Japanese and Asia-Pacific Dispute Resolution events over October 2021

Over this month I am pleased to contribute to three events regarding Asia-Pacific arbitration and dispute resolution. On 1 October, I am moderating a session on International Commercial Arbitration in Japan and Germany, at the comparative ADR conference hosted by Institute of Japanese Law at the FernUniversität in Hagen to commemorate the 30th anniversary of its online courses in Japanese law. The speakers are well-known lawyers Ms Yoshimi Ohara (Nagashima Ohno & Tsumematsu) and Dr Christian Strasser (HEUKING KÜHN LÜER WOJTEK). Other sessions compare investment treaty arbitration as well as mediation.

On 20 October I present two classes in a new postgraduate law course on international commercial arbitration developed for the University of Chile by Santiago-based lawyer and former USydney LLM student Ricardo Vasquez Urra, which we hope will be offered annually. This too draws on my recently published book on international commercial and investor-state arbitration, and parallels my co-teaching (with barrister Dr Anna Kirk) the LLM course on international commercial arbitration at the University of Auckland late last year and in 2022.

On 2 October, I present the module on consumer redress and access to justice for a new postgraduate intensive course on consumer protection developed by the University of Malaya. I highlight law and policy developments mostly by comparing Australia, Japan and Southeast Asia, building on books including ASEAN Consumer Law Cooperation and Harmonisation (CUP 2019) and Contract Law in Japan (Wolters Kluwer 2019, 2nd ed 2022), as well as other recent publications including Studies in the Contract Laws of Asia (especially Volume III, all reviewed here for the Journal of Japanese Law). We explore some law and practice around courts and tribunals, Ombudsman and related arbitration-like processes, mediation, and other processes for consumer redress.

P.S. On 26 October I also present on “Corporate Governance and Independent Directors in Southeast Asia” (focusing on Thailand and somewhat Malaysia) for a webinar on the Role of Independent Directors in Contemporary Asia, part of the Contemporary Asia International Forum Series 2021 at National (National Chung Hsing University) hosted by Professor I-Tzu (Edith) Su.

P.P.S. This marks the 250th posting on this Japanese Law and the Asia-Pacific blog, over more than a decade. Many thanks to occasional guest bloggers and all readers!

Studies in the Contract Laws of Asia (Volumes I-III of VI)

My review essay [longer manuscript here on SSRN, shorter version forthcoming in Journal of Japanese Law (end-2021)] assesses the detailed, authoritative and thought-provoking first three of six proposed volumes in the series on “Studies in the Contract Laws of Asia” published by Oxford University Press. Lead-edited by Mindy Chen-Wishart, these excellent volumes span remedies for breach (2016), formation of contract and third-party beneficiaries (2018), and contents of contracts and unfair terms (2020, thus extending to an important area of consumer law). The respective editors argue quite compellingly for significant functional convergence even among Asian legal systems from quite divergent legal traditions. However, such convergence arguably becomes less obvious especially by the third volume. The functional analysis also focuses primarily on what decisions would be rendered by courts in stylised fact scenarios rather than whether and how such outcomes are reflected in contracting practices or law reform processes. Closer examination of these aspects may make future volumes even more valuable for researchers, practitioners and policy-makers.

Asia ADR Week 2021 session on roles of in-house counsel [& ‘errors of law in arbitration’]

[Updates: A. Also in August 2021, I chaired a presentation via Monash University on “Errors of Law in Arbitration – Revisited”, with a recording here. Dr Benjamin Hayward argued that a tribunal’s application of a substantive law different from that expressly chosen by the parties, or not applying the conflict of law provisions of the seat (and any chosen Rules) where such substantive law is not expressly chosen, could constitute an error of applicable procedure and thus a ground for challenging the consequent arbitral award.

B. My co-authored article on the new ACICA Rules (mentioned at 7 below), including comparative references to Japan and other Asian jurisdictions, is available in manuscript form: Nottage, Luke R. and Dreosti, Julia and Tang, Robert, The ACICA Arbitration Rules 2021: Advancing Australia’s Pro-Arbitration Culture (September 26, 2021). Journal of International Arbitration, 38:6, 2021 (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3931086

C. My co-authored article empirically examining the “formalisation” of international arbitration, and the diminishing influence of non-lawyers (or even in-house counsel) across key nodes of influence, is available in manuscript here (and shortened for a forthcoming Elgar book co-edited by Shahla Ali, Giorgio Colombo et al on “Sustainable Diversity in International Arbitration”): Nottage, Luke R. and Teramura, Nobumichi and Tanna, James, Lawyers and Non-Lawyers in International Arbitration: Discovering Diminishing Diversity (September 20, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3926914]

As part of the “Asia ADR Week” of events for 2021, coordinated by the Asian International Arbitration Centre based in Kuala Lumpur, as session was scheduled for the first day of the main conference – Thursday 19 August 4-5pm AEST (2-3pm KL time) – on the topic of “Starting In-House: The Role of General Counsel of Multinational Corporations in ADR”. [A recording is available on request for my USydney students.] Agreed session contributors were myself as moderator and:

  1. Ms Debolina Partap (Wockhardt Limited, general counsel based in Mumbai)
  1. Ms Esther Chow (Kone Elavator (M) Sdn Bhd, general counsel based in KL)
  1. Mr Nick Longley (Holman Fenwick Willan, based in Melbourne; formerly in a law office in Hong Kong as well as in-house for four years with a Japanese civil engineering company and now significant engagement with Korean firms)
  1. Mr Cameron Ford (Squire Patton Boggs, based in Singapore, and formerly in-house for over a decade)
  2. Mr Raymond Goh (China Tourism Group Corp Ltd, Group general counsel – International, in Hong Kong / China).

The assigned description was: “The role of an in-house counsel in shifting the focal point on dispute resolution from the traditional standpoint of litigation to the innovative vigor of ADR has resulted in the majority of Fortune 1000 companies preferring to use ADR as a means of resolving both international and domestic disputes. This session focuses on the multi-faceted role of in-house counsel in spearheading ADR as a principal means of resolving disputes.” The focus therefore was on evolving in-house counsel perceptions around Asia regarding alternatives to litigation (arbitration, mediation, other Alternative Dispute Resolution) to resolve cross-border disputes. Part of the backdrop is resurgent delays and especially costs in international commercial arbitration despite its continued spread east from the traditional (European then US) venues.

The first part of the session asked some general questions focused on our panelists currently or having worked extensively as in-house counsel [Ms Chow, Ms Partap, Mr Goh, Mr Ford]:

1. How do or should in-house counsel teams nowadays decide generally whether to provide for and/or engage in arbitration, mediation, expert determination or other ADR rather than cross-border litigation?

2. Does or should the approach change if the disputes involve commercial and government parties?

The second part of the session posed some more specific questions:

3. The latest QMUL international arbitration survey (with more than usual Asia-Pacific respondents) confirms the continued popularity of multi-tiered DR clauses, which commit parties contractually to try eg mediation before arbitration (rather than having waiting for the dispute to arise, and then try to achieve agreement to try other ADR before proceeding to pre-agreed arbitration). Yet are such multi-tiered clauses equally negotiated and invoked among companies and legal advisors in the Asian region? See http://www.arbitration.qmul.ac.uk/research/2021-international-arbitration-survey/ [cf eg Japan, Korea (Mr Longley), Malaysia (Ms Chow)]

4. Especially in the region, are there difficulties in enforcing say the mediation step (as a jurisdictional requirement say before being able to proceed to arbitration), and issues in determining the law applicable to that question? Cf eg this US report / chapter for a book / project by Profs Gu and Reyes: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3601337, and recent case law in Hong Kong etc (https://pulse.kwm.com/hong-kong/multi-tiered-dispute-resolution-clauses-what-happens-if-you-dont-comply/) [Mr Longley]

5. What prospects are there for more establishment and use of dedicated centres for mediation, especially in the Asian region (eg already Singapore / SIMC, but also recently Japan / JIMC and Vietnam / VMC)? See eg https://www.jimc-kyoto.jp/. Would it be easier for in-house counsel to promote cross-border mediation if institutional, rather than ad hoc?

6. Why is the 2019 Singapore Mediation Convention, aimed at facilitating enforcement of settlement agreements along the lines of the NYC, attracting many signatures (but not eg from Japan or Australia) but few ratifications? See https://uncitral.un.org/en/texts/mediation/conventions/international_settlement_agreements/status. What have been experiences in enforcing settlement agreements cross-border in Asia even without this new Convention?

7. Is there declining interest and practice of Arb-Med across Asia (except perhaps in mainland China and to a lesser extent Japan), linked perhaps to more use of separate mediation as part of multi-tiered DR clauses, and/or a sense that Arb-Med is not “global practice” which arbitration institutions and practitioners feel increasingly required to follow? Cf ACICA (for which Mr Longley and I served on the Rules drafting committee) which decided not to proceed with an Arb-Med provision in its 2021 Rules, although modelled on legislative provisions for domestic arbitrations: http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2021/05/01/is-arb-med-un-australian/ [Mr. Goh]

8. Are there already or likely to be changes towards more use of mediation (either separate, or in Arb-Med) due to the pandemic, or eg has the enforced move to remote hearings etc created enough time, cost and arbitrator availability benefits to maintain adequate attractiveness for international arbitration? Is the recent rise of Expert Determination in Australian domestic dispute resolution driven by arbitration costs and delays in arbitration and litigation, thus likely to carry over into cross-border dispute resolution and beyond the pandemic? [Mr Longley, compared with say Malaysia – Ms Chow, and experiences from Singapore – Mr Ford]

Guest Blog: COVID-19 in Asia – China, Japan, Indonesia and Malaysia in Focus

Written by: Hao Yang Joshua Mok, student intern at the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the University of Sydney (CAPLUS)

On 28 May 2021, the University of Victoria’s Centre for Asia-Pacific Initiatives (CAPI), together with the University of Sydney’s Centre for Asian and Pacific Law (CAPLUS) and the Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), hosted an online webinar celebrating the publication of Covid-19 in Asia – Law and Policy Context’. A recording of the webinar may be accessed here.

Edited by Prof. Victor V. Ramraj and published by Oxford University Press, the book is a collected volume on Covid-19 law and policy issues in Asia. It draws upon the work of sixty-one authors from seventeen jurisdictions and aims to capture the initial responses of governments in response to the pandemic and highlight likely enduring legal and policy challenges.

The online webinar drew on four chapters of the book, focusing on China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan’s responses to the pandemic.

  • The China chapter was presented by A/Prof. Feng Xu from the University of Victoria and discussed by A/Prof. Jeanne Huang from the University of Sydney.
  • The Indonesia chapter was presented by Dr. Nadirsyah Hosen from Monash University and discussed by Prof. Simon Butt from the University of Sydney.
  • The Malaysia chapter was presented by Dr. Azmil Tayeb from Universiti Sains Malaysia.
  • The Japan chapter was presented by Prof. Shigenori Matsui from the University of British Columbia. Prof. Luke Nottage from the University of Sydney briefly discussed both the Malaysia and Japan chapters.

A/Prof. Xu began her presentation with a reflection of China’s largely successful Covid-19 response. She suggested that we must contextualize China’s experience as an interrelationship between coercion and consent: China’s success in imposing and enforcing strict lockdown and quarantine measures required the acceptance and consent of individuals to those conditions. Turning to the book chapter itself, A/Prof. Xu suggested that China’s emergency response involved the mass mobilization of political, economic, and social resources. While effective, such measures came at a huge cost to individual rights. A/Prof. Xu concluded that the most immediate challenge for China will be the roll-out of its vaccination program.

A/Prof. Huang echoed this theme of consent and emphasized the limited scope of the right to privacy and personal information in China. While this allowed health administrators to access personal data when managing the pandemic, it reflects the tension between coercion and consent. Drawing on her area of focus, A/Prof. Huang provided some brief remarks on civil litigation against China arising out of the pandemic – raising issues of jurisdiction and service – as well as on China’s response to foreign criticism, exemplified by its trade dispute with Australia.

Dr. Hosen suggested that the Jokowi administration’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic had been too little, too late. Despite growing cases in South East Asia in early January, the government did not impose lockdown measures but rather further opened up the country. While the government eventually escalated its measures, the pandemic was already in full swing. Dr. Hosen argued that there were four barriers that contributed to the slow response and ineffectiveness of governmental measures: first, the unhealthy relationship between the Indonesian Medical Association and the Minister of Health Affairs; second, the political rivalry between President Jokowi’s administration and the current governor of Jakarta; third, the incompetence of the Jokowi cabinet; finally, the position of conservative religious groups in rejecting the request not to organize mass prayers.

In Prof. Butt’s discussion, he suggested that issues of governance, politicking, and religion are not new issues for Indonesia. Rather, they have been brought to sharp relief by the pandemic. Moreover, putting aside the government’s shortcomings, the size and geography of Indonesia presents significant difficulty. Prof. Butt concluded that looking forward, the biggest difficulty for Indonesia would be to obtain and administer vaccines in the face of those persistent issues.

Dr. Tayeb discussed issue of improvised pandemic policy and democratic regression in Malaysia. In the lead up to the Covid-19 pandemic, Malaysia was experiencing a volatile political environment which eventually resulted in a new coalition coming into power in late February 2020. Shortly thereafter, Covid-19 emerged, and the government responded by implementing strict lockdown measures. While those measures were initially successful, the country experienced a turning point. Under the backdrop of a continued power struggle, state by-elections were occurring without much restriction. This led to another wave of Covid-19 cases. Dr. Tayeb suggested that throughout the pandemic, the government’s response evinced incoherency. Moreover, the government has been using the pandemic to avoid the convening of parliament, undermining notions of accountability and transparency.

Prof. Matsui suggested that Japan was ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic and its eventual response was slow and insufficient. The difficulty was with Japan’s fragmented and restrictive infectious disease legal infrastructure. While the government eventually revised its statute and declared a state of emergency, only soft measures were imposed, because of initial legal constraints and the effectiveness of social norms. Fortunately, infection rates and death toll remained low in Japan throughout 2020. Now, however, Japan has experienced a resurgence in Covid-19 cases and there is a growing fear that this will worsen with the Tokyo Olympics. The biggest issue ahead for Japan is with its vaccination program, especially given concerns about vaccine hesitancy among the public.

Prof. Nottage went on to compare Malaysia and Japan’s responses during the Covid-19 pandemic. He suggested that in terms of balancing public health, civil liberties, and economic activity, Japan appeared to be quite successful. Prof. Nottage queried the reasons behind vaccine hesitancy this year, especially given the communitarian norms evident last year, as vaccination programs constitute the next complex phase in pandemic management in Australia, across Asia and world-wide.

Online Legal Education Compared: Australia, Japan and (Far) Beyond

Together with past ANJeL Visitor and Program Convenor (ANJeL-in-Japan), Seijo University Professor Makoto Ibusuki, I have been appointed General Reporter by the venerable International Academy of Comparative Law for a project comparing “Online Legal Education” across around 20 jurisdictions world-wide, including Australia and Japan. Draft National Reports will be received by January 2022 so we can draft our General Report, summarising key findings, to be presented at the four-yearly IACL Congress – this time hosted over 23-28 October 2022 in Asuncion (Paraguay). We plan then to co-edit a book in the IACL’s series published by Springer.

We hope to get and share insights into how online (university or other) legal education interacts with each jurisdiction’s legal profession, university system, and ICT infrastructure, as well as how online legal education has developed both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Below is the draft “questionnaire” we provided to guide (but not dictate to) Reporters preparing their chapters, and the current list of jurisdictions and Reporters nominated by IACL national committees. We welcome feedback on other questions or angles on this practically important and theoretically interesting topic for comparative research.

  • A. Background: Legal Profession, University and IT Systems Generally
    • Who are the main “gatekeepers” to the legal profession (cf Anderson & Ryan, 2009)? Does its corresponding size and nature make it generally harder or easier to move (university/qualifying or continuing) legal education online?
      • The existing legal profession (eg like Japan: bengoshi lawyers, negotiating with the Ministry of Justice and courts): tends to result in smaller legal profession, but still many other LLB graduates (not qualified as lawyers)
      • Universities (eg like Australia previously or now NZ: LLB and JD graduates can almost all qualify as lawyers, as they they need to just complete a short easy practical training course, so the numbers of law students allowed into universities – by the government as in NZ, or by universities themselves since 2011 in Australia – determines the size of the legal profession): tends to result in a larger legal profession
      • The market (eg like USA: as there are so many accredited law schools, and state bar exams are easily passed at least after a few attempts, so the numbers of lawyers is really determined only by whether students think they will be able to get a job as lawyer after graduating): tends to result in the largest legal profession
    • How are universities (and law schools) generally funded? Does this make it harder or easier to move legal education online?
      • Eg universities in Australia: growing dependence on international student revenues, including more recently in law – many are non-native English speakers (eg from China), so may be more difficult to move effectively their legal education online
      • Cf universities in Japan: still much lower international student proportions, especially in law; correspondingly more emphasis on research, so maybe easier to move online
    • How widespread is access to good-quality and affordable IT hardware (computers etc) and software (including internet access), among university students/teachers and legal professionals?
      • Eg in Australia: quite good for both groups, making it again easier to move university/qualifying & continuing legal education online
      • Cf in Japan: quite good for lawyers but less so for judges/courts, variable for university teachers, quite bad for many university students
  • B. Moves Towards Online Education:
    • Summary achievements before the pandemic, in light of the above background
      • University and/or qualifying legal education
      • Continuing (post-admission) legal education
    • Achievements and challenges after the pandemic
      • Briefly re continuing legal education
      • Details for university and/or qualifying legal education
        • Course/program goals (any revisions needed?)
        • Course assessment methods (fewer exams, more assignments and/or essays? Changes to grading curves?)
        • Delivery methods (purely online eg live and/or pre-recorded, hybrid with some face-to-face teaching?)
        • Other administrative challenges (eg more plagiarism?)
        • Student welfare and extra-curricular activities?
  • C. Conclusions:
    • Overall, has the shift to more online education been positive?
    • With (big!) assumptions of similar structure for legal profession, university funding and IT systems, what are the prospects for further online legal education as the pandemic abates?
1. Australie/Australia William van Caenegem (Bond  University) & Trish Mundy (University of Wollongong)
2. Belgique/Belgium Jan-Baptist Lemaire (KU Leuven)
3. Brunei & Malaysia / Singapore [on SSRN]


4. Canada 
Nobumichi Teramura (Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Institute of Asian Studies) & Salim Farrar (University of Sydney, Law School)

Adrien Habermacher (UMoncton)
5. Chypre/Cyprus Demetra Loizou and Lida Pitsillidou (University of Central Lancashire, Cyprus) 
6. Croatie/CroatiaMirela Župan (University  of JJ Strossmayer in Osijek Faculty  of Law)
7. Danemark/ Denmark Per Andersen (Aarhus University)
8. Estonie/Estonia Age Värv (University of Tartu,  Faculty of Law) 
9. Etats-Unis/USAMichael Hunter Schwartz  (University of the Pacific,  McGeorge School of Law)
10. Hongrie/HungaryIstván Hoffman and András Szabó (Eötvös Loránd Université)
11. Italie/Italy Rossella Esther Cerchia  (University of Milano Statale) 
12. Japon/Japan Kenichi YONEDA (Kagoshima  University)
13. Macao/MacauRostam J. NEUWIRTH, Alexandr SVETLICINII, Muruga Perumal RAMASWAMY (University of  Macau) 
14. Norvège/Norway Tobias Mahler (University of Oslo)
15. Pakistan Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad 
16. Pays-Bas/ Netherlands Ernst van Bemmelen van Gent (UDO, Utrecht University)
17. Roumanie/ RomaniaDaniela-Anca DETESEANU  (Universitatea din Bucuresti)
18. Royaume-Uni/UK 

19. Seychelles

20. South Africa
Andra le Roux-Kemp  (University of Lincoln)

Nyasha Noreen Katsenga (University of Seychelles)

Edwin Coleman (University of Johannesburg, CICLASS)
21. Tchéquie/Czech  RepublicDavid Sehnálek (Masaryk University)
22. Turquie/Turkey Elif Küzeci  (Bahçeşehir University) 
23. VenezuelaEugenio HERNANDEZ-BRETON  (Universidad Central de  Venezuela, Universidad  Monteavila, Academia de  Ciencias Politicas y Sociales)

Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System: Australian Law Reform in Asia-Pacific Context

[This is the original draft for a posting that was significantly revised and published under a different title on 29 October 2020 by The Conversation, prompting also interviews/podcasts with ABC National Radio “Life Matters” on 5 November 2020 and “Counterpoint” on 14 December 2020. This work is related to my ongoing ARC-funded joint research project DP170103136 and a JCP article published earlier this year (manuscript on SSRN.com here). A version will be presented and then discussed in the 1 December 2020 webinar for the International Association of Consumer Law (pre-recording available here) and the Consumer Law Roundtable hosted this year by QUT on 3 December. (Last updated: 1 December 2020.)]

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened our awareness of safety risks, but also the socio-economic costs needed to reduce them. Public health interventions can also collide with human rights and constitutional principles, and undermine state capacity. Australia’s policy-makers and regulators are still facing many difficult choices to manage this new disease.

In consumer law, they and peak NGOs like Choice have also been busy grappling with a range of pandemic-related issues. These range from hand sanitiser quality through to refunds for airfares and other travel services. Nonetheless, hopefully policy-makers can now get back to some unfinished business, as we learn to live with COVID-19 while praying for a vaccine or cure.

In October 2019 the Treasury released its Consultation Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) entitled “Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System”. This was part of a suite of reform initiatives agreed after the 2016-7 review of the Australian Consumer Law (ACL), which re-harmonised consumer rights and regulatory powers nationally from 2011.

The review’s Final Report and now the RIS considered adding to the ACL an EU-style “general safety provision”. European countries (such as the UK in 1987, then the EU from 1992), as well as Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia (1999), Canada (2010) and Singapore (2011, partially), have introduced such a GSP. It was discussed in several earlier government inquiries, notably by the Productivity Commission in 2006 and 2008, but the Commission concluded that the ACL should try some other measures first. A GSP would require manufacturers and importers to ensure that they only supply safe consumer products, otherwise risk public law sanctions from regulators.

Choice found that many Australians wrongly assume we already have this requirement. Yet the ACL currently only allows mandatory safety standards to be set pro-actively for specific types of general consumer products (currently around 40, many involving higher-risk children’s products). These specific standards take a long time to develop, usually only after serious injuries or deaths particularly within Australia. A recent example is renewed efforts to introduce a mandatory standard around button batteries, after a third child died in July and the AFL withdrew thousands of bracelets in October 2020. Regulators can also issue bans (around 20) for products found unsafe, but this is an even more reactive response.

Also only after harm arises, manufacturers can be indirectly incentivised to supply safe products by harmed consumers potentially bringing strict liability compensation claims. But such ACL product liability claims, requiring individuals to prove a “safety defect”, are becoming proportionately fewer. Even large class action law firms prefer focusing resources on more straightforward and large-scale claims by shareholders against listed companies for misleading conduct.

The Treasury’s draft RIS invited public comment on various reform options and three perceived problems with Australia’s consumer product safety system. One problem was misunderstanding about the current ACL regime. A second was its largely reactive nature, impacting on regulatory interventions and supplier behaviour. A third was considerable harm from unsafe consumer products. The ACCC identified 780 deaths and 52000 injuries annually. It also estimated at least a $4.5 billion annual economic cost, assuming around a $200,000 “value of a statistical life year” for premature deaths and disability. There were also costs of $0.5 billion in direct hospital costs for governments, and further costs associated with minor injuries and consequential property loss. (These seem conservative estimates, especially as the US consumer safety regulator recently US$1 trillion costs annually for that country – although the methodology and assumptions for that estimate are not set out in the UNCTAD report.)

My own Submission and a related peer-reviewed article added comparative empirical data in support of a GSP. First, the OECD Global Recalls portal shows that Australia reported higher per capita voluntary recalls over 2017-9 than Korea, the UK, Japan and the USA. Australia reported a rate similar to Canada, at least on the OECD data, but Canada’s legislation has a more expansive duty on suppliers to report product accidents to regulators compared to that added to the ACL. A large proportion of our recalls involve child products, mostly from China.

[Table 1: Comparing Australia’s Recalls (2017-9)]

Secondly, annual recalls have been growing in Australia, as pointed out by Dr Catherine Niven et al (co-researchers for our ARC-funded project comparing child product safety) and various submissions by Choice. The uptick is noticeable from around 2012, tracking burgeoning e-commerce and more importers dealing with more manufacturers abroad. We can anticipate more more consumer product safety problems due to further online sales during the pandemic, and the ACCC issued warnings in April 2020. So far this year, though, annual recalls are down, according to the around 240 by end-October (excluding automobile recalls), compared to around 400 over all of 2019. This drop is likely to be temporary and caused by: (a) pandemic-related recession causing less consumer spending, (b) less time and energy for consumers to complain about unsafe products, (c) businesses struggling with finances and staff so not checking products and conducting or reporting recalls as much, and (d) less regulatory capacity to sweep bricks-and-mortar shops for unsafe products or monitor online platforms (except perhaps the larger ones).

[Figure 1: Australia’s Recalls (1998-2019)]

Perhaps for similar reasons, the Canadian government website shows a drop in recalls reported there this year too: about 130 by end-October compared to 251 over 2019. That website also curiously records fewer recalls annually for “consumer products” (excluding vehicles, foods and healthcare products) than reported on the OECD portal, suggesting Canada’s recall rate per capita may instead be significantly lower than Australia’s. Importantly, it shows a significant drop in annual recalls from 2009 (306) and 2010 (299) to 2011 (258) and 2012 (236), followed by annual recalls averaging around 250 consistently from 2013-2019. The GSP introduced by the Canada Product Safety Act 2010 therefore seems to have had a positive impact, shifting supplier mindsets towards adopting a more pro-active approach including better safety assessments before putting goods onto the market. Singapore also reported a drop in unsafe children’s products found there the year after it introduced a form of GSP through 2011 Regulations.

In further contrast to Australia, the USA reported significantly fewer recalls following the introduction of third-party conformity assessment for toy exporters after problems emerged particularly with China-sourced products around 2008. Dr Niven et al further note that Australian recall notices do not need to include some significant information, eg regarding (even de-identified) injuries. Many Australian recalls of child products also involve breaches of the mandatory standards that have actually been set. (For more details, see her PhD thesis now available here.)

Our regulators could try to sanction local suppliers more for such breaches. But introducing a broader GSP would encourage a “paradigm shift” needed among Australian firms. As discussed in my article, this ACL reform could complemented (but not replaced) by some of the other RIS options, and/or a “product safety substantiation notice” power (mirroring ACL s219, allowing regulators to require suppliers to substantiate claims or misrepresentations that might be misleading).

Introducing a GSP would make Australian suppliers think more carefully about (and document) safety assessments before putting consumer products on the market. This is more efficient and safer than releasing products and then trying to recall them after problems start to be reported, hoping not too many (more) consumers get harmed. It would also encourage Australian firms to “trade up”, like counterparts overseas, to the standards expected in many of our trading partners.

[Luke Nottage receives funding from the Australian Research Council: DP170103136, “Evaluating consumer product regulatory responses to improve child safety”. He provides occasional pro bono advice to Choice regarding consumer law and policy reform, and acknowledges assistance from them in compiling from government recalls data what is reproduced here as Figure 1.]

UNCCA conference (video) presentation: “Australia’s investment treaties and reviews”

Written by: Prof Luke Nottage & Ana Ubilava

[This posting and linked video presentation, reproduced from Erga Omnes, relates also to my book in press with Elgar comparing international arbitration in Australia and Japan in regional and global contexts.]

The UNCITRAL Coordination Committee for Australia (UNCCA) and the Commercial Law Association (CLA) is holding an online seminar on Monday 26 October 2020 partly to celebrate the fortieth anniversary on the CISG (UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods). The live, interactive seminar will be supplemented by a full conference package including pre-recorded presentations. A longer (30-minute) version of a pre-recording by UNCCA Fellow Dr Luke Nottage (Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law) and Ana Ubilava (PhD student at Sydney Law School and ANJeL Executive Coordinator) can be viewed here. Our presentation is entitled “Australia’s recent investment treaty ratifications and reviews: The UN Transparency Convention and investor-state mediation”. It is based on Ana’s recent postings on investor-state mediation (her PhD thesis topic) for the Kluwer Mediation Blog (reproduced here) and for the Kluwer Arbitration Blog with Luke and Prof James Claxton, as well as her lead-authored chapter with Luke for his co-edited book on Asia-Pacific international business dispute resolution due out from Kluwer by end-2020:

Ubilava, Ana and Nottage, Luke R., Novel and Noteworthy Aspects of Australia’s Recent Investment Agreements and ISDS Policy: The CPTPP, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Mauritius Transparency Treaties (March 4, 2020). in Nottage, Luke; Ali, Shahla; Jetin, Bruno; Teramura, Nobumichi (eds), “New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution”, Wolters Kluwer, (Forthcoming) , Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3548358 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3548358

Our presentation updates for recent developments including DFAT’s public consultation to review Australia’s remaining BITs, with Luke’s Submission here and a related thought-provoking Clayton Utz / University of Sydney International Arbitration Lecture this year by Prof Zachary Douglas; but a summary of our original chapter manuscript is as follows.

Abstract: Investment treaties, and especially investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, became a political hot potato from around 2011 when Philip Morris brought the first-ever ISDS claim against Australia under an old bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Hong Kong. A Labor-Greens Government declared that it would no longer agree to ISDS provisions in future treaties, but when a centre-right Coalition Government regained power from 2013 it reverted to concluding treaties containing ISDS clauses on a case-by-case assessment. Australia therefore agreed to ISDS in FTAs with Korea and China, but not bilaterally with Japan. However ISDS-backed provisions apply between Australia and Japan since the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) can into force between them (and five other Asia-Pacific nations so far) from January 2019. Yet the Australian parliament engaged in robust debate about ratification of the CPTPP, with Labor Opposition (and Greens) parliamentarians continuing to voice concerns over ISDS provisions, despite the Philip Morris claim against Australia’s tobacco plain packaging having been rejected on jurisdictional grounds in 2015.

This paper examines how (US-style) CPTPP drafting compares with two important recent investment agreements subsequently signed by Australia over 2019, namely with Indonesia as part of a wider free trade agreement (IA-CEPA), and with Hong Kong (AHKIA, alongside a bilateral FTA covering non-investment matters). AHKIA came into force from 17 January 2020, while IA-CEPA has been ratified by Australia but not yet by Indonesia. IA-CEPA adds a provision unique in the universe of over 3000 investment agreements world-wide, probably proposed by the Indonesian side: a compulsory mediation step prior to arbitration, if the host state requests mediation after the foreign investor initiates ISDS. The paper also highlights other features of both treaties that may help reduce delays and hence costs in ISDS. The paper summarises empirical data about delays and costs, as well as transparency around ISDS as another growing public concern, including some of our own empirical data provided as evidence to an Australian parliamentary inquiry into ratifying the CPTPP.

We also examine the 2019 parliamentary inquiry that agreed with the submission that Australia should ratify the Mauritius (“UN ISDS”) Convention, thereby retrofitting extensive transparency provisions on pre-2014 treaties between Australia and other states that might also accede to that framework Convention. Even if Mauritius Convention ratifications proliferate, however, it will not retrofit extra transparency provisions to treaties concluded even after 1 April 2014 even among those states (say between Australia and Indonesia, where the investor chooses the ICSID Rules rather than UNCITRAL Rules option for arbitration). Accordingly, states ratifying the Mauritius Convention will still need to agree bilaterally to expand any still-limited transparency provisions in such post-2014 treaties, which is quite inefficient compared to a multilateral solution. Nonetheless, we conclude from these new developments that Australia is now better placed to play a more active role in guiding the future path of international investment treaty-making multilaterally and especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Pioneering Mandatory Investor-State Conciliation Before Arbitration in Asia-Pacific Treaties: IA-CEPA and HK-UAE BIT

Reproduced from the Kluwer Arbitration Blog, which subsequently ran a series on investor-state mediation; and written by: James Claxton (Rikkyo University), Luke Nottage (University of Sydney & Williams Trade Law), and Ana Ubilava (University of Sydney).

Arbitration has been the default dispute resolution mechanism in the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) regime for a long time. Provisions for third-party procedures other than arbitration have been relatively rare in older generation bilateral investment treaties (BITs). Even where those have provided in advance for the option of ICSID (Convention or Additional Facility) Conciliation Rules, investors have rarely invoked them. Only 13 cases have been filed since 1982 with four filed since 2016. The latest Conciliation Rules case was filed by Barrick Niugini Ltd against Papua New Guinea on 22 July 2020 under a mining lease contract. Barrick Niugini is a joint venture between Chinese Zijin Mining and Canadian Barrick Gold. In parallel, Barrick Gold’s Australian subsidiary instituted ICSID Convention arbitration on 11 August 2020 under the 1990 Australia-PNG BIT.

Over the past decade, calls have grown for other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms with a special focus on mediation. Mediation is believed to be a time- and cost-efficient dispute resolution mechanism that can prevent disputes from escalating to arbitration. Various stakeholders have taken up the call to facilitate and promote investor-state mediation. UNCITRAL Working Group III is discussing mediation in the context of ISDS reform and so is the Academic Forum on ISDS (see, for example, a March 2020 paper circulated for discussion). Mediator trainings are being offered for investor-state disputes, and ICSID is promulgating mediation rules for the first time that will be available even if neither the home nor host state has ICSID membership status. The UN Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation (Singapore Convention) is also set to come into force from 12 September 2020. While this Singapore Convention does not extend expressly to investment disputes, there is broad agreement that at least some settlement agreements resulting from investor-State mediations will fall within its scope.

Some newer treaties include additional express references to mediation or conciliation in ISDS clauses, but disputing parties must agree separately and later to those procedures.1) While the use of such voluntary mediation may be growing, until recently there has been little to no interest in mandatory mediation – as a pre-condition to arbitration. Some still see mediation as unlikely to be or even incompatible with the aims of ISDS. Perceived obstacles include: (a) some States may have difficulty determining an authority to conclude settlements on their behalf; (b) settling an investment dispute could be associated with risks of personal liability and criminal prosecution (especially in developing economies or totalitarian States with weak rule of law); (c) settling a dispute could be considered an admission of guilt by the respondent State; (d) settlements do not pay as much as what a Claimant could be awarded through a successful award; (e) some investment disputes have non-monetary claims that require certain legislative or policy measures from the Respondent State which would go beyond the capacities of mediation; and (f) settlements promote secrecy of outcomes.

Several such arguments have been challenged through a recent empirical study analysing 541 concluded, treaty-based investor-state arbitration cases with the focus on settlement outcomes. The findings suggest that none of the key factors — such as the economic industry of the investment, size of the initial claim (or whether it was monetary or non-monetary), or the economic development status of the respondent state (and claimant home state) — have a negative impact on settlements. The study also found that in settlements the average compensation rate is 32%, very similar to that of the awarded-to-claimed compensation rate (31%). In addition, settlement agreements have been reached on non-pecuniary terms even when the claim was monetary, suggesting that the non-pecuniary claimed relief is not an unsurmountable impediment to reaching a settlement agreement. The study did find that settlements are associated with increased confidential outcomes compared to those ending in arbitration awards, but recently the rate of confidentiality for all outcomes has remained stable while the rate of settlements keeps falling. This suggests that leaving investor-state disputes to arbitration does not guarantee increased transparency either. Such findings, highlighting more potential for amicable settlements generally than many may have assumed, dovetail with emerging interest by investors and States in mandatory mediation. A forthcoming report by Queen Mary University of London finds that 64% of respondents (mostly in-house counsel plus some management representatives of firms investing internationally) favour integrating mediation as a mandatory pre-condition to arbitration in ISDS.

Already, the new Hong-Kong-United Arab Emirates BIT (HK-UAE BIT) and the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership (IA-CEPA) free trade agreement, add unusual provisions for mandatory conciliation as a pre-condition to arbitration. These provisions mark a break with existing IIAs that do not even mention mediation or conciliation – much less make such provisions mandatory. Under the HK-UAE BIT and IA-CEPA, both signed in 2019, respondent States can require claimant investors to attempt conciliation before they can raise their claims in arbitration. Investors do not have the same right to mandatory conciliation. Both of the treaties carve dispute resolution out of their most-favoured nation provisions (Art. 14.5(3) of IA-CEPA and Art. 4(8) of the HK-UAE BIT), which means that there is no risk that this conciliation requirement can be circumvented by investors on the basis of MFN treatment.

These provisions mark an innovative approach to conciliation and a significant rethinking of its place in the ISDS system. They coincide with ongoing attempts to put States on better footing to manage and defend investor claims that include control mechanisms on treaty interpretation, procedures to address frivolous claims, and the potential creation of a multilateral advisory centre. The State option to require mediation as a precondition to arbitration could serve as a model for other treaties, although the forthcoming Queen Mary report suggests that there may also be appetite for mandatory mediation among investors. Quite similarly, some commentators have argued that greater transparency around investor-state disputes can appeal to investors, not just host states, by highlighting state practices (such as discrimination in favour of well-organised local interests) that diminish overall welfare among more disparate citizens. Accordingly, in advocating compulsory investor-state mediation, reformers may find more widespread support than expected.

Nonetheless, to minimise the risks of just adding extra time and expense to ISDS proceedings, such provisions need to be well drafted. A separate analysis already identifies some uncertainties in interpretation, including for different timeframes established by IA-CEPA compared to the HK-UAE BIT. In theory, different timelines might be expected if the treaty involves a developing country, likely to have more inbound than outbound ISDS claims. Indeed, Indonesia seems more likely to have proposed the compulsory mediation step than Australia, as it has been subject to 7 inbound treaty-based claims according to UNCTAD (including a high-profile one brought ultimately unsuccessfully by Australian/British mining companies under the now-terminated 1992 Australia-Indonesia BIT). Indonesia has also mentioned mediation in UNCITRAL reform deliberations, whereas no compulsory mediation step was included in the Australia-Hong Kong BIT – even thought that too was signed in 2019.

Nonetheless, the HK-UAE BIT shows that even developed economies can be willing to add a compulsory investor-state mediation step. It seems more likely to have been proposed from the UAE side, as the latter has experienced 4 inbound claims (although its outbound investors have also initiated 12), whereas Hong Kong has not been subject to any – although Hong Kong has also been trying to position itself as a hub for investor-state mediations generally. Just as Lauge Poulsen’s earlier empirical research showed a significant (though temporary) slowdown in investment treaty signings after a host state’s first inbound ISDS claim, it may be that states subject to several claims become more likely to negotiate for compulsory investor-state mediation provisions. Australia instead has only been subject to one serious inbound claim, albeit the very high-profile Philip Morris Asia claim brought unsuccessfully under the now-terminated 1993 BIT with Hong Kong, and its government may be mindful that Australian investors (especially resources companies) are now initiating quite a few outbound claims. Accordingly, even if a counterparty proposes a compulsory mediation step (like Hong Kong may have done for the new BIT), Australia may be less likely to agree unless pressed strongly (as Indonesia may have done with IA-CEPA).

If such hypotheses are plausible, it may take more sustained effort to “nudge” more states towards adding such compulsory investor-state mediation provisions in addition to the default arbitration clause. This could be done through international bodies (UNCITRAL, ICSID, UNCITRAL and the OECD) but also widespread consultation among stakeholders domestically, including firms or industry groups interested in outbound investment as well as the civil society groups that are typically more concerned about inbound ISDS claims. Broader discussion is needed anyway as Poulsen’s study reveals how “status quo bias” extends to treaty negotiators, and jurists may be particularly risk averse and wedded to precedent. A rethink may be particularly timely as concerns are emerging, including in Australia, about potential ISDS claims in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Australian government has also just announced public consultation to review remaining older bilateral investment treaties. One question for stakeholder submissions is whether those should incorporate modern provisions from Australia’s FTA practice. Compulsory mediation before arbitration is not specifically mentioned but is worth considering.

Book in Press with Elgar: ‘International Commercial and Investor-State Arbitration – Australia and Japan in Regional and Global Contexts’

[Update: The following book will be launched by Chief Justice Allsop of the Federal Court of Australia on 17 June 2021. Its 160,000-word manuscript was published by Elgar, in February 2021, after careful kind proof-reading by James Tanna (CAPLUS student intern, 2020) and research assistance from Dr Nobumichi Teramura (CAPLUS Associate and co-editor/author in other works, eg our recent Kluwer book on new frontiers in Asia-Pacific international dispute resolution). My short video recording outlining the book can also now be viewed via Youtube at https://youtu.be/mlSJcitswX4, the introductory chapter is here, and a 35% discount order form is here. A book launch / webinar is being planned, probably for June 2021, and more details will be linked here in due course.]

Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many international arbitrations online, potentially making the field increasingly global and informal, as arbitrators adopt more efficient procedures and experience fewer challenges. But will it last? We have seen a similar trend before, over the 1990s, reacting to concerns over growing costs and delays over the 1970s and 1980s, linked to the influx of Anglo-American law firms into the international commercial arbitration world. Yet formalisation has resurfaced over the last 10-15 years, despite arbitration’s move East and consequent globalisation, partly due to the rapid growth of treaty-based investor-state arbitration. This 12-chapter book examines how international commercial and investor-state arbitration has been framed by this evolving relationship between twin tensions, ‘in/formalisation’ and ‘glocalisation’. Interweaving historical, comparative, empirical and doctrinal research over two decades [updating and expanding several publications hyperlinked below], the book focuses on attempts by Australia and Japan to become less peripheral players in international arbitration, especially in Asia-Pacific context.

Keywords: international dispute resolution, international commercial arbitration, investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), foreign investment (FDI), Asian and comparative law, treaty-making and law reform processes

Special features: The book (1) combines analysis of both international commercial and investment treaty arbitration, (2) using mixed methods (historical, comparative, empirical and doctrinal research), (3) presenting the first detailed comparison of Australia and Japan, (4) drawing implications for their stakeholders as well as post-pandemic arbitration.

Endorsements:

‘This important work by an eminent scholar in the field of international commercial arbitration provides a valuable opportunity to step back from day-to-day events and experiences and view them from the perspective of an analytical framework, enabling important trends, policy issues and principles to be identified. Combining intellectual academic rigour with practical applications and illustrations of the principles discussed, the author draws upon empirical research and established trends to predict likely developments in arbitration in a post-pandemic global economy.’
– Wayne Martin AC QC, Francis Burt Chambers and former Chief Justice of Western Australia

‘This is a much-awaited book that illuminates international arbitration perspectives, policies, and practices of two major economies in the Asia-Pacific region. Particularly, perhaps reflecting the relative paucity of ISDS cases involving Japanese investors or the Japanese government, there is a general paucity of prior scholarship on Japan’s ISDS approaches, and this book fills this gap. At a time when ISDS is at a crossroads, the author’s acute analysis of state practice and policy formation based on analytical frameworks of “localised globalism” and “in/formalisation” provides invaluable guidance for domestic and international policy-makers, private practitioners, and academics.’
– Professor Tomoko Ishikawa, Nagoya University, Japan

‘Cross-border dispute settlement in the Asia-Pacific has grown increasingly complex and dynamic in recent years. In this book, one of our keenest observers of the region traces evolving developments in Australia and Japan, examining the trajectories of commercial and investor-state arbitration within a common framework. We could have no better guide to the shifts, stops and starts that have characterized this evolving field of law and practice.’
– Professor Tom Ginsburg, University of Chicago Law School, USA

Chapter 1. In/formalisation and Glocalisation Tensions in International Arbitration

Abstract: This introductory Chapter outlines the trajectory of two growing fields of cross-border dispute resolution – international commercial arbitration (Part I of the Book) and international investment treaty arbitration (Part III) – as well as some crossovers (Part II). Australia and Japan, bearing important similarities in both fields and a few significant differences, are examined in Asia-Pacific and global contexts. An evolving and complex tension emerges between more formal versus informal approaches within international arbitration (‘in/formalisation’) and between globalisation and national or local circumstances (‘glocalisation’). International arbitration was first quite informal yet global, then became more formalised under growing influence of the common law tradition. It then saw some pushback towards more informal (or at least speedier) arbitrations amidst further globalisation over the 1990s, a tendency now re-emerging amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet the last 10-15 years have seen resurgent costs and delays, which could well resurface.

Part I: International Commercial Arbitration in Japan and Australia

2. The Vicissitudes of Transnational Commercial Arbitration and the Lex Mercatoria: A View from the Periphery

Abstract: This Chapter outlines two important empirical studies from the 1990s, setting an historical and theoretical benchmark for assessing the past and future of international arbitration. Those highlighted a growing formalisation of international commercial arbitration’s over the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by growing influence from Anglo-American legal practice. Yet this Chapter finds some pushback by the late 1990s towards more informal and global approaches. It also highlights further historical contingency by outlining Japan’s attempts around then to revamp its arbitration law. Although that was partly aimed at meeting the evolving international standard, epitomised by the UNCITRAL Model Law, it was part of a much wider justice reform program over 1999-2004 focusing primarily on domestic dispute resolution. Such ‘localised globalism’ contrasts with Japan’s efforts from 2018 to promote itself as another regional hub for international arbitration (outlined in Chapter 4), which therefore instead suggest more ‘localised globalism’.

3. The Procedural Lex Mercatoria: The Past, Present and Future of International Commercial Arbitration

Abstract: The substantive lex mercatoria (international contract law) is showing signs of growing formalisation. Similarly, international commercial arbitration law and practice – as the procedural lex mercatoria – became increasingly formalised over the 1980s. However, during the 1990s there was some shift back towards more informalism (especially to regain the advantage of speedier proceedings compared to cross-border litigation) as well as more global solutions to major issues arising in the arbitration world. This is illustrated by outlining developments across thirteen key ‘pressure points’ in international commercial arbitration law and practice, covering hot topics related to the arbitration agreement, arbitral procedure, award enforcement, and overarching issues. The Chapter indicates scope for further and more consistent developments towards restoring globalised and informal approaches. Yet it leaves open the possibility of international arbitration reverting to greater formalisation – in fact found especially over the last 10-15 years (as illustrated in Part II of this Book).

4. Japan’s Arbitration Law of 2003: Early and Recent Assessments

Abstract: Japan’s Arbitration Act 2003 was part of justice system reforms focused on domestic dispute resolution, although based on the UNCITRAL Model Law. The Act left few major interpretive issues, and created scope eventually to enhance international arbitration in Japan. Yet neither type of cases has grown significantly. There were also significant continuities evident from the persistent use of Arb-Med to promote early settlement during arbitrations. The stagnation in annual arbitration filings cannot be linked to adverse Japanese case law. That developed in an internationalist, pro-arbitration spirit, evident through a comparative analysis for example with Australian case law. Other institutional barriers to arbitration remain, despite Japan’s new initiatives since 2018 demonstrating ‘localised globalism’. General, organisational and legal culture in Japan will likely keep mutually reinforcing economically rational motivations helping to curb costs and delays in dispute resolution, even as Japan now seeks to promote international arbitration through updated global models.

5. International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: What’s New and What’s Next?

Abstract: Not much had changed by 2013, after Australia amended in 2010 its International Arbitration Act 1974, incorporating most of the 2006 revisions to the UNCITRAL Model Law. There was no evidence yet of a broader anticipated ‘cultural reform’ that would make international arbitration speedier and more cost-effective. One dispute engendered at least five sets of proceedings, including a constitutional challenge. Case disposition statistics for Federal Court cases decided three years before and after the 2010 amendments revealed minor differences. Various further statutory amendments therefore seemed advisable to encourage a more internationalist interpretation. However, an updated analysis notes only a few minor revisions. There remains a significant step-up in annual cases filed under the Act, and some improved Federal Court case disposition times only since 2017. Despite generally more pro-arbitration case law, challenges remain in pushing international arbitration in Australia towards a more informal (especially time- and cost-effective) and global approach.

Part II: Crossovers from International Commercial to Investor-State Arbitration

6. In/formalisation and Glocalisation of International Commercial Arbitration and Investment Treaty Arbitration in Asia

Abstract: International (commercial) arbitration has experienced a dramatic diffusion from West to East, but ‘in/formalisation’ and ‘glocalisation’ tensions endure. Empirical research shows that delays and especially costs have been escalating world-wide, reflecting and promoting formalisation. This is not just due the growing volume and complexity of deals and disputes. It parallels a dramatic worldwide expansion of international law firms, and large home-grown law firms emerging in Asia. Confidentiality in arbitration exacerbates information asymmetries, dampening competition. Such developments are particularly problematic as large law firms have moved into investment treaty arbitration. Yet moves underway towards greater transparency in that burgeoning and overlapping field could eventually help reduce some of these problems. Somewhat ironically, they are likely to persist in the world of international commercial arbitration despite the growing concerns of users themselves, including a new wave of Asian companies that have started to resolve commercial disputes through international arbitration.

7. A Weather Map for International Arbitration: Mainly Sunny, Some Cloud, Possible Thunderstorms

Abstract: This Chapter helps anticipate the future trajectory of international arbitration by first revisiting how Anglo-American influence over the 1970s and 1980s contributed to the formalisation of international arbitration, generating costs and delays. Over the 1950s and 1960s, many cases involved investment disputes with host states, yet the normative paradigm was more global and informal. Despite arbitration’s ‘move East’ over the last 20 years, formalisation of international commercial arbitration persists, linked to information asymmetries. Investment treaty arbitration may exert counterbalancing influence, through its greater transparency. Yet it risks promoting even greater formalization, and there are serious doubts about its long-term viability, including in Asia. The main theoretical underpinning for international commercial arbitration has settled into a variant of ‘neoclassical’ theory in contract law, with some recent arguments for even greater formalisation, but investment treaty arbitration opens the possibility for more theoretical diversity and therefore debate about international arbitration’s foundations and future.

8. Confidentiality versus Transparency in International Commercial and Investor-State Arbitration in Australia and Japan

Abstract: Confidentiality is still widely seen as significant advantage of international commercial arbitration over cross-border litigation, especially in Asia. This is evident in most arbitral rules, and many arbitration statutes – including eventually in Australia. Yet no confidentiality is provided in Japan’s later adoption of the Model Law, although parties mostly choose local arbitral institutions so opt-in to their 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, particularly in Australia. Statutory amendments in 2018 reverse automatic confidentiality for Australia-seated arbitrations applying the 2014 UNCITRAL Transparency Rules. Yet such concerns may impede enactment of provisions extending confidentiality to court proceedings involving commercial arbitrations. Confidentiality could allow more informal and efficient arbitrations, but exacerbate information asymetries allowing service providers increase costs. Greater transparency is more justified (and increasingly found) in investment arbitration, implicating greater public interests.

Part III: International Investment Treaties and Investor-State Arbitration

9. Throwing the Baby with the Bathwater: Australia’s 2011-13 Policy Against Treaty-Based Investor-State Arbitration

Abstract: Treaties allowing investors to initiate arbitration claims directly against host states, for illegally interfering with cross-border investments, are increasingly common in Asia. Yet a centre-left government declared over 2011-2013 that Australia would no longer include such protections in future treaties. This risked undermining the entire investor-state arbitration system, and major then-pending treaty negotiations by Australia with Japan, China and Korea, significantly reducing FDI flows and having other adverse effects. This Chapter criticises the underlying cost-benefit analysis conducted in 2010 by an Australian government think-tank. The arguments and evidence are more nuanced, justifying more tailored and moderate changes for future treaties. Yet an interest-group analysis suggests surprisingly few public or private constituencies preferring such reforms, and the problem could spread around Asia. A sharp shift would indicate a more idiosyncratic, nation-centric rather than global approach, but with somewhat mixed effects regarding formalisation of the overall international arbitration field.

10. Investor-State Arbitration: Why Not in the Japan-Australia Economic Partnership Agreement?

Abstract: Japan signed a bilateral Free Trade Agreement with Australia in 2014, notably omitting investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Japan seems not to have offered enough to secure this extra protection for its firms’ investments in Australia, for the latter to risk domestic political controversy. Japan probably also hoped to obtain the protection through a mega-regional treaty– in fact achieved from 2019. The omission should also be understood in the wider context of Japan’s investment treaty practice. That was initially belated and flexible, but has become more pro-active since 2013. Japan’s practice overall presents another example of ‘localised globalism’. Japan’s treaties have also become more formalised as they have adopted more consistently US-style drafting since 2002 (like Australia). This greater detail may perversely result in to more costs and delays if and when the mostly ISDS-backed treaty provisions are invoked. Yet there are few claims formally pursued by Japanese investors, and none yet filed against Japan.

11. Investor-State Arbitration Policy and Practice in Australia

Abstract: Australia has investment treaties in force with 32 economies, all with investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), except regarding New Zealand and the USA. Yet ISDS only started being debated politically as Australia signed its FTA with the US in 2004, and particularly around 2011 when a mega-regional treaty was being negotiated and Philip Morris Asia brought the first ISDS claim against Australia over tobacco controls. A centre-left Government over 2011-13 eschewed ISDS for future treaties, but centre-right governments reverted to allowing it on a case-by-case assessment, and the Greens’ ‘anti-ISDS’ Bill went nowhere. The debate belatedly raised awareness of how Australia’s domestic law provides some lesser investment protections than under international law. More bipartisanship has been emerging since 2019. Australia may therefore keep reverting to a more globalised approach towards ISDS, while continuing to target reforms that can reduce formalisation, particularly in the form of ISDS-related costs and delays.

12: Beyond the Pandemic: Towards More Global and Informal Approaches to International Arbitration

Abstract: Overall, this Book traces the trajectory of both international commercial arbitration and investor-state arbitration, especially since the 1990s, focusing on Australia and Japan in regional and global contexts. It demonstrates the usefulness of the dual themes or vectors of ‘in/formalisation’ and ‘glocalisation’ for understanding the past and for assessing future developments in international arbitration. Part I of this Chapter considers the longer-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic from 2020. It speculates about the future for the observed proliferation of webinars, and the pandemic’s push towards virtual hearings or e-arbitrations, as well as further diversification of arbitral seats – including potentially for Australia and Japan. Part II ends more normatively with recommendations for more productive cooperation, bilaterally but also regionally, among academics, lawyers and arbitrators, judges and governments. It identifies key Asia-Pacific organisations and opportunities for promoting a global and somewhat more informal approach to international arbitration into the 21st century.

Guest Blog by Michael Hwang: Foreword, for Nottage, Ali, Jetin & Teramura (eds) New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (Wolters Kluwer, end-2020)

Written by: Dr Michael Hwang SC

This is a book which looks forward to possible future outcomes in the development of cross-border dispute resolution in the Asia-Pacific region, focusing on major economies in East and South Asia, as well as neighbouring countries such as Australia which are closely linked economically and geographically. The principal questions posed are: (a) whether international commercial arbitration can improve its attractiveness through law reform and case law development, overcoming criticisms about cost and delay; (b) whether growing concerns about ISDS issues in current investment treaties will lead to Asian states to become rule-makers in international investment law, rather than continue as rule takers; (c) whether innovations in existing or new fields can assist the Asia-Pacific region to develop international dispute settlement mechanisms further. It is therefore an exciting book that challenges existing procedures and frameworks for cross-border dispute resolution both in commercial as well as in treaty arbitration, rather than being another book which is simply descriptive of the existing mechanisms (valuable as such books might be).

There are clearly catalysts for change within the existing framework of dispute resolution in Asia, and several could be real game changers, like China’s Belt and Road initiative (examined in detail in Chapter 7) and the Singapore Convention on Mediation (Chapter 14). The team of writers specially assembled for this project have impressive credentials, led by the prolific and perceptive Professor Luke Nottage, and supported by several authors whom I have the privilege of knowing personally, and whose work I can wholeheartedly recommend as being worth reading, both for their knowledge and experience, but particularly for their insight.

The various authors are not simply writing about existing practices and procedures in the region, but are examining the situation on the ground with a critical eye, and making informed observations about where changes are needed and educated guesses about the chances of reforms being successful, and the consequences if they are not. It has been written in the time of COVID-19 and accordingly points out the special challenges to the field of international dispute resolution in this unprecedented situation. Those include whether lawyers can adapt to new technological solutions to overcome the difficulties of conducting virtual hearings, and whether players in the field of dispute resolution can continue to afford the time and cost of long drawn-out forensic procedures to resolve the inevitable disputes that have been caused by the pandemic, or whether there will be added impetus to use mediation in place of confrontation. There are also protectionist issues affecting the future of maintaining the rule of law in settling cross-border commercial disputes. Local judges might be influenced by the fact that certain apparent breaches of contract have been caused by events beyond the control of their local businesspeople, and the law may become stretched or even disregarded for what may be perceived to be a fairer commercial solution, when performance of a contractual obligation has been rendered impossible in the light of conditions brought on by the pandemic. Such situations could lead possibly to foreign judgments and/or foreign arbitration awards not being recognised or enforced, relying on an overly liberal interpretation of the doctrine of public policy to justify such non-enforcement.

There are also challenges arising from internal social and political challenges in certain Asian jurisdictions such as Malaysia and Hong Kong, where rule of law issues may affect investor confidence in those territories. This mistrust of the application of the rule of law will likely also lead to an international lack of confidence in the reliability of the dispute resolution system of the countries concerned, and Hong Kong in particular may find it difficult to maintain the hitherto proud record of independence and efficiency of its courts and arbitral tribunals. And there are legacy challenges which were there in several Asian countries before Covid-19 and remain as challenges to be overcome, without which their attractiveness as international investment and commercial centres will surely decrease if the legacy problems are not resolved.

The best introduction to this book is actually to start from the succinct final chapter (Chapter 15) jointly authored by Professors Anselmo Reyes, Shahla Ali and Nobumichi Teramura. This gives an excellent summary of the aims and contents of the 14 preceding chapters, and will highlight to readers which chapters might be of particular interest and therefore help determine in which order to read which chapters, although all 14 are worth reading.
I therefore congratulate Professors Nottage, Ali, Jetin and Teramura and their team of other authors on producing a timely and lively study. It will certainly stimulate ideas and discussion among its readers and perhaps also contribute to some positive changes in the jurisdictions which are the subject of this critical study.