Chambers Global 2012 wrote, "Peers single out Robert MacLean as 'a good example of a pure trade lawyer – he's 100% involved.' Clients concur that he is 'an exceptional specialist.'"
Noted in The Best Lawyers in Belgium for trade matters.
Dr. Robert M MacLean, partner in our Brussels office, heads our EU International Trade & Export Controls practice. Robert has been practicing in Brussels for more than 20 years, a period including time in the European Commission’s Trade Defence Instruments directorate. He has been a partner in several major international law firms since 2001 before joining Squire Sanders in 2010. His trade client list spans a wide spectrum of EU and global industries ranging from traditional manufacturing to advanced IT-products and has included DG-Trade of the European Commission for whom he was the project leader for two significant evaluations of EU trade policy.
Robert’s practice involves advising in three broad areas of EU and global trade law and practice:
- Global trade disputes with an EU dimension: When the EU contemplates or starts antidumping or anti-subsidy action against one of its trade partners or restricts trade in a way that is inconsistent with the global rules, Robert advises companies and trade associations on actions to influence the final results of these investigations in the direction best suited to their interests.
- Pressures exerted by the global financial crisis have meant our clients are increasingly seeking to save substantial costs and our EU duty reduction and recovery programme, for which Robert is the key architect, achieves precisely this aim by cutting significant EU customs duty liabilities out of our clients’ supply chains.
- Problem solving: Disputes with EU customs and regulatory authorities are part and parcel of the daily business of global trade and Robert handles these kinds of trade-related disputes on behalf of our clients either before the European Commission or with EU member state regulatory agencies.
Over the course of his career Robert has also been lead counsel in more than a dozen judicial appeals on behalf of private parties before the European Court of Justice and the European General Court. As a qualified Scottish solicitor, he is authorised to appear and handle both the written and oral hearing phases of the Courts’ procedures.
Due to his involvement in high-profile trade cases, Robert is regularly asked for his commentary on global trade issues and European trade policy by the international financial media. He has been quoted in a number of leading financial media sources including the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, International Herald Tribune, EU Observer and frequently in the Chinese and Far East Asian media.
EU Customs Duty Reduction and Recovery Programmes
Robert is in charge of the Squire Sanders’ EU and global customs duty recovery and reduction programme which aims to returns real value to economic operators who import raw materials and semi-finished goods for further processing into finished products in the EU. In the recent past, he has saved his clients tens of millions of euros in EU customs duty liabilities through the cost saving toolbox and techniques applied in this programme. Some recent examples are:
EU and International Trade Compliance and Enforcement
- Developing and deploying a duty reduction programme involving multiple successful duty suspensions applications for chemical substances for a US-based corporation using the imports as raw materials for further processing in the EU resulting in very large cost savings.
- Significant retroactive recovery of past EU customs duty payments for a French-based petroleum refinery through reclassification of its imports.
- Securing an annual tariff-free quota for a chemical commodity product which has been successfully rolled over for the last three years.
- Successfully securing a retroactive amendment to the product scope range of an EU antidumping regulation thereby saving the client from having to pay several million euros in unlawful duty assessments made by the German and Dutch customs authorities.
Planning and implementing customs compliance programmes is one way Robert helps his clients defend themselves against the increased scrutiny of EU import activities. He also defends EU importers and industrial processors when confronted with complex EU customs issues. Recent examples include:
Export Controls, Economic Sanctions and Anti-corruption Compliance
- Lodging and pursuing complaints to OLAF, the EU Anti-Fraud Office, to prevent circumvention of EU antidumping duties imposed on certain compressors from China.
- Successfully obtaining EBTI rulings for Russian fertilizer products to confirm certainty that these imports were not covered by the scope of EU antidumping measures.
- Advice on proper labelling of medical supplements under EU regulations and proper classification of these substances under the EU’s customs rules.
- Assessment of country of origin status for imports such as complex mechanical equipment, food additives made from materials sourced from a large number of different countries as well as solar panels and wafers.
The increased scrutiny of exports from the EU of sensitive products and equipment and the introduction of trading sanctions against some of the EU’s trading partners has also required his attentions. Robert has been involved in some of the following activities in this dimension:
EU Trade Remedy Investigations
- Advising on witness statements for potential prosecution of the customer of a UK-based company who attempted to export controlled devices without procuring a valid export licence.
- Advising on product qualification under the EU’s dual use regulations.
- Advising on the UK and EU blocking statutes forbidding compliance with US extraterritorial trade restrictions.
Robert has been involved in more than 30 EU anti-dumping investigations representing the whole spectrum of EU complaining industries, EU importers, EU industrial users and non-EU exporters from the US, Taiwan, India, Hong Kong and China. In many instances he has been lead counsel for trade associations and the main EU producers and exporters in the administrative investigations. The recent cases mentioned below illustrate some of this experience:
Market Access and WTO Advice
- Solar glass from China (anti-dumping and anti-subsidy, 2013-2014).
- Solar panels, wafers and parts from China (anti-dumping and anti-subsidy, 2013-2014).
- Tartaric acid from China (anti-dumping expiry and interim reviews, 2011-2012).
- Miniature compressors from China (anti-dumping scope review, 2011).
- Bicycles from China (anti-dumping expiry review, 2011).
- Air compressors from China (anti-dumping refunds, 2010-2011).
- Coated fine paper from China (anti-dumping and anti-subsidy, 2010-2011).
- Certain aluminium road wheels from China (anti-dumping, 2009-2010).
- Sodium metal from the US (anti-dumping and anti-subsidy, 2008-2009).
- Seamless pipes of iron and steel from China (anti-dumping, 2008-2009).
- Stainless steel rolled-cold flat products from China, Korea and Taiwan (anti-dumping, 2008-2009).
- Iron and steel fasteners from China (anti-dumping, 2008).
- Monosodium glutamate from China (anti-dumping, 2007).
- Citric acid from China (anti-dumping, 2007).
- Polyvinyl alcohol from China and Taiwan (anti-dumping, 2007).
- Air compressors from China (anti-dumping, anti-dumping, 2007).
- Ironing boards from China (anti-dumping, 2007).
Litigation Before the European General Court and Court of Justice
- Project Leader and author of “Final Report on the Evaluation of the European Union’s Market Access Strategy”, for DG-Trade of the European Commission (July 2006).
- Project Leader and author of “Final Report on the Evaluation of the European Union’s Trade Barrier Regulation (TBR)”, for DG-Trade of the European Commission (June 2005).
Robert has been lead counsel in over a dozen judicial appeals to the European General Court and Court of Justice including the following:
- Case T-153/13, ET Solar Industry and Others v European Commission, pending case, action for annulment of Commission decision refusing to grant MET status to Chinese exporter.
- Case T-431/12, Distillerie Bonollo and Others v EU Council, pending case, action for annulment against an EU anti-dumping regulation representing the EU industry.
- Case T-76/12, Nu Air Compressors and Tools SpA v European Commission, pending case, action for annulment of multiple Commission decisions refusing full refunds of EU anti-dumping duties.
- Case T-274/07, Zhejiang Harmonic Hardware Co. Ltd v Council of the European Union, Judgment of 8th November 2011, not yet reported, successful action for annulment of EU antidumping regulation.
- Case T-299/05, Shanghai Excell Precision Limited v Council of the European Union,  ECR-II 565, action for annulment of an EU anti-dumping regulation.
- Case C-254/02, Fast Forward Resources v UK HM Customs and Revenue, unreported, preliminary reference from the UK VAT and Customs Appeal Tribunal to annul EU anti-dumping regulation, case settled before judgment.
- Case T-07/99, Medici Grimm KG v Council of the European Union,  ECR-II 2671, successful action for annulment of EU anti-dumping regulation.
Membership & Affiliations
- Member of the International Bar Association (IBA)
University of Glasgow, LL.B., (Hons), 1985University of Glasgow, Diploma, 1986University of Alberta, LL.M., 1998University of Glasgow, Ph.D., 1995