International Investment and Commercial Arbitration in Australia and Japan: Shared Challenges, Different Solutions?

Australia and Japan face a remarkably similar challenge. Few international arbitrations have their seat in either country, despite various initiatives undertaken over the last decade or two. Both Australia and Japan probably need to adapt quite radical measures to overcome remaining barriers to attracting international arbitration activity to their respective shores. This shared problem is serious not just because their arbitrators, lawyers, institutions or local economies miss out on business – after all, at least the arbitrators and lawyers can still earn fees by deploying their skills in arbitrations further abroad. The problem is serious also because low levels of international arbitration activity in both countries limit the potential to develop domestic arbitration, ADR more generally, and indeed effective civil procedure.
Despite the shared challenge, however, quite radical solutions for each country may differ somewhat. Expedited arbitration procedures may be a particular selling point for Australia, but not Japan. Caucusing in Arb-Med may work in Japan, but not Australia. And Japan may have more scope than Australia to develop international arbitration through a ‘whole-of-government’ approach that promotes investment arbitration provisions, for example, even in treaties with other developed countries.

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Australia’s Less Lethargic Law Reform? International Arbitration in the Asia-Pacific

[This blog posting follows on from my East Asia Forum posting criticising “Australia’s Lethargic Law Reform” in consumer law recently. I am somewhat more optimistic about initiatives in arbitration law reform, but Australia shares some similar problems with Japan. Japan also took its time to enact new legislation, in 2003, but hasn’t seen significant increases in disputes referred to arbitration.]
On 21 November 2008, the Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) announced a Review of Australia’s International Arbitration Act 1974 (IAA). The aim was to consider whether the Act should be amended to:
* ensure it provides a comprehensive and clear framework governing international arbitration in Australia
* improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the arbitral process while respecting the fundamental consensual basis of arbitration, and
* consider whether to adopt ‘best-practice’ developments in national arbitral law from overseas.
The AGD’s Discussion Paper (DP) expressed the hope that a revised IAA would make Australia a more attractive venue for conducting international commercial arbitration (ICA), especially within the Asia-Pacific region. Unfortunately, Australia has missed that boat, with China, Hong Kong and Singapore the clear leaders now in this part of the world.
For Australia to have any chance at all, it needs a much more ambitious reform than envisaged in the AGD’s DP. Anyway, Australia needs to appreciate the more diffuse and long-term benefits of this type of reform.

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