Open Letter – Assessing Treaty-based Investor-State Dispute Settlement

Some are concerned about treaty-based Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), especially binding Investor-State Arbitration procedures in investment treaties and Free Trade Agreements. One response includes public calls for states to eschew such procedures completely in future treaties, for example in the expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement presently under negotiation. This approach would essentially leave foreign investors to approach local courts if host states illegally interfere with their investments, or to encourage their home states to activate an inter-state dispute resolution process, or to try to negotiate individualised arbitration agreements with host states.
An alternative approach is to identify and address more specific concerns with treaty-based ISDS. An example is the scoping paper and Public Consultation on ISDS generated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, over 16 May – 23 July.
As a constructive contribution to this debate, we created an online form asking for views on whether ISDS should be left as is, abandoned completely, or adapted in various listed ways. As explained below, no respondents favoured eschewing ISDS completely. Yet that position represents the policy shift announced by Australia in the “Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement” (April 2011), resulting in ISDS being omitted from the Australia-Malaysia FTA (May 2012) but difficulties in negotiating other bilateral treaties (with Korea, and Japan) and the TPPA. Implications and other topics related to the TPPA negotiations will be discussed at a Roundtable in Canberra on 8 August, hosted by the Crawford School of Public Policy (ANU College of Asia and the Pacific).

Continue reading “Open Letter – Assessing Treaty-based Investor-State Dispute Settlement”

TPP negotiations and the IBA’s Draft Rules on Investor-State Mediation

As NZ lawyer Daniel Kalderimis points out recently, concerns about treaty-based investor-state arbitration (ISA) have been:

stirred up by the release of an “Open Letter from Lawyers to the Negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Urging the Rejection of Investor-State Dispute Settlement” on 8 May 2012. The letter is backed by well-meaning, and several well-known, signatories; most of whom are not especially well-informed about investor-state arbitration. The fact of the letter is welcome, as the issues are important. But the letter itself contains several overstatements and does not make a balanced contribution to the debate.

Another oddity about the “Open Letter” is that it refers generically to “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) and ends by calling on “all governments engaged in the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA] negotiations to follow Australia’s example by rejecting the Investor-State dispute mechanism and reasserting the integrity of our domestic legal processes”. ISDS incorporates both ISA (where the parties agree to be bound by the arbitrators’ decision) and investor-state mediation (“ISM”) or conciliation procedures (where the parties agree to negotiate a settlement but are not obliged to accept any proposals made by the third-party neutral mediator). At least the rest of the “Open Letter” indicates that the primary objection is to binding ISA.
By contrast, the “Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement” (April 2011) simply eschews ISDS in Australia’s future treaties, including the TPP. Perhaps the Statement meant only ISA, which allows greater inroads into host state sovereignty, given that overall it draws on the Productivity Commission’s recommendations from a 2010 Trade Policy Review report. But, by seemingly eschewing all forms of ISA, the Statement seems to go beyond the Commission’s recommendation on ISA itself.
Hopefully the Australian government, other states involved in FTA negotiations (such as the TPP) and those who wish to improve the ISA system (such as myself) or abandon it altogether (as do some signatories to the Open Letter) will not simply transpose their objections over to ISM too. There is significant scope for mediating investor-state disputes, and indeed the Draft Rules on ISM published recently by the International Bar Association (IBA) are a valuable guide to conducting mediation more effectively. Below I set out some preliminary analysis of those Draft Rules, prepared for the Law Council of Australia but representing my own personal views – particularly regarding the scope for arbitrators to adopt them as a means of settling ISA claims earlier and more effectively (ie ‘Arb-Med‘). A fully-footnoted version of my views is available on request, and I encourage feedback.

Continue reading “TPP negotiations and the IBA’s Draft Rules on Investor-State Mediation”

The Impact of Japan’s ‘3-11’ disaster on FTA negotiations with Australia and beyond

[A version of this posting also appeared on the The Conversation blog (28 July 2011) and then the East Asia Forum blog (30 July 2011). The former is ‘an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector’ involving ‘content support’ from the Go8, including the University of Sydney.]
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was one of the first among world leaders to visit Japan, over 20-23 April, after the nation was stricken on 3 March by the ‘earthquake-tsunami-radiation triple disaster’. But the Australian government was tactful and realistic in not placing high priority on progressing bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Talks had resumed in Tokyo over 7-10 February 2011 after stalling for almost a year, but a lack of progress – particularly over agricultural market access – had then prompted respective Trade Ministers to call for a high-level political summit to regain momentum. The ‘3-11’ disaster generated more urgent priorities for the Japanese government. Indeed, reversing a commitment to decide this question by end-June, in May the Kan administration announced it would defer any decision about whether to join with the nine nations (including Australia) now negotiating an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.
Nonetheless, Japan has some significant incentives to resume FTA negotiations with Australia in the wake of 3-11, although the road ahead still looks rocky.

Continue reading “The Impact of Japan’s ‘3-11’ disaster on FTA negotiations with Australia and beyond”

Repercussions of Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act

[Slightly updated on 2 September. A shorter version of this posting appeared in a Roundtable on “The Conversation” blog (25 August 2011). It draws on research for the project, “Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific“, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.]
Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill passed the federal House of Representatives on 24 August, although a week before it had looked like foundering. The Bill received its second reading in the Senate today, but it should pass without further change or controversy. The Bill passed by the House has already attracted commentary, mostly lauding this admittedly well-intentioned legislation.
But the legislation stuck to the original proposal for implementation: sales will have to be in the plain packaging from 1 July 2012. So Philip Morris Asia (PMA) are likely to commence investor-state arbitration (ISA) proceedings after expiry of the 3-month “cooling off” period under Art 10 of the 1993 Australia – Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty, calculated from notification of the dispute on 27 June.

Continue reading “Repercussions of Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act”

The Rise and Possible Fall of Investor-State Arbitration in Asia: A Skeptic’s View of Australia’s “Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement”

Downloadable here is my draft paper on this topic for various forthcoming events, beginning with a 3 August seminar hosted by Sydney Law School on “Australia’s New Policy on Investor-State Dispute Settlement”.
The paper draws on research for the project, ‘Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific‘, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Treaty-based investor-state arbitration (ISA) has gradually become a more established part of the legal landscape in the Asian region. But this development is threatened by the ‘Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement‘ announced in April 2011.

Continue reading “The Rise and Possible Fall of Investor-State Arbitration in Asia: A Skeptic’s View of Australia’s “Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement””

Guest Blog – Enhancing Transparency and Earlier Resolution of Trade Disputes: Australia, Japan and the WTO

[This blog by my colleague Dr Brett Williams is based on his research for our project, ‘Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific‘, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.]
As part of this project on possible dispute settlement provisions that could be incorporated into an Australia Japan Free Trade Agreement, Dr Brett Williams is working on papers suggesting two innovations that could be incorporated into the provisions for inter-state dispute resolution regarding alleged violations of market access commitments. Both of these innovations would enhance the transparency of the issues at stake in the potential dispute, and potentially promote earlier and more cost-effective dispute resolution.
One important further aspect of both of these possible innovations would be that they would be capable of being incorporated into the WTO dispute settlement procedure. Both Australia and Japan have long traditions of support for the multilateral trading system and both have a keen interest in being active players in enhancing and improving the system. Therefore, in suggesting these innovations for possible incorporation into an Australia Japan FTA, Dr Williams also considers whether Australia and Japan could use the FTA as a way of trialling some procedures which could later be the subject of a joint proposal by Japan and Australia to amend the WTO dispute settlement procedure. Neither of the proposed innovations are particularly contentious in their concept but there could be some contention about the practical aspects of implementing them.

Continue reading “Guest Blog – Enhancing Transparency and Earlier Resolution of Trade Disputes: Australia, Japan and the WTO”

Australia’s Productivity Commission Still Opposes Investor-State Arbitration

[This is based on research for the project, ‘Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific‘, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.]
The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission (PC) released on 13 December its Research Report on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements (BRTAs). Recommendation 5 of the Draft Report in July had suggested that BRTAs (including International Investment Agreements or IAAs) should include Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDS) only if Australia’s counterpart country has a relatively underdeveloped legal system, and more generally only if foreign investors did not obtain more expansive protections than domestic investors. Following criticism of some factual errors and various arguments included in the Draft Report, the PC convened a policy workshop for officials, academics (including myself) and other stakeholders. Some views expressed there are partly reflected in the longer and somewhat better-argued section on ISDS now found in the final Report (at Part 14.2, pp265-77). Unfortunately, however, there remain serious problems with the analysis, which includes the following Findings by the PC:

‘1. There does not appear to be an underlying economic problem that necessitates the inclusion of ISDS provisions within agreements. Available evidence does not suggest that ISDS provisions have a significant impact on investment flows.
2. Experience in other countries demonstrates that there are considerable policy and financial risks arising from ISDS provisions.’

Below I focus on the implications of this approach. They are particularly acute for Australia’s present negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Japan, for accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP, which Japan is also interested in joining), and for developments more generally within APEC and at the multilateral level

Continue reading “Australia’s Productivity Commission Still Opposes Investor-State Arbitration”

Good for the Goose, Not Good for the Gander? Australian versus Japanese Approaches Towards Investor-State Arbitration

[This is based on research for the project, “Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific”, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. An edited and updated version is also on the East Asia Forum.]
The Productivity Commission (PC) released on 16 July a Draft Report for its Review of Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements, commissioned by the Assistant Treasurer to reconsider the Australian Government’s policy in negotiating Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). It acknowledges the inefficiencies of preferential agreements compared to multilateral approaches. However, given the persistent impasse in WTO negotiations, the Report pragmatically suggests various means to maximise benefits in the short-term, which may also lead to longer-term multilateral solutions. Unfortunately, that ideal is unlikely to be achieved – risking perverse implications throughout the Asia-Pacific, where Australia has concentrated its FTA activity – if the PC’s Final Report ends up including all these suggestions in its Draft Recommendation 5:
1. “Where the legal systems of partner countries are relatively underdeveloped, it may be appropriate to refer cases to third party dispute settlement mechanisms.
2. However, such process should not afford foreign investors in Australia or partner countries with legal protections not available to residents.
3. Investor-state dispute settlement procedures should be subject to regular review to take into account changing international best practice and the evolving legal systems in partner countries.”
As explained in my Submission to the PC (reproduced here), I have no great difficulty with the last point, although I suggest that one way to achieve that goal would be for Australia to develop and update a Model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). I have much more difficulty with the PC’s second recommendation, but I focus now on problems with the first as it is particularly relevant to Australia’s policy position in regard to the Asia-Pacific, and especially now Japan.

Continue reading “Good for the Goose, Not Good for the Gander? Australian versus Japanese Approaches Towards Investor-State Arbitration”

Fostering A Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific

This is the title of a project funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation over 2010-11 for myself and Sydney Law School colleagues, Dr Brett Williams and Micah Burch, which will consider the scope for both countries to develop greater common ground in cross-border dispute resolution law and practice, to facilitate bilateral, regional and even multilateral economic integration. Australia and Japan have recently amended their Double-Tax Treaty and are now negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Yukio Hatoyama floated the idea of a broader “Asia Pacific Community” or “East Asian Community”, not limited to matters conventionally found in FTAs. The project will look at the possibility of adding:
(a) novel inter-state arbitration mechanisms, namely for:
(i) disputes about interpretation of Double Tax Treaties, a process triggered by taxpayer in a state (which must then obtain a decision from arbitrators binding on both states) and now envisaged since the 2005 revisions to the OECD Model Tax Treaty;
(ii) disputes about market access for goods and services (including typically some forms of investment), usually modelled on provisions set out in the 1994 Dispute Settlement Understanding of the World Trade Organization (itself under review, with considerable leadership from Australia);
(b) appropriate mechanisms for disputes involving a broader array of investments, in response to discriminatory or other illegal treatment from the host state, allowing investors to bring arbitration proceedings directly (often now provided in FTAs and bilateral investment treaties or “BITs”) instead of via appeals to their home state for inter-state dispute resolution;
(c) provisions or measures to improve commercial arbitration law and practice for the resolution instead of business-to-business disputes, achieved through commitments that might also be entrenched through treaties, but potentially instead through parallel legislation in each state, or through common Rules or agreements among the main Japanese and Australia arbitral institutions).
The project will also involve Professor Tatsuya Nakamura, former ANJeL Research Visitor and General Manager in the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association, and anyone willing to share experiences or views in these three fields (particularly in Australia or Japan) is very welcome to contact me at first instance.

Continue reading “Fostering A Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific”

Asia-Pacific Product Safety Regulation and Other Regional Architecture for a Post-FTA Era

Imagine an international regime with these institutional features:
1. Virtually free trade in goods and services, including a “mutual recognition” system whereby compliance with regulatory requirements in one jurisdiction (eg qualifications to practice law or requirements to offering securities to the public) basically means exemption from compliance with regulations in the other jurisdiction. And for sensitive areas, such as food safety, there is a trans-national regulator.
2. Virtually free movement of capital, underpinned by private sector and governmental initiatives.
3. Permanent residence available to nationals from the other jurisdiction (and strong pressure to maintain flexible rules about multiple nationality).
4. Treaties for regulatory cooperation, simple enforcement of judgments (a court ruling in one jurisdiction is treated virtually identically to a ruling of a local court), and to avoid double taxation (including a system for taxpayer-initiated arbitration among the member states).
5. Government commitment to harmonising business law more widely, eg now for consumer and competition law.
No, the answer is not the obvious one: I am NOT talking about the European Union (EU). I am referring to the Trans-Tasman framework built up between Australia and New Zealand, particularly over the last decade, sometimes through treaties (binding in international law) but sometimes in softer ways (eg parallel legislation in each country). And since both countries are actively pursuing bilateral and now some regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), especially in the Asia-Pacific region, can’t at least some of these Trans-Tasman initiatives become a template for a broader “Asia Pacific Community”?
This question is particularly timely as the new DPJ-led government in Japan, has declared its support not only for the WTO system but also for FTAs, particularly in the Asian region. It also advocates improvements in food and consumer product safety measures. Whether or not Australia is considered part of Asia, either by Japan or itself, the two countries are continuing bilateral FTA negotiations in the context of growing involvement in regional arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. Such developments constitute one theme at the NZ Centre for International Economic Law conference, “Trade Agreements: Where Do We Go From Here?”, over 22-23 October 2009 in Wellington. Below is an edited introduction to my four-part paper, now available in further updated form as a Sydney Law School Research Paper. Powerpoint slides are also available in PDF here.

Continue reading “Asia-Pacific Product Safety Regulation and Other Regional Architecture for a Post-FTA Era”