Professor Yasuhei Taniguchi presented a public lecture on this topic on 30 July at Sydney Law School, as part of the 2009 Distinguished Speakers series commemorating the inauguration of its new building in February. Drawing on his experience as a world-renowned civil law professor, arbitrator and WTO adjudicator, Taniguchi-sensei focused mainly on points of similarity and difference between the WTO dispute resolution system and national courts. His conclusion was a qualified “yes”, despite the main challenges still afflicting trade law litigation among states through the WTO system – the topic of a one-day symposium on 14 August, also at Sydney Law School.
Peter Drysdale’s weekly editorial for the East Asia Forum, along with related postings to that blog and enormous media attention in Australia and elsewhere, focuses ‘on the continuing detention of Rio Tinto executive, Stern Hu, in Shanghai on allegations of espionage’. Drysdale signposts some future analysis of ‘the legal framework under which Hu’s detention has taken place’. He also emphasises that we need ‘a cooperative framework—bilaterally, regionally and globally‘ for ‘China’s authorities to avoid damage to the reliability of markets and for Australia to avoid the perception of investment protectionism’. The most pressing legal (and diplomatic) issues concern China’s criminal justice system, especially when ‘national security’ is allegedly involved. But we need already to consider some broader ramifications, including how we think about FDI legislation and (increasingly intertwined) investment treaty protections.
In short, most agree that the Chinese government got annoyed when Australia itself invoked national security interests to restrict Minmetals bid for OZ Minerals back in March 2009. Then it got really annoyed when Chinalco’s bid for Rio Tinto fell through, even though the Australian government wasn’t directly involved. And so, one story goes, Stern Hu has been arrested to send a message – in the hope that Australia (and other potential host states) will be think twice before invoking national security exceptions to restrict future FDI from China. The China-watchers are better placed to decide whether this is really the motivation behind his arrest. My point here is rather that we should not be surprised that host states may be increasingly tempted to invoke exceptions to limit FDI at the outset, which in turn generates risks of (over-)reactions by home states, as we may be witnessing in Hu’s case. And the initial temptation may arise due to proliferating investor-state arbitration provisions in investment treaties, because those later restrict their room to invoke national security or other limits once the FDI has been approved.
A recent issue of the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA) Newsletter is largely devoted to these topics (No 22, July 2009). Sydney Law School and ANJeL are privileged to host not only one of Japan’s doyens in ICA (and other cross-border dispute resolution, especially WTO procedures), Professor Yasuhei Taniguchi (over July-August 2009). We also welcome (over September – March 2010) Kokushikan University Professor Tatsuya Nakamura, a leader of Japan’s ‘new generation’ of arbitration specialists who heads JCAA’s Arbitration Department.
They have already got me Download filethinking further about Arb-Med (arbitrators encouraging parties to settle their dispute), in the context also of interesting new JCAA Rules focused more specifically on Mediation. Both developments are important for Australia, presently reviewing its legislative and institutional framework for international commercial arbitration (ICA), as well as for many other Asia-Pacific countries intensely interested nowadays in efficient mechanisms to resolve cross-border disputes.
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.
[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.