development Public Company Limited, and the China Railway Construction Corporation Limited, CH. Karnchang Public Company Limited and Bangkok Express and Metro Public Company Limited (BEM). The agreement was concluded in October 2019. The project is valued at nearly THB 220,000 million (US $ 7.2 billion).
I was also commissioned by the Thai government, State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO), Ministry of Finance, to draft the new public-private partnership law BE 2562 (2019), which regulates the development of the entire infrastructure in Thailand. The new law allows investment in various new infrastructure projects such as rail, airport, port, road and digital technology projects. The law came into force in March 2019.
Is there a special deal in your career that stands out for you as a turning point or a turning point for you and why? What did you learn or take away from this deal?
I learned important skills from my experience negotiating and completing PPP infrastructure projects. It is important to be in a strong negotiating position, but also to remember that it is often not an all-or-nothing situation.
Before we can find the middle ground, we need to know the position of the opposing party. It’s important to really listen to and understand the other side. To close the deal, we next determine what is important to our customer and understand what our customer is willing to compromise.
Then we start thinking about alternative solutions and offers. The findings lead me to find amicable solutions and to overcome the constraints of both parties.
In your opinion, what are the greatest achievements of your career?
It was a great honor for me to be entrusted by the Thai government, State Enterprise Policy Office (SEPO), Ministry of Finance, with the drafting of the new Public-Private-Partnership Act BE 2562 (2019), which includes the development of the entire infrastructure in Thailand regulates.
The new public-private partnership law is a promising start for integrating PPP into the infrastructure development agenda. Partnerships between private companies and the government are beneficial for all concerned. Infrastructure development has become an increasingly important engine of growth that can stimulate demand, create jobs, increase productivity and promote inclusive growth for the country.
Company-wide goals and benefits
How has your law firm helped you grow as a lawyer and as a leader?
The firm has helped me recognize my strengths and passions and set myself specific goals and an actionable plan to achieve my professional goals. At the same time, I am very fortunate to be constantly managed by Mr. Weerawong Chitmittrapap, a Senior Partner at Weerawong Chinnavat & Partners Ltd.
What are the company’s key takeaways in terms of value and culture?
Customer-oriented service is the focus of every decision. We need commercial awareness as well as legal skills to support our customer-centric culture. By focusing on understanding our customers ‘needs, we have created a proactive, company-wide commitment to our customers’ success.
Dealmaking in times of the pandemic
The pandemic has driven change across the board. What trends do you see in your field from 2020 to 2021 and beyond?
Given the constraints on public funds and fiscal space, recognizing the important role infrastructure investments play in economic recovery, the government could use the private sector, particularly PPP concession projects, as an additional source of funding to bridge the funding gap.
Are there any initiatives that you have observed that you think could help your customers deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The Covid-19 pandemic has severely affected the operations of many companies. As a result, many affected companies ask questions about their contractual obligations. We can propose the renegotiation of an existing contract due to the current circumstances caused by Covid-19.
Describe a business-related challenge that you faced in 2020-2021 and how did you overcome it? Could it be specific to a particular business or more generally in terms of customizing in-person meetings to Zoom or something in between?
Virtual meetings have become the standard. The first challenge in virtual meetings is to keep employees engaged, focused, and alert. Another major challenge is the lack of authentic cues or feedback in virtual meetings – both verbal and non-verbal cues need to be well understood. In addition, the lack of face-to-face interactions can lead to difficulties in decision-making and problem-solving processes.
Future of dealmaking
What challenges do future managers face in their job that the previous generation of partners has not experienced?
Lawyers and law firms are forced to adjust quickly to sudden disruptions and find solutions to serve their clients more effectively in these radically changed circumstances.
What important advice would you give to young lawyers who are just starting out in a law firm or just starting their careers? Is there anything you would like to know when you started?
Invest your time and energy in building a solid foundation. Understanding the spirit of law, building extensive experience in logical, strategic and holistic thinking, and expanding your expertise in various areas of law are the keys to becoming a successful lawyer.
If you could introduce a new policy in the legal profession, what would it be?
Closing a deal is effectively about making all parties feel like winners – it’s not a zero-sum game. Lawyers should therefore focus on long-term mutual gain and partnership formation rather than short-term gain for the client or attorney.
Weerawong Chinnavat & Partners
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