New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (9): Arbitration and Protest in Hong Kong

Guest post written by: A/Prof Jie (Jeanne) Huang and Winston Ma (Sydney Law School)

Following the promulgation of the judicial interpretation by the Supreme People’s Court (“SPC”) on 26 September 2019, the Arrangement Concerning Mutual Assistance in Court-ordered Interim Measures in Aid of Arbitral Proceedings by the Courts of the Mainland and of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (“Arrangement”) signed by Mainland China and Hong Kong on 2 April 2019 came into effect in Mainland China from 1 October 2019. This Arrangement provides mutual recognition and enforcement of interim measures between Hong Kong and Mainland China. It has generated broad coverage.[1] This post tries to add to the discussion by providing a note on the first case decided under the Arrangement on 8 October 2019, and more broadly, some reflections on the continuing protests in Hong Kong and arbitration under “One Country, Two Systems’.

Mutual recognition and enforcement of interim measures between Hong Kong and Mainland China

Hong Kong Arbitration Ordinance has long been allowing parties to arbitral proceedings in any place to apply to the courts of Hong Kong for interim measures. Interim measures include injunction and other measures for the purpose of maintaining or restoring the status quo pending determination of the dispute; taking action that would prevent, or refraining from taking action that is likely to cause, current or imminent harm or prejudice to the arbitral proceedings; preserving assets; or preserving evidence that may be relevant and material to the resolution of the dispute. However, in contrast to the liberal Hong Kong counterpart, people’s courts in Mainland China are conservative. Chinese law limits interim measures to property preservation, evidence preservation and conduct preservation. More important, Mainland courts generally only enforce interim measures in support of arbitration administered by domestic or foreign-related arbitration institutions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This is because Article 272 of Chinese Civil Procedure Law provides that where a party applies for a preservation measure, the foreign-related arbitral institution of PRC shall submit the party’s application to the intermediate people’s court at the place of domicile of the respondent or at the place where the respondent’s property is located. Article 28 of Chinese Arbitration Law states that if one of the parties applies for property preservation, the arbitration commission shall submit to a people’s court the application of the party in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Civil Procedure Law. Article 10 of Chinese Arbitration Law restricts arbitration institutions to those registered with the judicial administrative department of the relevant province, autonomous region or municipalities directly under the Central Government.[2]

There are few exceptions to the Mainland conservative approach. First, since 2017, ad hoc arbitration has been permitted in China’s pilot free trade zones.[3] Therefore, Mainland courts are likely to issue interim measures in support of such ad hoc arbitration. Second, a party to a maritime arbitration seated outside of Mainland China can apply for property preservation to the Chinese maritime court of the place where the property is located.[4] However, the property to be preserved was limited to vessels, cargos carried by a vessel, and fuel and supplies of a vessel.[5]

The third exception is created by the recent Arrangement. Arbitral proceedings commenced both before and after 1 October 2019 are potentially caught by the Arrangement, under which property, evidence and conduct preservation orders could be granted by the courts in Mainland China to assist the Hong Kong arbitration.

The scope of the Arrangement confines to arbitral proceedings seated in Hong Kong and administered by institutions or permanent offices meeting the criteria under Article 2 of the Arrangement. Six qualified institutions have been listed on 26 September 2019, being Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (“HKIAC”), ICC Hong Kong, CIETAC Hong Kong, Hong Kong Maritime Arbitration Group, eBRAM International Online Dispute Resolution Centre and South China International Arbitration Centre (Hong Kong). Future applications will also be considered and the list may be subject to alteration.

Articles 3-5 of the Arrangement set out the procedural requirements for applying to the courts in Mainland China for interim measures. Since time is of essence, application can be made by a party to the arbitration directly to the relevant Mainland Chinese court before an arbitration is accepted by an arbitration institution.[6] If the arbitration has been accepted, the application should be submitted by the arbitration institution or representative office.[7]

Article 8 of the Arrangement further reflects the importance of timeliness by demanding the requested court to make a decision after examining the application “expeditiously”. Nevertheless, the Arrangement is silent on the specific time limit applicable to the court’s examination process. Pursuant to Article 93 of the Chinese Civil Procedure Law, the court is to make an order within 48 hours after receiving an application for property preservation prior to the commencement of arbitration; Furthermore, Article 4 of the Provisions of the SPC on Several Issues concerning the Handling of Property Preservation Cases by the People’s Courts demands the court to make an order within 5 days after the security is provided, and within 48 hours in cases of emergency.

The first case decided under the Arrangement demonstrates how “expeditiously” a people’s court can make a decision. In the morning of 8 October 2019, the Shanghai Maritime Court received a property preservation application submitted by HKIAC. In this case, the arbitration applicant is a maritime company located in Hong Kong and the respondent is a company in Shanghai. They concluded a voyage charter party which stated that the applicant should provide a vessel to transport coal owned by the respondent from Indonesia to Shanghai. However, the respondent rescinded the charter party and the applicant claimed damages. Based on the charter party, they started an ad hoc arbitration and ultimately settled the case. According to the settlement agreement, the respondent should pay the applicant USD 180,000. However, the respondent did not make the payment as promised. Consequently, the respondent brought an arbitration at the HKIAC according to the arbitration clause in the settlement agreement. Invoking the Arrangement, through the HKIAC, the applicant applied to the Shanghai Maritime People’s Court to seize and freeze the respondent’s bank account and other assets. The Shanghai Court formed a collegial bench and issued the property preservation measure on the same date according to the Arrangement and Chinese Civil Procedure Law.

Protests in Hong Kong

As the first and so far the only jurisdiction with the special Arrangement through which parties to arbitration can directly apply to Mainland Chinese courts for interim measures, Hong Kong has been conferred an irreplaceable advantage while jockeying to be the most preferred arbitration seat for cases related to Chinese parties. Arbitration that is ad hoc or seated outside Hong Kong cannot enjoy the benefits of the Arrangement. Parties to an arbitration seated in Hong Kong are encouraged to select one of the listed institutions to take advantage of the Arrangement. Meanwhile, the Arrangement also attracts prominent international arbitration institutions to establish permanent offices in Hong Kong.

One may argue that the Arrangement is the necessary consequence of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the increasingly close judicial assistance between Mainland China and Hong Kong. Especially in the context of China’s national strategy to develop the Greater Bay Area, the notion of “one country, two systems, three jurisdictions” makes Hong Kong the only common-law jurisdiction to deal with China-related disputes.[8]

However, to what extent may the recent protests negatively impact on the arbitration industry in Hong Kong? Notably, London and Paris have also experienced legal uncertainly (Brexit in the UK) and protests (Yellow vests movement in France) in recent years. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong situation is more severe than its western counterparts in two aspects. First, currently, the protestors have impacted on the traffic inside Hong Kong. Last month, they even blocked the Hong Kong airport. It is not surprising that parties may want to move the hearings outside of Hong Kong just for the convenience of traffic, if the arbitration is still seated in Hong Kong. Second, the continuation of protests and the uncertainty of the Chinese government’s counter-measures may threaten parties’ confidence in choosing Hong Kong as the seat for arbitration. The Arrangement brings an irreplaceable advantage to Hong Kong to arbitrate cases related with Chinese parties. However, this significance should not be over-assessed. This is because by choosing a broad discovery and evidence rule, parties and tribunals have various means to deal with the situation where a party wants to hide a key evidence. Arbitration awards can be recognized and enforced in all jurisdictions ratified the New York Convention. Therefore, the value of the Arrangement is mainly for cases where the losing party only has assets in Mainland China for enforcement.

The flourish of arbitration in Hong Kong is closely related to Mainland China. However, Hong Kong, if losing its social stability due to the protests, will lose its arbitration business gradually. In the Chinese Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji by Han dynasty official Sima Qian), there is a famous idiom called “cheng ye xiao he bai ye xiao he”.[9] It means the key to one’s success is also one’s undoing. It is the hope that Mainland China and Hong Kong can find a solution quickly so that the arbitration industry in Hong Kong can continue to be prosperous. This is more important than the implementation of the Arrangement.

Guest Authors:
– Jie (Jeanne) Huang is an associate professor at the University of Sydney Law School, Australia, jeanne.huang@sydney.edu.au
– Winston Ma is an LLB student at the University of Sydney Law School, Australia

Reproduced (with minor edits) with permission from:
http://conflictoflaws.net/2019/arbitration-and-protest-in-hong-kong/

[1] E.g. http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2019/07/24/arrangement-concerning-mutual-assistance-in-court-ordered-interim-measures-interpretations-from-a-mainland-china-perspective-part-i/?_ga=2.249539525.310814453.1570572449-887368654.1570572449.

[2] There are different opinions regarding whether Article 10 and 28 of Chinese Arbitration Law restrict the interim measures to arbitration administered by Chinese arbitration institutions. See the judgment of [2016] E 72 Cai Bao No. 427 issued by Wuhan Maritime Court. In this case, the Ocean Eleven Shipping Corporation initiated an arbitration in HKIAC against Lao Kai Yuan Mining Sole Co., Ltd. The applicant was a company in South Korea and the respondent a Chinese company. The parties had disputes over a voyage charter party. In order to ensure the enforcement of the coming award in Mainland China, the applicant applied to Wuhan Maritime Court to freeze USD 300,000 in the respondent’s bank account or seizure, impound or freeze other equivalent assets. The People’s Insurance Company provided equivalent insurance for the applicant’s property preservation application. Wuhan Maritime Court permitted the property preservation application according to Article 28 of Chinese Arbitration Law and Article 103 of the Civil Procedure Law. However, this case is inconsistent with majority cases where Chinese courts rejected to issue interim measures for arbitration administered by ad hoc or arbitration institutions registered outside of Mainland China.

[3] SPC Opinions on Providing Judicial Safeguard for the Building of Pilot Free Trade Zones, Fa Fa [2016] No. 34, http://www.court.gov.cn/fabu-xiangqing-34502.html.

[4] Art. 21(2) of the Interpretation of the SPC on the Application of the Special Maritime Procedure Law of the PRC, Fa Shi [2003] No. 3.

[5] Ibid., art. 18.

[6] Art. 3 of the Arrangement.

[7] Ibid., art. 2.

[8] China has made the economic integration between the Grater Bay Area a national strategy. The Greater Bay Area includes Hong Kong, Macao and Guangdong Province https://www.bayarea.gov.hk/sc/outline/plan.html.

[9] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%E6%88%90%E4%B9%9F%E8%90%A7%E4%BD%95%EF%BC%8C%E8%B4%A5%E4%B9%9F%E8%90%A7%E4%BD%95.

Comparing Consumer Product Safety Law for New Markets and Technologies

In the context of changes in the consumer marketplace and regulatory frameworks locally and internationally, the Australian government is re-initiating public consultations about introducing an EU-style “General Safety Provision”. Although this requirement for suppliers pro-actively assess risks and put or keep only safe products products has also been introduced beyond Europe in Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia and (partly) Singapore, it has also not yet been introduced in Japan. However, Japan may have a better regulatory framework in other respects (eg mandatory accident reporting requirements on suppliers that extend to some “near misses”, along with public disclosure of such reports) and better enforcement (eg of mandatory safety standards for specific products).

Japanese courts also continue to generate more case law applying EU-style strict product liability, introduced by a 1994 Act, compared to an analogue introduced in 1992 in Australia (and increasingly in other parts of Asia, including many ASEAN states). This helps promote and clarify more indirect incentives on suppliers to source and provide safe products. However, such impact for product liability litigation is still constrained by issues such as effective access to justice / courts. This is evident from a recent book examining major EU and some other countries, reviewed below for the Journal of European Tort Law: Piotr Machnikowski (ed) European Product Liability: An Analysis of the State of the Art in the Era of New Technologies (Intersentia, Cambridge, 2016, ISBN 978-1-78068-398-0, ix+705pp):

This is a very useful reference book especially for academic researchers and legal practitioners, but also policy-makers or law reformers, as it compares product liability law and practice across 12 countries in Europe as well as five other countries. A key question is whether the 1985 product liability (PL) Directive (85/374/EEC), compensating consumers for physical harm as well as certain consequential property losses caused by product safety defects, remains “fit for purpose” – especially given the proliferation of new technologies.

The Introduction by Machnikowski succinctly outlines those as including: mobile internet (smartphones, tablets etc), the automation of knowledge work, the “internet of things” (such as connected home appliances), cloud technology, advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, next-generation genomics and regenerative medicine, advanced materials (eg through nanotechnology), energy storage, advanced oil and gas exploration and recovery, renewable energy sources, and 3D printing (pp3-8). He explains how these technologies require us to reconceptualise the role of substantive private law, as they often have global reach and prompt calls for public regulation. The new technologies also strain the capacity of the legal system to respond quickly and effectively. They often implicate intellectual property and services rather htan movable or tangible products, and networks of suppliers rather than just manufacturers and some specified intermediaries, as primarily envisaged by the PL Directive. The new technologies raise questions about its focus on product defects linked to physical safety (rather than infringements of privacy or non-economic rights and interests), the exemption from liability usually provided for “development risks” (the no-one-could-have-known defence), attributing causation, and the scope of (potentially catastrophic) damages claimable. The book therefore aims to analyse how conventional PL law is or could be addressing such questions, as well as how PL law interacts with other areas of tort law and public regulation (pp 8-13).

The volume compares the law of European Union member states selected from both the “Old” and “New” Europe (Austria**, the Czech Republic, Denmark*, England*, France**, Germany**, Italy*, the Netherlands*, Norway*, Poland and Spain) and the European Economic Area (Norway) as well as Switzerland. It therefore reviews legal systems in the “Roman, German, common law and Nordic traditions”, along with “two important common law traditions from outside Europe (USA** and Canada*) as well as two mixed jurisdictions (Israel* and South Africa” (pp 13-14). The back cover blurb adds that this hefty book “is the result of an extensive international research project funded by the Polish National Science Centre. It brings together experienced scholars associated with the European Group on Tort law (EGTL) and the European Research Group on Existing EC Private Law (Acquis Group) … The country reports show that the practical significance of product liability differs widely in the various Member States”.

The preceding paragraph above tries to give a sense of this variable significance of PL law by indicating with an asterix (*) or double asterix (**) those countries where there is respectively extensive or very extensive litigation and case law; those without any asterix are countries where lawsuits reportedly remain rare. This rough appraisal is derived mainly from each country report’s concluding Part X (Assessment of Domestic Law), except for the chapter on Spain (lacking Part X), as well as each chapter’s respective Part IX (Alternative Regulations and Remedies) and Part VIII (Procedural and Evidential Issues). The comparison reinforces the well-established general proposition that it is factors beyond reforms to substantive PL law, even the shift from negligence-based to strict liability under the 1985 Directive model (inspired by some earlier US case law), which primarily generate lawsuits and therefore case law that might offer more guidance on what constitutes appropriate safety for consumer products.[1]

The country reports identify (sometimes overlapping) factors arguably impacting on whether or not PL law is extensively litigated:

  • effectively enforced public regulation preventing harmful products coming on the market (also in Norway, per Askeland, p 375), and strong social welfare or insurance schemes (eg in Denmark, per Holle and Mogelvang-Hansen, pp 171-2);
  • expenses in accessing evidence, and lawyers open to contingency fees, compared to non-legal dispute resolution avenues (in England, per Oliphant and Wilcox, p 203);
  • linking of civil with criminal proceedings to ease plaintiffs’ evidentiary burden (in France, per Borghetti, p235);[2]
  • scope of claimable damages (with lawsuits under PL Directive implementing legislation only really since a 2002 amendment allowing claims also for pain and suffering in Germany, per Magnus, p 272);
  • reversed burden of proof under still more familiar Civil Code negligence provisions in Italy, per Comande, pp 307-8);
  • quite predictable law (facilitating settlements), business reputation, products (like mobile phones) bundled with services facilitating claims against direct suppliers rather than manufacturers (in the Netherlands, per Keirse – but noting that general tort law has also become stricter: pp 355-6);
  • unpredictability in civil processes and litigation outcomes due to limited legal aid, variability in lawyers’ fees, high litigation costs, the “loser pays principle”, complex and lengthy procedures, problems with experts and judicial methodologies, and unclear standard of proof (p 404, per Baginska);
  • “almost impenetrable” commentary with very limited case law (in Switzerland, per Winiger, pp 477-8);
  • potential claims versus regulators and perhaps related compensation schemes, as well as class actions (in Canada, per Arbour, pp 513-9);
  • no-fault liability schemes precluding personal injury claims for defects in automobiles, and comparative ease of suing actors (eg doctors or employers) than manufacturers of potentially unsafe products (in Israel, per Gilead, p 544).

Each country report also succinctly sets out Parts dealing with “Sources of Law”, “Basic Elements of Liability”, “The Person Liable for Damage”, “The Aggrieved Person and Damage”, “Causality”, “Defences and Exclusions”, and “Remedies”. This structure facilitates easy comparisons on points of interest (eg on the extent to which an intermediate supplier might have contributed sufficiently to be deemed a joint “manufacturer”[3]), although it would have been helpful for the book to add an Index.

Especially for the (many) countries where case law is sparse, the country reporters do not delve into great detail about the potential applicability of especially Directive-based PL law to the various new technologies (but see Austria, per Koch, p 147). However, in his Conclusions, Machinowki nonetheless includes a very interesting analysis that can be seen as challenging the “Adequacy of the European Product Liability Regime for Threats Posed by New Technologies”, focusing on what should now constitute a “product”, “defect”, “development risks”, the “entity liable for composite products”, and appropriate “time limits”, as well as generally the “possible development paths for product liability law” (pp 691-705). Readers familiar with PL law could perhaps begin the book here, at the end. For particular points of interest, they can cross-reference to the detailed and authoritative commentary on the “Product Liability Directive” itself (pp 17-108) co-authored by Fairgrieve, Howells, Machinowski and five others. That will also be essential background reading for those less familiar with PL law. Academics and policy-makers, rather than practitioners, may also find some related insights in the penultimate chapter by Faure, setting out a rather general “Economic Analysis of Product Liability” (pp 619-65).


Overall, this is a very well conceived and executed comparative reference book that can be highly recommended, especially for those interested in PL law in the context of proliferating new technologies. A second edition or companion volume might usefully extend the analysis to other European countries as well as those, especially in the Asian region, that have increasingly adopted the PL Directive approach – often with more pro-plaintiff innovations.[4] However, other than Japan and Australia to some extent, these Asian countries have so far even less case law and related commentary that may help guide them as well in addressing emergent consumer product safety issues.


[1] Matthias Reimann, “Liability for Defective Products at the Beginning of the Twenty-First Century: Emergence of a Worldwide Standards?”, 51 American Journal of Comparative Law, 751-38 (2003). For a recent illustration, showing almost no lawsuits filed in five Southeast Asian countries that have adopted Directive-style PL legislation, except in Thailand thanks to contemporaneous  legislation facilitating consumer claims through regular courts, see Luke Nottage and Sakda Thanitcul, “Economic Integration and Consumer Protection in Southeast Asia: ASEAN Product Liability Law and Safety Regulation” in ibid (eds) ASEAN Product Liability and Consumer Product Safety Law (Winyuchon, Bangkok, 2016), available via https://ssrn.com/abstract=2703130.

[2] On the synergies between civil and criminal proceedings in medical malpractice and (especially mass tort) PL claims in Japan, see also respectively Robert Leflar, “Medical Error as Reportable Event, as Tort, as Crime: A Transpacific Comparison” 22 Journal of Japanese Law 39-76 (2005) available at https://www.zjapanr.de/index.php/zjapanr/article/view/478/503; and Luke Nottage, Product Safety and Liability Law in Japan (Routledge, 2004) especially ch3.

[3] See a class action settlement regarding imported soy milk, approved by the Victorian Supreme Court, which might have had otherwise to rule on this point under either Australian or Japanese law (both incorporating variants of the PL Directive since the early 1990s): Erin Downie v Spiral Foods Pty Ltd and Others [2015] VSC 190, available at http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/viewdoc/au/cases/vic/VSC/2015/190.html.

[4] See also Luke Nottage, Justin Malbon, Jeannie Paterson and Caron Beaton-Wells, ASEAN Consumer Law Harmonisation and Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, Singapore, 2020) especially ch3; Geraint Howells, Hans Micklitz et al (eds) Consumer Law in Asia (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2021).

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (8): Confidentiality vs Transparency in ICArb and ISDS

Confidentiality is still widely seen as significant advantage of international commercial arbitration (ICA) over cross-border litigation, especially perhaps in Asia. This can be seen in rules of most arbitral institutions. Automatic (opt-out) confidentiality is also now found in many national laws, including statutory add-ons to the UNCITRAL Model Law and/or through case law for example in New Zealand, then Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and eventually Australia.

Yet there remain variations in the timing of these developments as well as the scope and procedures associated with exceptions to confidentiality. There is also no confidentiality provided in Japan’s later adoption of the Model Law, although parties mostly choose the JCAA so opt-in to its Rules, which have somewhat expanded confidentiality obligations since 2014.

Another recent complication is growing public concern over arbitration procedures through (especially treaty-based) investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), especially in Australia since an ultimately unsuccessful treaty claim by Philip Morris over tobacco plain packaging legislation (2011-15). Statutory amendments in 2018 reverse automatic confidentiality for Australia-seated ISDS arbitrations where the 2014 UNCITRAL Rules on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration. Concerns over ISDS may impede Australia enacting provisions for confidentiality of arbitration-related court proceedings, which could not be revised recently in New Zealand against the backdrop of its new government’s anti-ISDS stance.

Growing transparency around ISDS arbitration is welcome given greater public interests involved in such cases, but transparency should not be simply transposed into commercial dispute resolution through ICA as the fields are overlapping but distinct. Confidentiality in ICA has the disadvantage of exacerbating information asymmetry, making it harder for clients and advisors to assess whether particular arbitrators and lawyers provide value for money. But confidentiality allows arbitrators in particular to be more robust in proceedings and drafting rulings, thus countering the rise in ICA delays and especially costs. More transparency around ISDS, as well as initiatives like “Arbitrator Intelligence” and experiments in reforming Arbitration Rules (eg recently by the ICC), can help reduce information asymmetry for users anyway, while retaining various advantages of confidentiality particularly in ICA.

My draft paper, presented recently in Rome and for the USydney conference on Friday 15 November, elaborates these tensions between confidentiality and transparency in ICA and ISDS, focusing on Australia and Japan in regional context. Both countries still get few ICA cases but are trying to attract more [see the ABA inquiry report by Roger Gyles QC now available via https://austbar.asn.au/singapore-2019/papers]. They are taking somewhat different approaches to confidentiality in that field, while negotiating investment treaties that increasingly provide transparency around ISDS arbitration.

Nottage, Luke R., Confidentiality versus Transparency in International Arbitration: Asia-Pacific Tensions and Expectations (August 29, 2019). Sydney Law School Research Paper No. #19/52, August 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3444692

ASEAN consumer law harmonisation: trends and prospects

[Written by Luke Nottage, Justin Malbon, Jeannie Paterson and Caron Beaton-Wells, for a posting on the blog of Cambridge University Press, which has just published the e-book version of our 8-chapter book on “ASEAN consumer law harmonisation and cooperation: Achievements and challenges”. It will be launched by NSW Chief Justice Bathurst and discussed, with “Contract Law in Japan” co-authored by Luke Nottage, on 27 November 2019 at HSF in Sydney.]

The ten states now comprising the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have collectively become a major part of the world economy, bringing together over 600 million people including a growing middle class. Yet they are highly diverse in socio-economic development, political structure and legal traditions, as outlined in chapter 1 of our book. What hope is there for real legal harmonisation or cooperation, especially for consumer protection?

The “ASEAN Economic Community” project significantly expanded intra-regional trade and investment liberalisation commitments, aiming to raise individual member states’ living standards. But this does not necessarily mean weakening consumer protection. Chapter 2 shows how and why ASEAN, through AEC Blueprints and related law reform and capacity-building initiatives, has tried to “trade up” to higher consumer law standards. It also applies other theoretical perspectives to explore the actual achievements of ASEAN, generally and for consumer protection.

Chapter 3 chronicles national enactments of consumer product safety laws and regulations, often as part of general consumer protection law statutes, as well as (often strict liability based) product liability laws, in three stages including the 2007-2015 AEC phase. It highlights regulatory gaps and demarcation problems among “line ministries” and newer consumer affairs regulators, as well as problems of access to justice for consumers seeking compensation for harm from unsafe products.

Chapter 4 focuses on consumer contracts, contrasting the widespread bans on misleading conduct with more variable treatment of unfair contract terms. A uniform approach is more unlikely but most existing laws may be sufficient if backed by effective education and enforcement.

Chapters 5 and 6 take a regional perspective in examining how ASEAN collectively can deal with pressing issues regarding consumer finance and professional health services. The challenge for consumer finance is having all states apply consumer protection measures at least against abusive lending practices, including debtor harassment. Another challenge reducing the number of people who are financially excluded. New technologies offer opportunities to achieve this, but ASEAN can strengthen knowledge and experience sharing networks amongst government agencies and other key players in this fast-evolving field.

ASEAN’s trade liberalisation agenda needs to be applied in a carefully nuanced way concerning professional health services. These services are not only a consumer product; access to health services is a basic human right. Attuning public policy to meet universal health objectives while also gaining the benefits of being subjected to competitive marketplace disciplines is tricky, especially when national budgets are highly constrained. The challenges may be exacerbated if members implement ASEAN’s commitment to mutual recognition of professional qualifications, so health professionals gravitate from poorer countries to higher income states.

Chapter 7 explores the development of competition policy and associated laws and enforcement institutions in ASEAN, at both the national and regional levels. It explains the interface between competition and consumer protection and examines the implications for substantive and institutional design and operation that have been increasingly recognised around the world.  Highlighting the general lack of coordination between competition and consumer protection endeavours in ASEAN to date, it poses some explanations for this and argues that a more coordinated and outcome-focused approach would assist in achieving the economic and social objectives of the AEC.

The book concludes by considering whether transgovernmentalism or “regional shared value” can promote more coordinated and effective consumer law, galvanising the cooperative and consensus-building approach traditionally preferred by ASEAN.

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (7): Australia’s parliamentary inquiries into ISDS in HK, Indonesia and UN/Mauritius treaties

Related to the joint HKU/USyd research project on Asia-Pacific international dispute resolution, and for possible discussion at the related 15 November symposium at USydney, recently I was asked to give evidence at Joint Standing Committee on Treaties inquiries into Australia’s ratification of a new FTA with Indonesia (including an Investment Chapter) and a new Investment Treaty with Hong Kong (alongside an FTA). A transcript of my one-hour Q&A with parliamentarians is here, and my Submission (No 6, including comparative table) is eg here. My key points favouring ratification are set out below, followed by a related news article from the Australian Financial Review on 26 August soon after the Sydney hearings.

I then provided a Submission to JSCOT for its inquiry into the “UN ISDS Convention”, for public viewing soon here. (My Submission appends a draft paper on confidentiality vs confidentiality in ISDS vs international commercial arbitration, focusing on Australia and Japan in regional context, which I will present at the USyd symposium on 15 November.) I also favour Australia quickly ratifying this framework convention so as to retrofit expansive transparency provisions to its many past treaties if counterparties (like Indonesia) similarly ratify this 2014 Mauritius Convention on Transparency in Investor-State Arbitration.


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JSCOT Submission on Australia-Indonesia CEPA (FTA) & Australia-Hong Kong revised Investment Agreement: compared

(a) Both treaties are generally well drafted and balanced, in the familiar (US-inspired) CPTPP-like style, so should be ratified.

(b) The treaty with Indonesia is more pro-host-state (as indicated in red [in the comparative table]). This may be why Australia doesn’t seem to be proposing to terminate the existing BIT, but because AANZFTA also remains in effect with Australia (with clearer advance consent to ISDS arbitration[1] and significant pro-investor features), Australia should consider terminating the existing BIT (as it usually does when concluding broader new treaties).[2]

(c) The treaty with Indonesia helpfully innovates in allowing the host state to require the foreign investor to mediate before filing for ISDS arbitration.[3] This is useful in light of recent empirical evidence from settlement patterns, suggesting that there exists more scope than perceived for pre-arbitral settlements (perhaps therefore with the help of formal mediation)[4] to address concerns over arbitration costs.[5]

(d) It is disappointing that double-hatting by arbitrators is not expressly prohibited in either treaty (unlike under the CPTPP), nor that there is any mention of (even potential future) appellate review mechanisms for ISDS arbitrators. But these are still not deal-breakers.[6]

(e) Ratification is important for Australia to retain credibility in debating and promoting further reforms to ISDS in multilateral forums (especially UNCITRAL), and to encourage Indonesia as it re-engages with ISDS-backed treaties after terminating many old ones amidst pressures towards “economic nationalism”.[7]


[1] But cf Nottage, Luke R., Do Many of Australia’s Bilateral Treaties Really Not Provide Full Advance Consent to Investor-State Arbitration? Analysis of Planet Mining v Indonesia and Regional Implications (April 14, 2014). Transnational Dispute Management, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 1-18, 2015; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 14/39. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2424987.

[2] See also Voon, Tania and Mitchell, Andrew D., Old Agreements Must Be Terminated to Bring Life to Investment (May 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3390677.

[3] Nottage, https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/05/25/settling-investor-state-disputes-asia-pacific-style/

[4] Ubilava, Ana, Amicable Settlements in Investor-State Disputes: Empirical Analysis of Patterns and Perceived Problems (March 13, 2019). Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 19/17. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3352181.

[5] Nottage, Luke R., In/Formalisation and Glocalisation of International Commercial Arbitration and Investment Treaty Arbitration in Asia (2014). Formalisation and Flexibilisation in Dispute Resolution, J. Zekoll, M. Baelz, I. Amelung, eds, Brill, The Netherlands, 2014; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 17/47. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2987674.

[6] Nottage, Luke R. and Ubilava, Ana, Costs, Outcomes and Transparency in ISDS Arbitrations: Evidence for an Investment Treaty Parliamentary Inquiry (August 6, 2018). International Arbitration Law Review, Vol. 21, Issue 4, 2018; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 18/46. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3227401.

[7] Nottage, Luke R. and Butt, Simon, Recent International Commercial Arbitration and Investor-State Arbitration Developments Impacting on Australia’s Investments in the Resources Sector (April 16, 2014). ARBITRATION AND DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN THE RESOURCES SECTOR: A COMPARATIVE PERSPECTIVE, P. Evans and G. Moens, eds., Springer, 2015; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 13/71. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2340810.

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Trade pacts needed amid global turmoil: Birmingham

Andrew Tillett

Political Correspondent Aug 26, 2019 — 5.28pm [Australian Financial Review]

Free trade deals with Indonesia and Hong Kong are needed to help protect Australia’s economy against the  worsening stand-off between the US and China, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham warns.

Ratcheting up pressure on Labor to support the FTAs, Senator Birmingham said the Indonesian deal was also critical to Australia’s “regional and strategic architecture”. Parliament’s treaties’ committee opened hearings on Monday into both deals, taking evidence from industry groups and trade experts.

The vexed issue of investor state dispute settlement [ISDS] clauses emerged, with the inquiry hearing the multitude of free trade agreements and investment treaties involving the same countries is adding to red tape for governments and businesses.

University of Sydney transnational law professor Luke Nottage told the committee the Indonesian FTA, a 26-year-old Indonesian bilateral investment treaty and the separate ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA all contained ISDS provisions, which allow foreign companies to sue governments over policy decisions. Advertisement

“One thing is the extra complications and therefore potentially the costs involved in trying to work out what you can and cannot do as a host state if you try to change your regulatory system,” he said.

Professor Nottage said the Australian government was not proposing to eliminate the Indonesian bilateral investment treaty, despite doing so in the past when other treaties had been superseded by FTAs.

He suggested this might be because the Indonesian FTA is more in favour of the host state when in dispute with a company, whereas the older treaty was more pro-investor.

Professor Nottage said the older bilateral treaties had helped attract foreign investment in developing countries but newer trade deals sought to strike a better balance between the rights of investors and government autonomy, and the 1993 treaty should be scrapped when the Indonesian FTA was in place.

With Donald Trump escalating his trade war with China by urging US companies to withdraw from China, roiling global markets, Senator Birmingham said the region and the world had benefited from the opening up of global trade and deeper integration of investment flows.

He said the agreements with Indonesia and Hong Kong would continue to contribute to two-way growth in trade and investment.

Senator Birmingham said a raft of business groups wanted the agreements to “come into force as quickly as possible because it will allow those Australian businesses to diversify their exports, to have new market opportunities, and critically, to be more deeply engaged in the case of Indonesia, with a very close, very large, and rapidly growing economy”. Advertisement

He said Indonesia was projected by some to become the fourth biggest economy in the world and also had huge strategic importance to Australia.

“So against the backdrop of all of those points, I would hope that the Labor Party make it clear as quickly as possible that they will allow entry into force of this trade agreement with Indonesia which is so critical to our economic positioning as well as to our regional and strategic architecture,” he said.

Senator Birmingham said the government looked forward to the treaties’ committee report on the FTAs and would consider the inquiry’s findings in due course.

Labor is yet to say whether it will back the free trade agreements, with the inclusion of ISDS clauses a major sticking point. The party’s trade spokeswoman Madeleine King last week said Labor would let the treaties committee run its course before making a decision.

But Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese signalled his support for good ties with Indonesia and the trade opportunities by making his first overseas visit as Labor leader to Jakarta.

“Indonesia is central to the shape and character of our region,” Mr Albanese said.

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (6): 15 November symposium @USydney

As part of a research project jointly funded by HKU and USydney over 2019 (see background and many related postings via https://japaneselaw.sydney.edu.au), Sydney Law School will host a second symposium on Asia-Pacific business dispute resolution, all day on 15 November (the Friday before Australia Arbitration Week, this year in Brisbane), with support from CAPLUS, SCIL, TDM and various other ADR or international law related organisations. Registration and speaker bios are here, and presentation Abstracts and/or online publications are being uploaded below. During refreshments following symposium presentations and panel discussions, there will also be a book launch of Vivienne Bath and Gabriel Moens, Law of International Business in Australasia (Federation Press, October 2018).

Challenges and opportunities for Asia-Pacific international commercial arbitration symposium

15 November 2019

Building on Reyes & Gu (eds), The Developing World of Arbitration: A Comparative Study of Arbitration Reform in the Asia-Pacific (Hart, 2018), this symposium examines more recent challenges for international commercial arbitration (ICA), especially the proliferation of international commercial courts, the 2018 UN Convention on enforcement of mediated settlement agreements, and dispute resolution for the Belt & Road initiative. The main focus is on Hong Kong and Singapore (competing jurisdictions in the top “Stage 4” for ICA venues, as identified by Reyes & Gu), Australia (a “Stage 3” venue), China and Japan (“Stage 2” venues).

The symposium will also compare approaches in these jurisdictions to investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Building on Chaisse and Nottage (eds) International Investment Treaties and Arbitration Across Asia (Brill, 2018), participants will chart evolving treaty practices and high-profile ISDS cases (including eg in Indonesia), assess whether these do or might impact on public attitudes even towards ICA or other forms of arbitration, and explore alternatives or complements to ISDS.

Speakers:

  • Professor Shahla Ali, University of Hong Kong
  • Professor Vivienne Bath, University of Sydney Law School
  • Adj Prof Max Bonell, Henry Williams Lawyers & Sydney Law School
  • Professor Simon Bronitt, Dean, Sydney Law School
  • Professor Simon Butt, University of Sydney Law School
  • Professor James Claxton, Kobe University
  • The Hon Dr Clyde Croft AM SC, Supreme Court of Victoria
  • Daniel Forster, Clifford Chance & University of Sydney Law School
  • Dr Benjamin Hayward, Monash University
  • Brenda Horrigan, ACICA President & Herbert Smith Freehills
  • Dr Jeanne Huang, The University of Sydney Law School
  • Wilson Mbugua, University of Hong Kong
  • James Morrison, ACICA & Morrison Law
  • The Hon Kevin Lindgren AM QC FAAL, formerly Federal Court of Australia (in lieu of Roger Gyles AO QC, ABA rapporteur for inquiry available via https://austbar.asn.au/singapore-2019/papers)
  • Professor Luke Nottage, University of Sydney Law School
  • Jonathan Redwood, Banco Chambers
  • Yi Tang, University of Hong Kong
  • Dr Nobumichi (Nobu) Teramura, University of Adelaide
  • Professor Leon Trakman, UNSW
  • Professor The Hon Marilyn Warren AC QC, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria

VIEW THE DRAFT PROGRAM (as at 9 August 2019; update via Registration webpage)

ABSTRACTS:

Ali, Shahla, “ICA and ISDS Developments in Hong Kong in the Context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative” (September 13, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3453061
This article examines the impact of both the Belt and Road Initiative and the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Arbitration (the Model Law) on both international commercial and investor state arbitration practice in Hong Kong. Given the significance of Hong Kong as a gateway to OBOR project financing and logistics, understanding current dispute resolution policy is critical for gaining insights into China’s approach to the resolution of OBOR disputes. Measures taken to modernize the practice of arbitration including training programmes and legislative reforms are examined with a view to gaining insights into challenges and future developments.

Claxton, James M. and Nottage, Luke R. and Teramura, Nobumichi, “Developing Japan as a Regional Hub for International Dispute Resolution: Dream Come True or Daydream?” Journal of Japanese Law, Issue 47, 2019; Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 19/01. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3299097
The Japanese government, supported by various stakeholders, has recently been attempting to develop Japan as another regional hub for international business dispute resolution services. Tracking this development is important for both theoretical and practical reasons. How it unfolds should reveal which of various theories for explaining Japanese law-related behaviour have more traction nowadays. Assessing the new initiatives is also important for legal practitioners and others interested in the practical question of where to arbitrate or mediate cross-border business disputes. This paper therefore reports on current attempts to promote existing and new international arbitration centres in Japan as well as the recent establishment of the Japan International Mediation – Kyoto, in the context of intensifying competition from other regional venues for dispute resolution services. [Our presentation also updates on the Japan-Korea trade and investment tensions that escalated from mid-2019, and the various dispute resolution options that could be engaged.]

Teramura, Nobumichi, Luke Nottage and James Morrison, “International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: Judicial Control over Arbitral Awards” (updated June 2019)
Geographical remoteness has not prevented Australia from pursuing its ambition to become a major hub for international commercial arbitration (ICA). While regional competitors in the Asia-Pacific region such as Singapore and Hong Kong have already achieved great success in the arbitration world, Australia’s ‘Tyranny of Distance’ requires extra efforts to attract ICA cases. Recent marketing from the Australian government emphasises (1) a harmonised legal framework for ICA in line with international standards; (2) sophisticated arbitration institutions; and (3) some of the world’s leading arbitration practitioners.
While these factors do reveal strong potential to attract ICA cases, to ensure that this goes beyond a mere possibility, the Australian government and judiciary are making quite concerted broader efforts. The former has recently become more vigorous in marketing Australia-based ICA in and out of the country. The latter has generally tried to issue pro-arbitration judgments particularly over the last ten years, and in public speeches or publications leading judges have been actively summarising and promoting Australian developments both domestically and world-wide. However the court system has structural problems, due to the shared ICA jurisdiction of State and Territory Courts alongside the Federal Courts, compared to the unitary system in Hong Kong and Singapore. There are also persistent delays in court-related ICA matters under the IAA, even in the Federal Court of Australia. Nonetheless, perfection is never attainable.
The rest of this paper argues that Australia has significantly improved legal environment for ICA in line with international standards, focusing on the main topics identified for a wider cross-jurisdictional research project: (1) arbitrator bias; (2) conflicts of interests; (3) procedural irregularities and arbitrator’s misconduct during proceedings; (4) arbitrability (objective arbitrability) (5) judicial interpretation of arbitration clauses (subjective arbitrability); and (6) enforceability of arbitral awards (especially regarding public policy).

Nottage, Luke, “Confidentiality versus Transparency in International Arbitration: Asia-Pacific Tensions and Expectations” (August 29, 2019) Sydney Law School Research Paper No. #19/52, August 2019. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3444692

Both Australia and Japan lie geographically on the periphery of the Asian region, where international arbitration has been burgeoning especially over the last 15 years. Both countries have struggled to attract significantly more arbitration cases, despite quite extensive efforts (especially by Australia); most cases still go to Hong Kong, Singapore and (especially where local parties are involved) China. This is despite increasingly strict confidentiality obligations being introduced through the rules of the major arbitration institutions, and/or legislation, in Japan and especially Australia. Although aiming to meet the usual expectations of businesspeople and their legal advisors in international commercial dispute resolution, these changes may be “too little, too late”. By contrast, transparency obligations have been added increasingly around the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) option included in almost all investment treaties concluded respectively by Australia and Japan. This tendency arguably reflects growing concerns about the public interests implicated by ISDS cases (especially in Australia). Australia has gone the next step of revising its legislation in 2018 to automatically exempt some investment treaty arbitrations from the confidentiality obligations otherwise imposed by default on parties and others in Australia-seated international arbitration proceedings since 2015. Japan does not need to, because its legislation does not apply confidentiality to arbitrations by default. This paper explores possible tensions between these two trajectories in each country. The lessons may be particularly interesting for other jurisdictions (perhaps like Italy) interested in how best to promote and attract international arbitration cases amidst evolving expectations in business and wider communities. The tensions may also influence the EU’s ongoing negotiations for investment protection treaties with respectively Australia and Japan.

Hayward, Ben, “Arbitration in Australia – Efficient, Effective, Economical? A Retrospective”
On 4 December 2009, Australia’s arbitration profession met in Melbourne for a conference hosted by ACICA – the Australian Centre for International Commercial Arbitration – Australia’s leading international arbitral institution. The conference was titled ‘International Commercial Arbitration: Efficient, Effective, Economical?’ – reflecting efficiency, effectiveness, and economic viability’s status as important concerns held by the profession.  Australia’s arbitration laws have been amended many times since then, with a number of significant cases also having been handed down since that time.  One decade later, it is an apt time to ask whether post-2009 developments in Australia’s arbitration laws have addressed these three concerns, and if so, to what extent.  This is the analysis undertaken by this project, which draws upon ten years of developments in Australian arbitration law to identify implications for future law reform in this area.

Warren, Margaret and Croft, Clyde, “An International Commercial Court for Australia: An Idea Worth Taking to Market”

[Extracted from Conclusion of the draft paper:] When the significant trade agreements negotiated by the Federal government are considered with respect to Asia, especially China, and the Pacific, the opportunities offered by an Australian international court are almost boundless. Indeed, there is a symmetry in the establishment of an Australian court which would complement the trade agreements. The proposal for an international commercial court for Australia cannot be left to the Courts themselves or the legal profession to develop and agitate. The experiences of Singapore, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and indeed, London demonstrate that it is vital for there to be government interest and support for such a proposal.

It is also important to be reminded that a proposal for an Australian court occurs within an international context [… including also] an important legal institute … established in the Asian region in which Australia is an active participant: The Asian Business Law Institute …

A stronger contribution can be made to the rule of law by courts working together than if they are working separately. The early 21st Century is being defined by something of a return to internationalisation and globalisation, although the form and forms that will take remain to be seen. It is for us to shape those forms in the capacity we can and to make contributions towards global stability, harmonisation and due recognition of the law in the context of commercial enterprise. These common purposes, as well as quality of justice and the manner of its administration provided at commercial courts and arbitral tribunals, international and domestic, should be promoted and indeed marketed.

Trakman, Leon “An Australian Perspective on Investment Treaty Negotiations and Investment Arbitration

Notwithstanding the vision of model Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions across the international community of states, the obstacles are profound.  Supporters propose a cost-benefit analysis to determine the provisions’ utility.  But states are likely to diverge over the costs and benefits of such a multilateral instrument  Material factors will include the stages of development of the states in issue, the kinds of foreign investors (likely) attracted, and alternatives to investor-state arbitration (including recourse to host state courts). Prospects for a model investment treaty that applies internationally are doubtful at best.  Indeed, states that already have their own models, such as the US and China, agonise over their content when revising them, including in relation to ISDS. 

Notably, too, some (especially developing) states that have lost arbitration claims brought by foreign investors have forsaken ISDS in favour of leaving recourse to domestic courts.  Some Latin American states, such as Ecuador and Bolivia, adopted this position after massive losses to foreign investors from developed countries.  More recently, developed states have displayed wariness of ISDS. Australia, unlike Germany and Canada, has never lost an investor-arbitration claim – including the ISDS claim brought by Philip Morris. But it briefly forsook ISDS arbitration a decade ago under a Labour Coalition Government, partly due to a recommendation of Australia’s Productivity Commission.  A Liberal Government soon reverted to a case-by-case approach towards ISDS, excluding it from a new bilateral treaty with Japan (although ISDS is now available via CPTPP) and PACER Plus, while including ISDS in treaties with Korea, China, and (updated) Singapore. Australia’s most recent but as yet unratified treaties, notably with Hong Kong and Indonesia, also include ISDS.  What is distinctive in these various treaties providing for ISDS is how that choice is expressed.

This presentation will explore ISDS in Australia’s bilateral treaties. It will identify disparate provisions, the manner in which they are manifest, and the reasons for and significance of their adoption.  It will explore some perceived costs-benefits underlying such divergence over ISDS.  It will evaluate the rationale that Australian seeks to shield its outbound investors from the domestic courts of its treaty partner states, while protecting itself from excessive claims by their inbound investors.  It will critically evaluate the proposition that ISDS may be more expeditious and transparent than proceeding before domestic courts.  [For an earlier paper focusing on the Asia-Pacific, see here.]

Tang, Yi, “Applying PRC’s BITs in Hong Kong and Macao SARs: Contradictions Between the Chinese Government and Investment Tribunals”

In recent years, it is observed that the investor-state tribunals have more frequently encountered a difficult problem of the territorial application of investment treaties, especially bilateral investment treaties (BITs). Among all the investment treaty arbitration cases concerning the application of BITs concluded by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the cases of Tza Yap Shum v Peru and Sanum Investment Ltd v Laos stand out due to the special status of China’s Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions (SARs). In these two cases, one key dispute is whether PRC’s BITs can be applied to Hong Kong or Macao SARs. And the tribunals and courts in both cases reached the conclusion that PRC’s BITs do apply to Hong Kong or Macao, which has presented a sharp contrast with the Chinese official stance. Against this background, this paper intends to analyze how and why the international investment tribunals’ decisions contradict from the Chinese official position. It will first examine the two controversial cases by teasing out the opposing arguments and standpoints, then it will analyze what might explain the confrontation between the positions held by the Chinese government and the investment tribunals respectively. What are the driving forces behind the two contradictory stances? This paper attempts to conduct a relatively comprehensive analysis on this issue by delving into the reasons from historical, legal, political and economic perspectives. This analysis hopes to offer an innovative prism through which we can gain some new insights into the question of applying PRC’s BITs to SARs. It is also of value to the future implications and policy suggestions as to what China should do to solve the current dilemma, and to prevent future confusion. 

Mbugua, Wilson, “Dispute Resolution in International and Bilateral Investment Agreements” (earlier draft paper with Shahla Ali at: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3168996)

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claims have mainly centred on impairment of investments by the host state in banking, infrastructure development, mining, among other sectors. Intellectual properties as a form of investments are protected by a considerable number of bilateral investment treaties, however, they have rarely been invoked in ISDS claims until recently. This paper sketches the fabric and the structure ISDS in bilateral investment treaties and how it is applied in practice. Secondly, it will examine how arbitration tribunals have dealt with the subject of intellectual property rights by focusing on two standards of protections- expropriation and fair and equitable treatment. Lastly, the paper will conclude with a discussion on the criticism facing ISDS and possible paths for reforms.   

Huang, Jie (Jeanne), “Data Protection in Investment Arbitration: Privacy, Confidentiality and Transparency

Two recent cases, Tennant Energy v Canada and Elliott v. Korea, demonstrate that the booming domestic and regional data protection laws have brought real and significant challenges to investment arbitration. The unprecedented but unclear role of data protection in investment arbitration requires serious attention from both academic and practising communities. This paper intends to address four issues. Firstly, how to determine whether an investment arbitration is subject to a domestic or regional data protection law? Second, suppose that a domestic or regional data protection law (e.g. GDPR) should be applied to an ISDS, what are the similarities and differences between the concept of ‘privacy’ under the data protection law and the general assumption that arbitration proceedings are both ‘private’ and ‘confidential’? The third issue is the interplay between the immunity under public international law and the privacy obligation under a domestic and regional data protection law. Last but not least, may the transparency obligation under the UN Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (now being considered by the Australian Parliament) conflict with the privacy obligation under a domestic or regional data protection law? If so, how to resolve the conflict?

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (5): Mediating Japan-Korea Trade and Investment Disputes

Written by: Prof James Claxton (Kobe University), Prof Luke Nottage (Sydney Law School) & Dr Brett Williams (Williams Trade Law & CAPLUS Associate)

[This is a compilation of our two-part postings for the Kluwer Arbitration Blog, on recent bilateral tensions with regional and even global ramifications. They could generate complicated and protracted disputes across various forums and so arguably could benefit from formal mediation. Our analysis builds on brief discussions at and after a July symposium at HKU as part of a joint research project with USydney, and a longer version can also be found on HKU’s “ADR in Asia” blog. It will be tabled also at the second joint symposium, on Friday 15 November at Sydney Law School.]

1. Complex Multi-faceted Tensions between Japan and Korea

A media and geopolitical storm recently erupted after Japan introduced measures affecting exports to the Republic of Korea (Korea). Thunder sounded with Japan’s imposition of certification requirements on three chemicals needed by South Korean companies to make semiconductors, memory chips and displays for consumer electronics (the 4 July Measure). This was followed by lightning and rain when Japan removed Korea from its “white list” of trusted trading partners (the 2 August Measure), then threats by Seoul to retaliate by reducing military-intelligence cooperation and imposing countermeasures on trade. The growing tempest has brought about the worst breakdown in cross-border bilateral relations in five decades, generating both regional and global ramifications.

Differing rationales for the geopolitical storm have been given. The Japanese government and media tend to emphasise security concerns, namely on-shipments of such chemicals with potential military applications to North Korea, violating multilateral sanctions. The South Korean government and media, as well as some international news outlets, have often placed more emphasis on the possibility of Japan “retaliating” for an October 2018 judgment of the Supreme Court of Korea. That decision upheld lower court judgments from 2014 finding major Japanese companies, such as Nippon Steel, liable to compensate claimants alleging that they were forced labourers for the Japanese companies during World War 2. The companies, and the Japanese government, have argued that such claims were precluded by a bilateral treaty signed in 1965 to restore diplomatic relations. (Similar claims and defences but under different bilateral instruments have been raised before Japanese courts by Chinese war-time labourers, generating a settlement with Nishimatsu group companies.) A few media reports also speculate that Japan introduced export restrictions affecting Korea to bolster the appeal of the Abe Administration in upper House of Councillor elections, but it secured another solid victory anyway. Some media sources suggest that populist Korean President Moon Jae-in may be “playing to the base” too in domestic politics.

Introducing trade-restrictive measures, however, raises the potential for Korea to complain before the World Trade Organization (WTO). It brings to mind the claim successfully brought by the Obama Administration against China over 2012-14, resulting in China removing export duties and quotas imposed on rare earths, for which it similarly controlled almost all world trade. However, the general exceptions China failed to establish in that case, under Article XX of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), dealt with health and conservation of natural resources. By contrast, Japan here could be expected to raise national security exceptions under Article XXI. There are even greater differences from a procedural perspective, which we focus on below. If indeed Korea files a formal complaint and an ad hoc panel rules against Japan, this would only come by next year at the earliest. By then the Appellate Body will likely lack sufficient members (full-time “judges”), due to the Trump Administration blocking new appointments until its concerns about dispute resolution and other aspects of the WTO system are adequately addressed. Accordingly, Japan could appeal any panel decision allowing retaliation for any GATT violations found, and then never come under pressure to remove or adjust its measures against Korea.

The situation becomes even messier when we consider below other potential inter-state dispute resolution processes. Japan could seek arbitration under the 1965 treaty, but that effectively requires the counterparty to provide further consent, which Korea does not seem to want to do. Japan might also consider litigating the treaty before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Another option is to invoke inter-state arbitration under the Japan-Korea bilateral investment treaty (BIT) in force since 2003, and/or a trilateral investment treaty including China in force from 2014, underpinning cross-border relations among Asia’s three largest FDI providers. However, it may be difficult to prove that the Korean court judgments involved a procedural defect or discrimination towards the Japanese companies creating a denial of justice, contrary to the relevant treaty.

Part II in a separate posting will analyse a further possibility: the Japanese companies might directly initiate investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) claims, as provided by both investment treaties in lieu of inter-state arbitration. This could theoretically include an application to the ad hoc arbitration tribunal to issue interim measures preventing enforcement of the Korean Supreme Court ruling, until the tribunal had finally determined claims such as denial of justice. However, this dispute resolution option generates legal and practical problems for the Japanese companies themselves, and the Japanese government due to some renewed sensitivity recently over ISDS in general. Because of these multi-faceted potential disputes, involving various treaties and parties, we will end by urging formal mediation to assist achieving a global settlement.

2. Japan vs Korea Under the 1965 Treaty or Investment Agreements

Procedural as well as substantive law complications arise under the 1965 Japan and Korea Treaty on Basic Relations. It purports to settle and foreclose claims related to the treatment of Korean nationals during the period of Japanese colonial rule before World War 2 in exchange for a payment by Japan to Korea of USD 2.5 billion (in today’s terms) and an offer of favourable loans to Korea. Japan and Korea disagree about whether the treaty was meant to settle only state-level claims or to also extend to private claims by Korean labourers against Japanese businesses.

Article III provides that disputes over treaty interpretation can be settled in inter-state arbitration should diplomatic consultations fail. Although Japan invoked this provision on 20 May 2019, after consultations following Korean court execution orders against Japanese companies, Korea has not consented to arbitrate or selected an arbitrator under the terms of the treaty. This effectively closes the door on the possibility as there is no authority named in the treaty for default appointments of party arbitrators. While Korea’s non-compliance with the arbitration provision may raise the issue of good faith under general international law in principle, the practical consequence for now is that arbitration is stalled, although Japan still seems to hold out hope that the Korean government will change its course.

Japan has also said it is considering bringing the 1965 treaty dispute to the ICJ. Like arbitration, this option would require Korea’s consent because, unlike Japan, Korea has not made a declaration that the jurisdiction of the ICJ is compulsory or elsewhere consented to give the Court authority over the dispute. While proceedings before the ICJ raise a different set of procedural considerations – including relative efficiency, confidentiality, and access to provisional measures – it is unclear why Korea would be more open to this alternative than arbitration if Japan were to move to institute proceedings.

Japan could therefore instead make collateral claims under the 2002 Japan-Korea BIT or the 2012 trilateral investment agreement between China, Japan and Korea, although the Japanese government does not seem to have raised this possibility publicly. Both instruments were in force when the dispute arose and each provides for mandatory inter-state arbitration supported by appointing authorities to act for non-participating parties.

Article 14 of the BIT would allow Japan to commence UNCITRAL Rules (ad hoc) arbitration against Korea. It usefully adds an expedited procedure for submissions, hearings, and drafting of the arbitral award, but envisages first “consultations” without specifying any time limit beyond which arbitration can be commenced. Japan may also be disconcerted that there is no express elaboration of a “loser pays” principle, as has become more common (although far from uniform) in international commercial and even investor-state arbitration. The starting point under the BIT is instead that each state bears costs equally, whatever the outcome, subject to tribunal discretion.

Under the trilateral agreement, Article 17 provides that Japan can commence arbitration under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules after a mandatory consultation period of six months beginning with a written request for consultations. The scope of the written request, concerning “any dispute relating to the interpretation or application of [the trilateral agreement],” may not be broad enough to include Japan’s request for consultations under the 1965 treaty on 9 January 2019. Assuming notice is not a hurdle, the arbitration procedure mostly mirrors the expedited process and division of costs terms found in the BIT. The most significant difference is that China would be permitted to make submissions and attend hearings as a right.

Apart from these procedural issues, arbitration under an investment treaty may not be attractive to Japan as it could narrow the scope of possible claims. Rather than deal directly with the questions of interpretation of the 1965 treaty, the arbitration would concern whether the Korean judiciary breached standards of treatment in the investment treaty by holding Japanese companies liable for forced labour. The standards for resolving this question are expressed differently in the instruments. The BIT promises state treatment that is fair and equitable without qualification while the trilateral agreement links fair and equitable treatment of investors to “generally accepted rules of international law” and goes on to stipulate that “a determination that there has been a breach of… a separate international agreement, does not ipso facto establish that there has been a breach [of the investment treaty].” Based on the broader treatment standard and indefinite consultation period, the BIT may offer a better option for Japan.

To prevail under either investment treaty, Japan would likely have to demonstrate serious procedural irregularities or prove that the Korean Supreme Court’s ruling was discriminatory and not merely that the court misinterpreted the terms of the 1965 treaty in reaching its judgment. There are a few public examples of investors challenging court judgments successfully on the basis of protections in investment treaties. Chevron notably convinced an investment tribunal to stay a 9.5 billion USD Ecuadorian court judgement against the company and ultimately recovered damages for denial of justice under the Ecuador-U.S. BIT and violations of customary international law. Yet the fit with the dispute between Japan and Korea is far from perfect. While the Chevron tribunal found that the court judgment was written by a third party in exchange for payment to the judge, there have been no such allegations of corruption against the Korean courts.

Even if Japan were to convince a tribunal that its nationals were denied justice by the Korean courts, the tribunal would not necessarily have to interpret the 1965 treaty to resolve the claims. Absent a ruling on the meaning of the treaty, the root cause of the dispute would remain unsettled.

3. Korea vs Japan in the WTO

So far, Korea has not filed any formal complaint under the WTO’s Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). In force from 1995, that allows an affected member state first to seek bilateral consultations, then request formation of panel of three ad hoc decision-makers, and then appeal any adverse ruling to the Appellate Body for review by a minimum of three “judges”. However, Korea instead has so far raised its concerns in this case to the WTO General Council, the WTO’s highest decision-making body comprising representatives of all member states. Korea may be seeking to raise wider awareness among them about the bilateral tension and thereby prompt an informal diplomatic solution, but raising matters in this forum could entrench positions. If Korea does file a formal complaint through the DSU, issues anyway are complicated in terms of substantive WTO law and especially under the current WTO dispute settlement regime.

We elaborate elsewhere the substantive issues. In short, Korea will claim that Japan’s 4 July Measure violates the Most-Favoured-Nation rule in GATT Article I because exports to other WTO Members of the three chemicals receive an advantage in the form of the expedited export facilitated by the bulk licences and that advantage is not extended to exports to Korea. It could similarly complain about the 2 August Measure, removing Korea from the white list of countries receiving less onerous treatment from Japan in relation to controls over exports of a broad range of goods.

Japan might then claim justification for both measures under GATT Article XXI, allowing a state to take “any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests”. A recent WTO panel decision in one of several disputes between Russia and Ukraine, found that this exception is not completely “self-judging” (as asserted by Russia, as well as generally the USA,) so it had jurisdiction to examine the measures that Russia claimed were to protect its security. But the panel nonetheless found them justifiable, applying a two-step test.

If Korea does bring a WTO claim and Japan raises this particular security exception, a new ad hoc panel formed may not follow such legal reasoning and factual determinations may be difficult. There is further uncertainty because although the Russia-Ukraine panel decision was appealed, the Appellate Body is understaffed and cannot deal with it this year.

That understaffing points to an ever bigger, procedural problem for Korea. Even if it prevails on the merits before a WTO panel, this is unlikely to occur before next year. By then, however, another of the three remaining Appellate Body judges will have reached mandatory retirement. If the USA keeps objecting to any new appointments because of various objections to the DSU procedures and the wider WTO system, the Body will lack a quorum to decide any appeals, including for example by Japan if unhappy with the earlier ad hoc Panel. In other words, Korea will have achieved only a pyrrhic victory.

Various WTO members are trying to resolve the DSU breakdown. For example, the EU proposed amendments to the DSU in late 2018 that attracted support from Australia and Korea, but the USA was not persuaded. The EU and China apparently criticised April 2019 proposals by Australia and Japan as being too soft on the USA. China’s views towards the WTO dispute settlement system are unclear, after recently withdrawing from panel proceedings against the EU’s anti-dumping duties.

There are ongoing discussions for back-up plans whereby member states agree not to appeal or to substitute the usual two-tier DSU process with inter-state arbitration under DSU Article 25, rarely used since 1995 (as discussed on this blog here). But these plans are complicated and involve states opting in to a new dispute settlement regime. Such deep uncertainties over inter-state dispute resolution procedures further cloud the picture regarding a potential WTO claim by Korea against Japan.

To conclude so far, Japan can probably fend off WTO claims by Korea. However, on substantive and/or procedural grounds, Korea probably has a good chance of fending off claims brought by Japan under the two applicable investment agreements and the 1965 treaty. This leaves questions over potential investment agreement claims by affected Japanese companies, creating further complications and enhancing the need to try formal mediation, as we explain [below …].

4. Japanese Companies vs Korea Through ISDS

Apart from the difficulties outlined in our previous posting over proving a denial of justice, a major problem for the Japanese companies if they initiate ISDS arbitration is that they would have to fork out tribunal, lawyer and expert witness fees. Empirical evidence confirms those are often hefty, even if the claim ultimately succeeds, which is one major reason why investors try to mobilise and involve their home states even if relevant treaties allow them to “go it alone” by providing the option of ISDS as well as inter-state arbitration.

A major problem for the Japanese government, in turn, is that any ISDS claims brought by the companies would likely further incense not only the current Korean government, but also some groups within Korean society (including an association of judges). They and the then opposition party first became critical of ISDS especially as it was negotiated into the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS) and their presidential candidate ran on a platform that was critical of ISDS. However, that candidate lost resoundingly, which practically ended the debate, and KORUS was brought into effect from March 2012. Nonetheless, ISDS also remained on the radar as the first-ever treaty-based claim was brought against Korea from late 2012 by a Belgian subsidiary of US-based Lone Star. The claim is still pending, despite some expectations it would be resolved by March 2019.

One Australian NGO now even interprets a recent Korean newspaper report of current Prime Minister Lee Nak-Yeon as suggesting that Korea may “abolish” ISDS. More likely he was expressing his personal views because Korea’s investment treaty policy and practice largely remain unchanged. This is evident from the recent Korea-Armenia BIT and Korea-Central America FTA, which both contain ISDS, although wider policy and practice have been evolving somewhat (e.g., regarding transparency in ISDS). Nonetheless, an ISDS claim by Japanese companies and/or an award favouring Lone Star would further inflame simmering political tensions. This potential is heightened as this year another US investor (Gale) has filed a notice to initiate ISDS regarding a development in Incheon, while Chinese and now Malaysian investors have filed notices regarding projects on Jeju Island.

Despite such practical difficulties, as early as 2014 (in the wake of the first-instance Korean court judgments against Japanese companies like Nippon Steel) Investment Arbitration Reporter commentators had reported that Japanese companies could be preparing ISDS claims against Korea. Apart from questions over the substantive grounds under the relevant treaties, outlined in our previous posting, another threshold issue to consider is: how likely are Japanese investors generally to bring ISDS claims anyway?

Japanese investors were initially very “reluctant claimants”, with an analogy potentially with Japan’s “reluctant litigants” as measured by comparatively few per capita civil suits filed in Japanese courts. In contrast to home countries with much higher ISDS claiming per capita (such as Canada, more so say than the US), there had been only a few indirect treaty-based claims from companies linked to Japan, notably Nomura via its Saluka Investments subsidiary against the Czech Republic (settled in 2007), and Bridgestone via a US subsidiary against Panama (with public hearings over the internet, 29 July – 2 August 2019, illustrating incidentally the growing transparency of ISDS proceedings). At least one other threatened ISDS claim was seemingly based on consent to arbitration administered by the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) contained not in a treaty but an investment contract, namely between an aluminium smelter consortium and Indonesia. However, this also settled (in 2013) so no arbitration was commenced by the Japanese investors.

Nonetheless, Japanese firms have filed three Energy Charter Treaty claims arbitrations against Spain since 2015. This follows the lead of investors from many other states, also impacted by Spain’s abrupt changes in renewable energy policy. Their precedents allow Japanese companies and their legal advisors to reduce costs and other “institutional barriers” to pursuing formal dispute resolution procedures. Nissan’s UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules claim in 2017 under the India-Japan FTA is even bolder, as few of the many ISDS claims brought against India (since a 2011 award for Australia’s White Industries) have involved investments in manufacturing. This claim may indicate a changing mindset among the leaders of at least larger Japanese companies, towards more active engagement in international arbitration. However, Nissan is quite unusual given its alliance with French shareholder Renault (although that relationship is itself now impacted by securities law prosecutions against CEO Carlos Ghosn).

Tracing the emergence of claims by Japanese investors generally, the possibility of ISDS claims against Korea now by Nippon Steel and other affected companies cannot be excluded simply on the basis say of some general “cultural” aversion to formal dispute resolution processes. As for those who still favour instead the “elite management” theory put forward for such aversion to explain low levels of civil litigation within Japan, whereby government and business elites divert cases away from formal dispute resolution, it is noticeable that peak business associations (especially the Keidanren) have long pressed for ISDS-backed investment treaty protections. And the Abe Administration since 2012 has signed 16 standalone BITs (all with ISDS), albeit still far fewer than Korea, as well several FTAs. This sends the message that investment treaties are important and to be used, paralleling more active engagement with ISDS in other parts of Asia especially as various “institutional barriers” slowly start to come down. However, in highly politicised cases such as this they are probably best used as part of a multi-level negotiation and an overall dispute resolution as elaborated in the concluding section below.

Article 15 of the 2002 BIT envisages the investor seeking “consultations or negotiation” with the host state for up to 3 months, then a notice of intent triggering a cooling-off period of at least another 3 months, before being able to commence arbitration under the ICSID Convention (as both Japan and Korea are parties), with its more favourable enforcement regime, or any other separately agreed Arbitration Rules. (Articles 17-18 exclude ISDS for disputes over prudential measures concerning financial services and temporary safeguards for cross-border capital transactions, which are inapplicable here.)

Article 15 of the trilateral agreement requires more details in the investor’s request for consultations so the dispute can be “solved amicably”, but if no settlement is reached after four months the investor can seek arbitration under the ICSID Convention, UNCITRAL Rules or any other separately agreed Arbitration Rules. The host state can require the investor to first seek administrative review under any local requirements, but only for up to four months before arbitration is commenced. (ISDS exclusions regarding certain intellectual property rights or temporary safeguards are again inapplicable here.)

Nonetheless, filings would mean investors incurring significant arbitration expenses up-front, with empirical studies on ISDS costs showing claimants are often unable to recover all lawyer and expert witness expenses even if successful. More importantly, filings by Nippon Steel and others would likely inflame the underlying tension, resulting in boycotts, protests or even strikes around their affiliated companies in Korea. Perhaps for such practical reasons, this point has not been raised by general media, relevant companies or the Keidanren, although the Investment Arbitration Reporter has reiterated the possibility of ISDS claims since the Korean Supreme Court judgment late last year.

5. Mediation to Assist a Negotiated Settlement

In light of this complex and delicate situation, how could a global settlement be reached? One possibility is for one or more affected Japanese companies to seek direct consultations with Korea, but include a request for mediation to help reach a negotiated outcome. Neither the BIT or the trilateral agreement mention mediation or conciliation, unlikely some investment treaties that refer to it as an option, but mediation can be agreed separately as neither treaty’s “fork in the road” provision preclude this possibility.

Recent empirical research highlights the pervasiveness of settlements even after arbitration is filed, contrary to some commentators’ scepticism. This therefore demonstrates the potential for even more settlements through greater use of investor-state mediation.

An advantage of such ad hoc mediation is that skilled mediators could also bring in the host states, and come up with a resolution of the disputes under the 1965 treaty and the WTO as well. Mediation has not been so popular in inter-state dispute resolution, but a recent successful settlement of a maritime boundary dispute between Australia and Timor-Leste has highlighted its wider potential for large-scale international disputes nowadays.

There are otherwise few signs that Japan and Korea will be able to work out the dispute on their own at the moment. President Moon has warned of a “prolonged” conflict and has committed that Korea “won’t be defeated again”, while Japan initially resisted engaging in negotiations after Korea refused to arbitrate under the 1965 treaty and is now ratcheting up pressure on Korea in the trade dispute. This suggests that the states’ positions have hardened as public sentiment on both sides has soured amidst protests, product bans, disruptions to business and tourism, and even self-immolation by Korean nationals in protest against Japan.

High-level officials from the US have tried to extricate the parties from their entrenched positions. An early offer by Donald Trump to mediate did not get traction, but the US has continued to try to play a role in resolving the dispute including calls for a “standstill agreement” to prevent further escalation of tensions. Yet the US suffers from a credibility problem, as the Trump Administration has itself been using trade policy in a more confrontational way, evidenced by the WTO Appellate Body problem and bilateral trade war with China. Some see that approach as having spread now to Japan’s dealings with Korea. Others urge the US to keep exploring ways to “quietly nudge” both nations to resolve their disputes, but acknowledge the limited scope for informal interventions even for a superpower.

Australian (former) officials or politicians from Australia may have a role to play, or from another influential state (such as Singapore) in current negotiations around the WTO DSU as well as a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP, or ASEAN+6 FTA). Furthermore, Singapore is actively positioning itself as a proponent of international mediation, not least by hosting last week the diplomatic conference for a new UN Convention on cross-border enforcement of mediated settlement agreements – signing up along with 45 others (including Korea, China and the USA, but not Australia or Japan), attracting widespread commentary. Although the new treaty is designed to promote commercial and potentially investor-state mediation, it could heighten interest also in inter-state mediation.

It would further delay RCEP negotiations if there were a collapse in trust and values shared between Korea and Japan, including generally regarding ISDS and investment commitments. Already, some have suggested that this bilateral tension is behind Korea getting cold feet about seeking to join the regional CPTPP now partly in force, which Japan (with Australia and Singapore) pushed to bring into force after the Trump Administration withdrew US signature of the earlier Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA.

However, even Australia or Singapore could be seen as having their own interests in the bilateral spat. Better candidates as neutral mediators – especially for a more structured and sustained mediation process – could be senior figures (formerly) within the United Nations, such as UNCTAD, or another international organisation such as:

  • the OECD, although it is more policy – than practice – oriented;
  • the International Bar Association, which produced investor-state mediation rules in 2012, although those are hardly used so far and the Association’s leaders tend now to be full-time practitioners especially from larger law firms; and
  • the International Law Association, instead comprising mostly professors specialising in international law.

Both ICSID  and the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR) have started to promote investor-state mediation recently, including running courses with the International Energy Charter and International Mediation Institute to train up mediators for investment disputes. They too could be consulted for possible mediators, with experience also preferably in WTO law and broader international relations, especially in Asia.

Overall, successful mediation and negotiated settlements tend to arise in two ways. One is where the litigation behind the mediation, including likely costs and delays, has a predictable outcome. (This is one reason sometimes given for low levels of civil litigation in Japan, epitomised by traffic accident data.) But another is where the dispute becomes very complicated, allowing skilled mediators to help parties find novel ways to perceive and develop shared interests. This would not be possible before an adjudicatory forum, like the ICJ or an arbitral tribunal, with a limited mandate to decide claims. An imposed solution, with a perceived winner and loser, might also fail to calm the tide of nationalism, public unrest, and deteriorating relations between the countries. These circumstances offer both a unique opportunity for mediation as well as a challenge for international dispute resolution.

This analysis derives from a project on Asia-Pacific international business dispute resolution funded jointly over 2019 by the University of Hong Kong and the University of Sydney. It will be tabled at a second symposium on 15 November.

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (4): Guest Blog report on 15 July Symposium with/at HKU

Written by: Dr Nobumichi Teramura (Lecturer, Adelaide Law School; HKU/USyd Project Researcher; CAPLUS Associate)

[This is a version (without hyperlinks) of Dr Teramura’s report on a first symposium for a HKU/USydney-funded joint research project on Asia-Pacific international business dispute resolution, published on the “ADR in Asia” blog. Registrations are available for a second joint symposium, on Friday 15 November at Sydney Law School.]

Introduction
More than a year has passed since the commencement of the so-called trade war between China and the US. The ongoing geopolitical tension in the Asia-Pacific region shows no signs of slowing down, and this inevitably affects the business environment; international business is not separable from international relations. It is time for international lawyers in the region to reconsider their strategy for the coming years, especially concerning international commercial arbitration (ICA) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).

On 15 July 2019, the University of Hong Kong Asian Institute of International Financial Law (AIIFL), jointly with Sydney Law School, organised an international symposium: “Challenges and Opportunities for International Commercial Arbitration and Investor-State Dispute Settlement in the Asia-Pacific Region”. The symposium, supported by Transnational Dispute Management (TDM), brought together leading experts in international business law from the Asia-Pacific region. Building on Reyes & Gu (eds), The Developing World of Arbitration: A Comparative Study of Arbitration Reform in the Asia-Pacific (Hart, 2018) and Chaisse and Nottage (eds) International Investment Treaties and Arbitration Across Asia (Brill, 2018), the symposium examined more recent challenges and opportunities for ICA and ISDS: the proliferation of international commercial courts; the 2018 UN Convention on enforcement of mediated settlement agreements; dispute resolution mechanisms for the Belt & Road initiative; and the impact of evolving investment treaty practices and high-profile cases on public attitudes towards ICA and ISDS. The main focus of the symposium was Australia, Japan, China, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Australia
The first presentation topic was: “International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: Judicial Control over Arbitral Awards”. Professor Luke Nottage (Sydney Law School) discussed Australia’s revived ambition to become a major hub for ICA. According to the recent marketing from the Australian government around last year’s ICA Congress in Sydney, the country has potential for: a harmonised legal framework for ICA in line with international standards; sophisticated arbitration institutions; and some of the world’s leading arbitration practitioners. While agreeing with these points, Professor Nottage stated that the country was required to make further efforts to promote itself as an arbitration hub. Challenges include remaining legislative uncertainties, the structural problems of the court system (the shared ICA jurisdiction of State and Territory Courts alongside the Federal Courts) and persistent delays in court-related ICA matters under the International Arbitration Act.
Professor Chester Brown (Sydney Law School) then introduced ‘An Australian Perspective on Investment Treaty Negotiations and Investment Arbitration’. He stated that Australia’s approach to investment treaty, in particular to ISDS, is on a case-by-case basis in light of the national interest but, for now, the government still generally supports to the dispute resolution platform and recently agreed to ISDS in the FTA with Hong Kong. The unexpected victory for the centre-right coalition in the federal election on 18 May 2019 would not dramatically impact on the country’s direction on trade and investment negotiations; this would have changed if the Australian Labor Party had won the election as the party pledged to negotiate the removal of ISDS clauses. Professor Brown also introduced Australia’s recent participation in the work of UNCITRAL’s Working Group III that aiming to reform ISDS.

Japan
The next presentation, Professor James Claxton (Kobe Law School), was on “Developing Japan as a Regional Hub for International Dispute Resolution: Dream Come True or Daydream?”. Japan has long been regional backwater market for ICA, but the Japanese government has recently become keen to promote the country as another regional centre for international business dispute resolution services. The presentation assessed new initiatives including: the promotion of existing arbitration institutions (the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association and Tokyo Maritime Arbitration Commission); the establishment of new arbitration institutions and facilities (the International Arbitration Center in Tokyo and the Japan International Dispute Resolution Center Osaka); and the establishment of the Japan International Mediation Center – Kyoto. Professor Claxton discussed whether the initiatives would provide Japanese ADR businesses with enough support to survive the fierce competition from other regional venues for dispute resolution services. He concluded that the country should pursue a consistent, coordinated and ambitious strategy to catch up with foreign dispute resolution service providers including (more) niche marketing for international arbitration and multi-tiered dispute resolution (med-arb or arb-med).

China
Three experts on China presented their research on ICA and ISDS. A/Professor Jeanne Huang (Sydney Law School) spoke as “Procedural Models to Upgrade BITs: China’s Experience”. The methods of upgrading BITs may be categorised into four models: the Co-existence Model (parties to an old BIT join an existing or new one); the Replacement Model (replace an old BIT with a new one); the Amendment Model (amend an old BIT by a protocol); and the Joint Interpretation Model (diplomatic announcements on the interpretation of a BIT). According to her, the first two models are the most frequently adopted. Professor Vivienne Bath (Sydney Law School) shared her research on “China and International Investment Arbitration: Chinese Arbitral Institutions and ISDS Rules”. Recently, Chinese arbitration institutions such as the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission and the Beijing International Arbitration Center have issued new rules that enable them to facilitate ISDS in China. Professor Bath explained how the new developments would affect China’s investment practice in the context of Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) questioning whether foreign counterparties would agree to the new facilities compared to others in third countries. Another topical issue was discussed by A/Professor Weixia Gu (the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law). Her paper on “China’s Belt and Road Development and A New International Commercial Arbitration Initiative in Asia” anticipated the creation of a new Asian ICA legal order revolving around the BRI – with China helping lead harmonisation. Her view was that harmonisation of the public policy exception to arbitral enforcement was crucial for increasing investor confidence and commercial certainty in the region.

Hong Kong
Professor Shahla Ali (the University of Hong Kong) reported on ‘ICA and ISDS Developments in Hong Kong in the Context of the Belt and Road Initiative’. Currently, it is expected that the initiative will contribute to the growth of the dispute resolution service in Hong Kong because the increase of outward investment from China may lead to a rise in the number of Chinese and Hong Kong investors involved in legal disputes in BRI countries. However, she pointed out that the situation was not that straightforward. She first introduced recent movements of dispute resolution services in the context of BRI. For example, in January 2018, the Supreme People’s Court in Beijing announced the establishment of the China International Commercial Court (CICC) whose purpose is to solve broadly-defined international commercial disputes related to the BRI. In April 2018, HKIAC announced ‘the Belt and Road Programme’ with the aim of taking full advantage of opportunities arising from the BRI. One may find similar efforts in CIETAC Hong Kong and ICC Hong Kong. Professor Ali commented that Hong Kong dispute resolution institutions would work alongside the Chinese arbitration institutions and recommended that Hong Kong ISDS services should also focus on investor-state mediation.

Singapore
Justice Anselmo Reyes (Singapore International Commercial Court: SICC) shared his insights on how the SICC could play a role in ISDS. He first introduced typical features that distinguish litigation in (proliferating) international commercial courts from that in ordinary courts: language; simplified procedural rules; use of foreign judges; possibility of representation by foreign lawyers; way in which direct jurisdiction is established; reasonable costs; possibility of appeal; and binding (or at least persuasive) jurisprudence. Justice Reyes discussed to what extent some or all of those features would be conducive to ISDS. He also considered the primary concern of potential SICC users, in other words, recognisability and enforceability of ICC judgements elsewhere, taking into account the 1971 and 2005 Hague Conventions on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments, and the Diplomatic Council meeting of the Hague Conference in June 2019. Justice Reyes concluded his presentation by expressing concerns including excessive competition: too many courts and ISDS centres may be chasing too few ISDS cases.

Broader Conclusions
Chiann Bao (arbitrator and former secretary-general of the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre) provided a wider perspective on the continued expansion of investment treaty signings (and related ISDS proceedings) involving Australia and Asian states. Interesting developments included the 2018 Singapore-Sri Lanka BIT adding the option for investors of invoking the new investment arbitration rules if the Singapore International Arbitration Centre, and the frequent references to the possibility of mediation or amicable settlement (albeit without requiring mediation before filing for arbitration, except in the recently-signed Australia-Indonesia FTA if the host state first requests mediation with the investor. Olga Boltenko (Fangda Partners) illustrated some of the complexities of deciding whether to set up projects and pursue dispute resolution under individually negotiated investment contracts rather than or in addition to investment treaties. Dr Dean Lewis (Pinsent Mason) compared the new regimes in Hong Kong and Singapore regulating third-party funding for arbitration. This was deregulated in Australia in 2006 through a High Court judgment, but does not seem to have generated many extra Australia-seated ICA cases.

Overall, the symposium at the University of Hong Kong succinctly presented a comprehensive overview of the latest regional trends in international business dispute resolution, including significant opportunities (such as niche marketing especially perhaps by traditionally less popular venues) and challenges (attracting new types of cases to new types of processes, including international commercial courts or mediation). A follow-up symposium will take place at the University of Sydney Law School on Friday 15 November (before Australia Arbitration Week in Brisbane): http://sydney.edu.au/news/law/457.html?eventid=11981

ASEAN Consumer Law Harmonisation and Cooperation: Achievements and Challenges

This is the title of my next book, co-authored with Profs Justin Malbon, Jeannie Paterson and Caron Beaton-Wells in Melbourne, which will be published by Cambridge University Press around the end of this year in its series on “Integration Through Law: The Role of Law and the Rule of Law in ASEAN Integration“. It is the first Western-language research monograph detailing significant developments in consumer law and policy across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, underpinned by a growing middle class and implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community from 2016. Eight chapters examine consumer law topics within ASEAN member states (such as product safety and consumer contracts) and across them (financial and health services), as well as the interface with competition law and the nature of ASEAN as a unique and evolving international organisation. We include insights from extensive fieldwork, partly through several consultancies for the ASEAN Secretariat over 2013-5, to provide a reliable, contextual and up-to-date analysis of consumer law and policy development across the region. The volume also draws on and contributes to theories of law and development in multiple fields, including comparative law (with references also to consumer law developments in Australia, Japan and the EU), political economy and regional studies.

Continue reading “ASEAN Consumer Law Harmonisation and Cooperation: Achievements and Challenges”

New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (3): What Future for ISDS?

After Australia’s general election held on 18 May 2019, the prospects for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and therefore investment chapters in free trade agreements (FTAs) remain unclear not only for Australia but also the wider Asia-Pacific region. This posting provides some backdrop and reiterates a proposal for a bipartisan (and bi-national) approach by Australia (especially with New Zealand) to more actively promote a “permanent investment court” (or at least some of its core features) as a compromise alternative to conventional ISDS, for its future treaties as well as in reviewing older ones. This should be not just in pending FTA negotiations with the European Union, which now already insists on such a court for resolving investor-state disputes (aiming also to develop a multilateral investment court), but also in (re)negotiations with other Asia-Pacific states. A version of this posting is with the East Asia Forum blog too.
This proposal will be tabled and hopefully discussed at the upcoming seminar at the University of Hong Kong, on 15 July, as part of a joint project over 2019 with USydney on “New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region“.

Continue reading “New Frontiers in International Arbitration for the Asia-Pacific Region (3): What Future for ISDS?”