Comparing “Consumer Law in New Zealand”

[This is a draft of a Review Essay of a new edition textbook, comparing mainly developments in Australia. The Trans-Tasman developments in consumer law can be usefully compared to those in Asia including Japan, which Prof Souichirou Kozuka and I recently compared with Australia. The final version was published in 30(2) CCLJ 228-37 (2023).]

Kate Tokeley and Victoria Stace (eds) Consumer Law in New Zealand

(3rd ed 2022, LexisNexis NZ Ltd, Wellington) lxxii + 769pp

This rich and authoritative textbook deserves a wide readership among researchers, practitioners and policy-makers also beyond New Zealand, especially in Australia – but potentially too across Asia, for example, where consumer law is similarly developing apace.[1] This review essay gives a taste of the book’s scope and points of comparative interest, particularly from a trans-Tasman perspective.[2] Overall, it highlights how New Zealand’s consumer law has long been influenced by Australia and sometimes in turn impacted the latter, but has arguably provided less protection, although NZ has introduced some similar reforms in recent years. Various reasons for this disparity are proposed briefly by way of conclusion below, but this textbook provides an excellent basis to explore that theoretical question as well as for readers seeking more specific practical analysis of consumer law in NZ.

The pioneering first edition of this textbook (2000, Butterworths) was written by Kate Tokeley of Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), who then authored parts and edited the lengthier second edition (2014, LexisNexis, 543pp) with seven other consumer law experts. For this even more detailed third edition, she was joined as co-editor by Victoria Stace (also now at VUW) and three contributors to the previous edition as well as three new authors.

This book is divided neatly into seven parts: (1) introduction and general themes (comprising Tokeley’s chapters 1 and 2 on consumer law history and, very interestingly, rationales); (2) defective goods and services (Tokeley’s chapter 3 on pre-sale product safety rules and chapters 4-6 on the coverage, rights and remedies under the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993 or CGA); (3) consumer education (chapters 7-9 by Canterbury University’s Debra Wilson, expert on the Fair Trading Act 1986 [FTA] and some more specific enactment regulating advertising and labelling); (4) unfairness and unconscionability (chapters 10-12 respectively on unfair terms by Alex Sims from the University of Auckland, unconscionable conduct in trade by Stace, and unfairness in particular selling methods by Wilson); (5) financial consumer protection (chapters 13-14 by Stace providing an overview and then focusing on the retail investment market, chapters 15-16 by Barry Allan on consumer credit); (6) consumers and technology (chapter 17 on contract formation and chapter 18 on data collection, privacy and consumer manipulation by Colin Gavaghan and Simon Connell, being much expanded of course compared to the second edition); and (7) dispute resolution (chapter 19 generally on “access to justice for consumers” by Bridgette Toy-Cronin, and Sims’ chapter 20 detailing the “industry-specific dispute resolution schemes”).

Defective Good and Services

On pre-sale product safety rules, hearkening back to her chapter 2 on consumer law rationales, Tokeley begins by highlighting that these rules “are paternalistic in nature in that they limit consumers’ freedom to choose what are deemed to be unsafe products”, although there are “strong arguments that overall consumer welfare is improved if we are protected from products that pose a real danger of causing injury or death” (p51). She notes that the OECD has called for a general consumer right to safe products, yet New Zealand’s FTA only sets six mandatory product safety standards for general consumer (mostly children’s) products, compared to over 40 under the Australian Consumer Law (ACL, p53).

Tokeley asks whether New Zealand should add a general safety provision (GSP) requiring all consumer products to be safe before being put on the market, especially as no claims for personal injury caused by unsafe products can be brought (since the introduction of a state-run no-fault compensation scheme in the early 1970s). She notes that this requirement has operated in the EU for over 20 years (in fact, since a 1992 Directive) and similarly enacted in Canada in 2010 and (in fact, not as extensively) in Singapore in 2011. We could add that a GSP also applies in former colonies Hong Kong and Macau, Malaysia and (since 2019) Thailand, and enactment in Australia has been long discussed including through a (stalled) Regulatory Impact Statement consultation in 2019.[3]

Tokeley observes that determining whether a GSP would be a good idea in New Zealand “would require a debate about how to balance safety interests against consumer freedom of choice and increases in enforcement and monitoring costs” (p54). Such a debate would seem timely, given extensive arguments and evidence now from comparable economies, and the very high value that the government in New Zealand (and to a lesser extent Australia) was prepared to put on saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Introducing a GSP would also seems more advantageous in New Zealand as there have only been three “product safety policy statements” issued seeking voluntary compliance by suppliers, since 2013 amendments to the FTA (ss 30A and 30B, p56). Furthermore, a duty on suppliers to notify voluntary recalls was only added in 2013 (long after Australia), but New Zealand still lacks a duty to report serious product related accidents (added in the ACL since 2010) and other risks (as in the EU and Canada, for example).

This textbook’s discussion of the 1993 CGA is also very useful for Australian consumer law experts. The ACL in 2010 largely slotted in the CGA regime (including especially its set of statutory remedies for the supply of defective goods or services) in lieu of the mandatory statutory warranties introduced by the ACL’s predecessor Trade Practices Act (Cth) 1974. The CGA was also influenced by some Canadian legislation, and it is also largely adopted by Malaysia’s Consumer Protection Act 1999. Tokeley’s discussion of New Zealand (and some Canadian) case law and academic commentary is therefore very relevant for Australian experts. Interestingly, for example, a District Court in New Zealand had ruled already in Cooper v Ashley & Johnson Motors Ltd [1997] DCR 170 that accumulated minor defects can add up to a substantial (or major) failure, justifying extra CGA remedies such as a refund rather than merely repair or replacement. Tokeley also notes a similar approach taken by some Saskatchewan courts (pp 145-6). We could add that this wheel had to be reinvented by tribunals and lawmakers in Australia, but the ACL was recently amended to clarify this possibility (s260), partly given the persistent problem of “lemon” vehicles in Australia.[4]

Also interesting from a Trans-Tasman perspective is the narrower scope of application of the CGA. It only applies to “consumers” as defined in s2(1) as those (a) acquiring goods and services (objectively) of a kind “ordinarily acquired for personal, domestic, or household use or consumption”, plus (b) not for the (subjective) purpose of resupply in trade or consuming them for production etc. The ACL (s3) tries to add certainty to the first limb (a) by extending the scope of “consumer” guarantee coverage to all purchases under a monetary threshold (recently increased to A$100,000), albeit still subject to the second limb (b) exclusions. This means that more business-to-business (B2B) transactions are probably covered by the mandatory guarantees in Australia.

New Zealand also allows more contracting out than in Australia, in that CGA s43 (modified in 2013 in line with an FTA insertion) allows parties both in trade to agree in writing to exclude the mandatory “consumer” guarantees provided this is “fair and reasonable” (as elaborated in a new s43(2A), p94). By contrast, the ACL only allows parties to agree on terms specifying more limited liability (excluding consequential damages etc.) if the goods or services are not ordinarily for personal use (s64A).

New Zealand may also allow more scope for parties, especially perhaps in B2B transactions, to exclude the application of the CGA regime altogether by expressly agreeing on a foreign law to govern all disputes related to their contract. Tokeley notes that under traditional private international law principles, the threshold for overriding the parties’ express choice of law based on a “public policy exception is exceptionally high” (p104). She adds that the CGA does not contain any express provision dealing with this issue that could be construed as an overriding mandatory statutory provision preventing parties from choosing a foreign governing law, contrasting ACL s67 as interpreted (perhaps in a rather strained way) in Valve Corporation v ACCC [2017] FCAFC 224. However, Tokeley indicates that New Zealand courts might not apply either traditional private international law approach to determine this possibility of parties choosing a foreign law. They might instead adopt an “ordinary statutory interpretation approach” – divining what the legislator intended from its text and purpose – as applied in the cross-border employment dispute of Brown v New Zealand Basing Ltd [2017] NZSC 139, even though the outcome of such an approach “applied to the [CGA] is difficult to predict” (p106).

In my view, her subsequent brief analysis suggests that it might result in consumers in a narrower (EU-style) sense, namely individuals contracting for non-business purposes, but not necessarily businesses being protected against at least some foreign governing law clauses. After all, earlier Tokeley notes that a new s1A added in 2013 to the CGA (again, mirroring that added to the FTA) clarifies that the legislative purpose is “consumer protection but that this is also balanced against businesses being able to compete effectively and participate int the market with confidence” (p69). This unresolved issue certainly deserves public consultation by policy-makers, both in New Zealand and Australia, especially as an agreed foreign law clause can be combined with a clause providing for exclusive jurisdiction of a foreign court or arbitral tribunal[5] – although Sims later remarks that the latter type of clause may be void as unfair (p315).

Misleading and Unconscionable Conduct

Chapter 8, where Wilson sets out the “general rules on misleading and deceptive conduct and misrepresentations”, is also interesting because the FTA statutory prohibitions and then New Zealand case law were heavily influenced by Australian law. However, it seems that the Supreme Court in Red Eagle Corp Ltd v Ellis [2010] NZSC 20 has developed a simpler one-step approach to determining misleading conduct in at least some situations (pp192-3). More unusual for Australian consumer law experts will be the helpful discussion of the Contract and Commercial Law Act 2017. That subsumed the Contractual Remedies Act 1979, which had adjusted common law rules on misrepresentations and termination of contracts. Again, the 2017 legislation retained the capacity for parties to agree on “ouster” clauses preventing investigation into whether pre-contractual statements were made or relied on, for example, but provided these were “fair and reasonable” (e.g. between commercial parties of equal bargaining power advised by lawyers, pp 241-3).

Chapter 11 by Stace contains even more extensive (and well-argued) analysis of the complex and evolving Australian case law on statutory “unconscionable conduct in trade”, which is informed but not limited by equitable doctrines (pp 349-70).[6] This is justified because New Zealand only added such a prohibition to its FTA (s7) with effect from 16 August 2022. Stace explains how the New Zealand Commerce Commission (enforcing the FTA) favoured adopting the ACL’s approach, which had developed legislatively since 1986 and especially 1992, when in 2018 a consultation paper was released by New Zealand’s Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE, which had subsumed the Ministry of Consumer Affairs). To address survey and other evidence about gaps in the legislative framework and poor practices by businesses, towards consumers but also other businesses, MBIE had instead favoured the option of enacting a prohibition against “oppressive” conduct (centred on the  “reasonable standard of commercial practice” test) modelled on consumer credit contract law. Neither government entity favoured the option of prohibiting unfair practices along EU Directive lines, with MBIE assessing this option as “the most complex and uncertain” (p336) although it has long been operating in the EU, United Kingdom and for example Singapore.

However, Stace later notes (p370) that in the wake of the ACCC’s Digital Practices Inquiry Final Report (June 2019), for example: “There is some regulatory support for the introduction of a more general prohibition on unfair conduct in trade in Australia. It is likely that the New Zealand government would have to consider something similar in New Zealand, if such a prohibition were introduced in Australia, in the interests of harmonisation of business law between the two countries” (p370). Since the book was published, pressure towards adding this wider prohibition has kept growing in Australia.[7] This is partially caused by growing awareness and concern, especially given the expansion of e-commerce particularly during the pandemic, about the use of “dark patterns” to manipulate consumer behaviour (helpfully summarised by Gavaghan and Connell at pp641-9) through business systems that are not readily impugned as misleading or unconscionable.

Unfair Contract Terms

Australian experts will also find familiar and useful the discussion by Sims of “unfair contract terms” regulation in chapter 10, as this too was added to the FTA in 2013 (with effect from 2015) “modelled on Australia’s law, albeit there are significant differences” (p288). The most important distinction in the ACL regime applied nationwide since 2010, based on Victorian state legislation enacted a decade earlier based on a 1993 EU Directive (and supplemented by the Contracts (Review) Act 1980 still curiously in effect in New South Wales), is that unfair terms in Australia can be asserted by consumers as void.

By contrast, New Zealand’s regime since 2015 requires the Commerce Commission to bring proceedings for Court declarations that the term is void. A concern underlying this narrow standing requirement, not found either across Europe or many other jurisdictions enacting similar unfair contract terms rules for consumers, was reportedly that allowing consumers directly to challenge unfair terms (as urged in 2010 by the then Ministry of Consumer Affairs) would mean more transaction costs for traders (p289). Sims notes that her prediction in the second edition textbook, that the limited standing and resources for the Commerce Commission would mean few declarations being sought, has been borne out: only three applications had been made when she wrote for this third edition (December 2021), despite significant evidence that unfair terms are widespread (p290). Unsurprisingly, therefore, too, the chapter by Sims includes many more references to Australian case law on unfair terms than the few New Zealand court judgments.

A second significant Trans-Tasman difference is the scope of the main regime voiding unfair terms. Under the ACL, it applies to individual consumers transacting for non-business purposes (s23). In New Zealand, this is similar for dealings in land. However, for goods and services its unfair terms regime adopts the same definition as for the CGA as mentioned above (ordinarily for personal use etc., but not for resupply etc.: p293). In addition, the ACL added protections for “small business contracts” already in 2016, defined by setting a maximum contract amount plus number of employees. ACL amendments in November 2022 (in force from a year later) remove the contract amount threshold, and extend protection if at least one party employs fewer than 100 (rather than 20) employees. By contrast, the FTA was amended with effect again only from 22 August 2022 and protects against unfairness in “small trade contracts” defined solely by reference to a maximum contract amount (p288).

A third difference, not evident from this textbook because it was published after the ACL November 2022 amendments, is that an initial use of a term found unfair will attract civil penalties. Under the prior scheme (still found in New Zealand), penalties only applied for continuing to use a term declared unfair by a court.[8] (Australian penalties are also significantly higher than for contravention of the consumer protection provisions in New Zealand’s FTA and CGA, as noted already in some other parts of this book.) The November 2022 ACL amendments also clarify that Australian courts can make orders applying to any existing contract entered into by a respondent containing a substantially similar term to one the court has declared to be unfair, and/or which prevents a term from being included in future contracts. This too could be a useful way to make the New Zealand regime more effective. Its present FTA only provides that once the court declares the term void (if challenged by the Commerce Commission), this “automatically extends to the trader’s contracts with other consumers. The trader would therefore be unable to enforce that term against other customers who had entered into the same standard form contract” (p304).

It should also now be added that from November 2021 the federal Treasury began consulting about allowing ACL regulators also to impose civil penalties on suppliers that do not provide consumers remedies for at least major failures under the consumer guarantees regime, perhaps only for goods or services that are causing more problems (such as lemon vehicles).[9] The proposal parallels a recommendation from the Productivity Commission’s Right to Repair report, made public on 1 December 2021.[10] Such a reform would supplement the ACL regulators’ powers to bring representative actions for violations of consumer guarantees if consumers opt-in, which the regulators however have been curiously loath to use. New Zealand regulators lack even the latter power (cf p697), and policy-makers in that country could consider whether the Treasury’s more recent initiative would significantly reduce problems uncovered by evidence cited in this textbook regarding unfair terms and practices more generally.

Access to Justice for Consumers

In New Zealand, therefore, prospects for “public enforcement” of consumer rights have been more restricted than in Australia. More reliance therefore must be placed on New Zealand consumers knowing about and then enforcing their rights themselves. Yet Toy-Cronin remarks in chapter 19 that a “2020 survey found that almost all consumers were aware that laws exist in New Zealand to protect their consumer rights, but detailed knowledge of those rights was less widespread … only 26 per cent of consumers answered at least six of the ten scenarios about consumer problems correctly” (p672). Incidentally, such more specific questions would be useful to pose to Australian consumers, in multiple national surveys and recently one just for Victorian consumers.[11]

Her chapter on “access to justice for consumers” shows that there is significantly less available first through the courts, in that there is still no US-style opt-out class action regime to efficiently aggregate small claims (as in Australian federal courts since 1992, and various states starting with Victoria from 2000). However, Toy-Cronin notes that the New Zealand Law Commission was investigating this possibility (pp 690-1). We can add now that in June 2022 it issued a Final Report recommending enactment of a scheme quite similar to Australia’s class action regime, as well as recommendations about third-party litigation funding, which has become a major part of Australia’s civil litigation landscape since 2007. She also notes that New Zealand lacks a regime for pure contingency fees, where lawyers agree with clients to fund litigation themselves in exchange for a percentage of damages obtained (pp687-9). Plaintiff lawyers and some other groups pressed strongly to allow this in Victoria, with reforms in effect from 1 July 2020 for class actions.[12]

As for what Toy-Cronin’s chapter 19 outlines as “self-help” options for consumer access to justice, some of the concerns about disputes tribunals seem similar to those raised for Australian counterparts. These include some formalisation of proceedings, challenges in enforcing tribunal rulings, and concerns about whether “the current balance is right” between procedural fairness and expeditious dispute resolution given that the same adjudicator also has a preliminary role in encouraging settlement (p679). She adds that a 2008 response by the Government to a Law Commission inquiry into Disputes and other tribunals, aiming to reduce ad hoc elements and duplication of resources through a more uniform regime, has not progressed (p683). This contrasts with reforms combining administrative and consumer tribunals in Victoria and New South Wales, for example, which seem to have been fairly successful.[13] There also seem to be fewer developments to expand online dispute resolution (p675), compared to Australia where the Digital Platforms inquiry has kept this more firmly on the agenda.[14] Another development that New Zealand might consider copying is a UK-style “super complaints” procedure, expected to be enacted this year, whereby peak consumer groups can provide evidence of widespread harm, to regulators who then need to respond publically within a specific timeframe.[15]

Conclusions

In sum, this is an excellent textbook detailing all elements of consumer law in New Zealand, deftly combining legislative analysis, case law, illuminating further examples, academic commentaries and recent developments, which should be on the shelves or computers of all Australian consumer law experts. The many comparisons made with Australia, and some of the additional ones added in this review of the book, also leaves a wider question. Why is it that the protection for consumers seems nonetheless to remain less extensive in New Zealand, despite a long history of Trans-Tasman business law harmonisation and other close legal cooperation?[16] The evidence presented in this textbook suggests that the answer is not that New Zealand traders are much better behaved than Australian counterparts.

One possible explanation from political history is that the Labour Governments in New Zealand (1984-1990) pursued a more extensive deregulatory agenda than the Hawke/Keating Labor Governments in Australia, and this more laissez-faire mentality perhaps carried over into subsequent Governments (largely equally split between Labour and National Governments). New Zealand has also not seen the same phenomenon of small and even large businesses pressing ministers in Australia to add protections for ever more B2B transactions, not just protections for consumers in the narrower (EU-style) sense. Federal and state ministers have often been open to such entreaties, for better or worse, perhaps because many smaller businesses are sole traders who also therefore vote in elections.

A more socio-economic factor could be that although New Zealand has a higher proportion of indigenous and Pacific Island background consumers, Australia has long had a higher intake per capita of humanitarian and other immigrants.[17] Those have included many whose native language is not English and can therefore be seen as in further need of consumer law protections. A more institutional explanation might be that Australian consumer law regulators have developed more critical mass, not only for enforcing laws but advocating for further reforms, benefitting also from multiple reports from the influential Productivity Commission (with an analogue operating in New Zealand only since 2011). A political economy aspect may be that Australia’s federal system has generated more of a “California effect” (or “trading up” to stronger regulator standards),[18] rather than a deregulatory “Delaware effect”. Another possible explanation from comparative legal history or philosophy is that New Zealand contract law and supporting legal institutions have favoured more formal rather than substantive reasoning, at least traditionally.[19]

Such broader speculations, and therefore prospects for further convergence or divergence between New Zealand and Australia, merit further investigation. For such theoretical as well as practical purposes, by offering a comprehensive and deep understanding of New Zealand consumer law, this textbook provides an excellent basis to assess similarities and differences compared to Australia, and potentially other jurisdictions particularly around the Asia-Pacific region.


[1] See generally eg Nottage, Luke R. and Paterson, Jeannie Marie, Consumer Contracts and Product Safety Law in Southeast Asia: Partly Trading Up? (June 25, 2019). in Hsieh, Pasha L.; Mercurio, Bryan (eds), “ASEAN Law in the New Regional Economic Order: Global Trends and Shifting Paradigms”, Cambridge University Press, 2019, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. #19/37, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3409602; and Howells et al (eds) Consumer Protection in Asia (Hart, 2022) https://www.bloomsbury.com/au/consumer-protection-in-asia-9781509957545/

[2] For some earlier comparisons, see also Nottage, Luke R. and Riefa, Christine and Tokeley, Kate, Comparative Consumer Law Reform and Economic Integration (2013). CONSUMER LAW AND POLICY IN AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND, J. Malbon and L. Nottage, eds, Federation Press, Australia, 2013, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/77, Victoria University of Wellington Legal Research Paper No. 15/2016, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2662295

[3] Nottage, Luke R., Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System: Australian Law Reform in Asia-Pacific Context (February 3, 2020). Journal of Consumer Policy (2020) 43:829-850, also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3530671

[4] For an analysis of divergent Australian tribunal decisions, arguably influencing the ACL amendment, see Jeannie Paterson “The Consumer Guarantee Remedial Regime: Some Uncertainties and the Role of Common Law Analogy” 33 Journal of Contract Law (2006) 210 at 221-3.

[5] Compare also generally Garnett, Richard, “Arbitration of Cross-Border Consumer Transactions in Australia: A Way Forward?” (2017) 39(4) Sydney Law Review 569, also at http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/SydLawRw/2017/23.html; Teramura, Nobumichi and Nottage, Luke R. and Morrison, James, International Commercial Arbitration in Australia: Judicial Control over Arbitral Awards, in “The Cambridge Handbook of Judicial Control of Arbitral Awards”, edited by Larry A. DiMatteo, Marta Infantino and Nathalie M-P Potin, Cambridge University Press, 2020, pp. 175 – 197, also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3379494

[6] For an early comparison of unconscionability and other doctrines, including undue influence (touched on at pp647-8 in this textbook’s discussion of “dark patterns”), see also Nottage, Luke R., Form and Substance in US, English, New Zealand and Japanese Law: A Framework for Better Comparisons of Developments in the Law of Unfair Contracts. Victoria University of Wellington Law Review, Vol. 26, pp. 247-292, 1996, also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=842684

[7] See Nottage, Luke R. and Kozuka, Souichirou, Consumer Law Redress and Administration, Product Safety Regulation and Contracts in Japan and Australia (May 26, 2023), manuscript at https://ssrn.com/abstract=4459890

[8] For an assessment of this reform, combined with the expansion of protections to more B2B transactions, see Jeannie Paterson and Hal Bolitho, “Unfair terms and legitimate business interests in standard form small business contracts” (2023) 30 CCLJ 19.

[9] https://treasury.gov.au/consultation/c2021-224294

[10] https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/repair#report

[11] See https://consumer.gov.au/consultations-and-reviews/australian-consumer-survey and https://cprc.org.au/vic-consumers/

[12] See eg https://www.ibanet.org/contingency-fee-revolution-in-australia.

[13] Compare eg Nottage, Luke R., Consumer ADR and the Proposed ‘Consumer Law’ in Australia: Room for Improvement (March 29, 2009). QUT Law and Justice Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2, February 2010, pp 176-97, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 09/10, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1370106; and Productivity Commission, Consumer Law Enforcement and Administration – Final Report (12 April 2017) https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/consumer-law.

[14] See eg the ACCC’s Interim Report (September 2022) https://www.accc.gov.au/about-us/publications/serial-publications/digital-platform-services-inquiry-2020-2025/digital-platform-services-inquiry-september-2022-interim-report-regulatory-reform

[15] Nottage and Kozuka, op cit (with further references).

[16] See generally Nottage, Luke R., Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture and Consumer Product Safety Regulation for a Post-FTA Era, in Meredith Kolsky Lewis and Susy Frankel (eds) Trade Agreements at the Crossroads(London: Routledge, 2014) 114-38, earlier version also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=1509810

[17] See eg https://theconversation.com/new-zealand-has-one-of-the-lowest-numbers-of-refugees-per-capita-in-the-world-there-is-room-for-many-more-162663

[18] Compare also generally Nottage and Paterson op cit

[19] See generally eg Nottage (1996 VUWLR) op cit, and Nottage, Luke R., Tracing Trajectories in Contract Law Theory: Form in Anglo-New Zealand Law, Substance in Japan and the United States, Yonsei Law Journal, Vol. 4, No. 2, pp. 175-271, 2013, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 13/37, also at https://ssrn.com/abstract=2270889

Investment Arbitration, Corruption and Illegality: Korea

Guest blog by: Prof Joongi Kim (Yonsei University)

[Ed. note by Luke Nottage: Below is the Abstract for Prof Kim’s chapter on Korea for Teramura, Nottage and Jetin (eds) Corruption and Illegality in Asian Investment Arbitration (forthcoming in Springer’s Asia in Transition series), presented at the UBD conference on 29 May 2023 supported by CAPLUS. There are interesting parallels with the chapter on Japan, but also some significant differences, notably more inbound (and outbound) treaty-based investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration cases, fewer treaty provisions expressly urging host states to implement anti-corruption laws, and more / consistent express legality requirements for investments to be covered under Korea’s treaties. Below is also an extract from Prof Kim’s chapter outlining two important linked inbound ISDS cases that were still pending as of 29 May 2023, alleging damages due to bribes under a criminal scheme perpetrated by Korean public officials, including then President Park Geun-Hye (impeached in 2017 and later jailed). I add an update in a Postscript below.]

Abstract: This chapter provides an overview of Korea’s investment treaty regime and its provisions and practice concerning corruption and illegality. It further analyzes how these issues have featured in cases related to Korea and Korean investors. Korea has become a leading exporter and significant importer of foreign direct investment (FDI). To protect and promote inbound and outbound investment, Korea has established one of the most wide-ranging and extensive regime of international investment agreements in the world, primarily through an array of bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements with investment chapters. However, their provisions related to corruption and illegality are generally not developed. For instance, most Korea’s treaties do not include an explicit requirement for the host states to take measures against corruption. Korean treaties also vary in terms of how they require foreign investments to be made in accordance with host state laws. Korea’s passivity regarding such provisions seems unaffected by foreign investors increasingly commencing arbitrations against Korea recently and Korean investors also becoming more active in bringing outbound claims. While the extent that corruption or illegality features in cases brought by Korean investors remain largely unknown, some of the cases against Korea have corruption and illegality related elements. There is no indication that Korea may become more proactive in terms of corruption provisions, but some signs it is pursuing more and clearer legality provisions. Nevertheless, it is foreseeable that Korea might become more proactive in promoting both types of provisions in future treaties as part of its commitment to transparency.

Mason and Elliott

In 2018, two large U.S. institutional investors of Samsung C&T, a very large listed construction and engineering company, each brought claims against Korea for breach of investment protections under the Korea-US FTA.[1] Both cases did not involve more traditional examples such as where a foreign investor allegedly engaged in corruption or illegal behaviour and State cited the illicit acts as a defence against the claims. The case was also not an example of a State soliciting or extorting bribes from the investor. While corruption was a prominent fact that served as a key factor in the claimants’ claims, corruption was not an issue that was directly associated with the investors themselves. The investors instead based their claims on the harm that they allegedly suffered as a result of corruption between the controlling shareholder and senior government officials. On 30 June 2023, a final award was rendered in Elliott v. Korea whereas an award remains pending for Mason v. Korea where post-hearing briefs were filed in April 2022.[2] According to the Korean Ministry of Justice, out of the USD 770 million that was claimed, the Elliott v. Korea tribunal found Korea liable for USD 54 million plus interest and the claimant’s legal costs.

Both cases arose out of the merger between Samsung C&T and Cheil, at the time, both affiliates within the prominent Samsung Group. Shareholders approved the merger in July 2015. With a stake of 11.21 %, NPS was the largest shareholder of Samsung C&T and, according to the claimants, provided the decisive vote in favour of the merger despite the opposition of various shareholders. Mason held 2.18% and Elliott 7.12 %.

The two foreign shareholders, Mason and Elliott, claimed that they suffered damages due to bribes under a criminal scheme that was perpetrated by Korean public officials, including the then President, the Minister of Health and Welfare, and the Chief Investment Officer of the National Pension Service (NPS). The President was sentenced to 20 years of prison for bribery and other charges.[3] Elliott sought USD 539.8 million, and Mason sought USD 191.4 million in damages plus interest and other relief.

A key part of the case concerned whether the President provided ‘decisive assistance’ to approve the merger as a quid pro quo for receiving bribes from the controlling shareholder of the Samsung Group. The claimants contended that the President received the bribes in exchange for her assistance in getting NPS to approve the merger. The claimants asserted that the President requested the bribe in the form of sponsorship of certain sports organizations and that there was a common understanding that the economic support was in exchange for the President’s help for the controlling shareholder’s succession plan through the merger. 

As a result, the claimants asserted a breach of the minimum standard of treatment because, among other things, Korea’s actions were arbitrary, grossly unfair, unjust, discriminatory, in disregard of due process and proper procedure, and lacked transparency. They argued that Korea’s action violated the International Court of Justice’s Neer judgment standard and that ‘Korea’s corruption, bribery, overt discrimination, and flaunting of its own laws was outrageous’.[4] According to them, Korea had no legitimate interest to vote in favour of the merger.

In reply, Korea argued that the ‘High Court did not find that President provided any assistance to the Merger, let alone that she gave instructions to implement any measures against Mason or any foreign hedge fund’.[5] Korea stressed that the courts held that any quid pro quo relationship and payment of bribes occurred after the President met the controlling shareholder on 25 July 2015, which was after the NPS’s Investment Committee’s decision on 10 July 2015 and the shareholders meeting on 17 July 2015, both to approve merger. Korea asserted that there was no evidence that the bribes were connected with the merger and could have been intended to induce its approval. The claimants also lacked a legally significant connection between Korea’s alleged measures and their investments.[6]

Korea also stated that NPS did have a legitimate interest in supporting the merger because supporting the Samsung Group’s succession process was in the interest of the Korean economy. It did not have as a purpose the expropriation or extraction of value from SC&T’s shareholders. They cited that High Court did not conclude that the merger ‘extracted value from SC&T’s shareholders, much less that the Korean government intended to extract value’.[7] According to Korea, the goal was to instead support the succession process and stabilize the Samsung Group.

The Elliott tribunal [in an award dated 20 June 2023] found that the NPS’s merger vote was the result of the improper influence by the Blue House and the Ministry of Health and Welfare and not of its own independent, professional judgment. More specifically, the Tribunal found that the NPS “did not take its decision independently, based on the commercial merits of the Merger, but acted under the direction and instructions of the MHW and thus effectively as an instrument of the MHW in the implementation of a government policy”.[8] Quoting from Waste Management v Mexico,the State’s conduct was deemed to be “unjust” and amounted to a “will neglect of…duties” and “a pronounced degree of improper action” that breached the minimum standard of treatment required. [9]

Both cases did not involve a situation of a failure to prosecute as was raised in such cases as World Duty Free v. Kenya[10] and Wena v. Egypt.[11] Instead, the claimants relied extensively on the prosecution’s cases and the resulting court awards against the former Korean government officials. The Tribunal even noted the State’s diligent prosecution of those involved and described that “the action taken by the Korean State in this regard is commendable and demonstrates its commitment to the rule of law”.[12]


[1] Mason Capital L.P. and Mason Management LLC v. The Republic of Korea, PCA Case N° 2018-55 (“Mason v. Korea”); Elliott Associates, L.P. v. The Republic of Korea, PCA Case N° 2018-51 (“Elliott v. Korea”).

[2] Mason v. Korea, https://pca-cpa.org/en/cases/198/; Elliott v. Korea, https://pca-cpa.org/en/cases/197/. Pursuant to KORUS FTA, the memorials of the parties are available on the PCA’s website, but the factual exhibits, legal authorities, witness statements, and expert reports are not. For updates, see Kim 2023.

[3] The controlling shareholder was also found guilty of bribery. Notably, no evidence existed that the President, Minister or CIO personally benefitted from the payments and the only direct beneficiary was a close confidante of the President. Furthermore, the senior government officials were not found guilty of bribery and the Minster was sentenced to two and a half years for abuse of power and perjury and the CIO was sentenced for two and a half years for occupational breach of trust.

[4] Mason v. Korea, Claimant’s Request for Arbitration and Statement of Claim, para. 73.

[5] Mason v. Korea, Respondent’s Post Hearing Brief, para. 20.

[6] Korea argued, among other things, that the actions of NPS did not have a legally significant connection with the claimants because (i) in exercising its shareholder right to vote on the merger, NPS did not owe any duty to the claimants, (ii) the NPS exercised its shareholder voting rights in the same way as any other Samsung C&T shareholder; (iii) the merger did not impair or expropriate Mason’s rights as an Samsung C&T shareholder; (iv) there was no evidence that Korea and the NPS intended to extract value from Samsung C&T’s shareholders through the merger. Mason v. Korea, Respondent, Post-Hearing Brief, para. 11; Elliott v. Korea, Respondent, Statement of Defense, para. 541.

[7] Mason v. Korea, Respondent, Post-Hearing Brief, para. 14.c).

[8] Elliott v. Korea, Award, para. 623.

[9] Elliott v. Korea, Award, para. 603.

[10] World Duty Free v. Kenya, ICSID Case No. ARB/00/7. [[See further Chapter 4 by Reyes et al, in this volume.]]

[11] Wena Hotels Ltd v. Arab Republic of Egypt, ICSID Case No. ARB/98/4, Award on Merits (8 Dec. 2000), paras. 82–84.

[12] Elliott v. Korea, Award, para. 604.sd

[Ed. Postscript: in the Mason case, an award dated 11 April 2024 similarly found that Korea wrongfully interfered with the merger process, awarding around 32 million USD in compensation, plus costs. In summary:

“the tribunal dismissed South Korea’s contentions that only sovereign acts could engage its responsibility, finding no such principle under international law. The arbitrators also noted that while Mason had made the investment in full knowledge of the risk that the merger would come to pass, the investor could not have expected a criminal conspiracy at the highest level of the state.

That conspiracy had been established, the tribunal further found, through several decisions from domestic criminal courts in cases brought against key political figures from the Korean government and the NPS. Accepting that the fund had voted for the merger as the result of interferences from these individuals, against a background of corruption at the top level of Korea’s government, the tribunal concluded that this amounted to a breach of the Minimum Standard of Treatment”

History of International Arbitration in Japan

[This is the Introduction to a draft chapter written with ANJeL-in-ASEAN Convenor Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura, for a book being edited by Lars Markert et al on International Arbitration in Japan]

Arbitration has had quite a long modern history in Japan, including a fascinating inter-state dispute that arose in 1872 (Part 2 below). The first arbitration legislation, modelled on German law, was enacted in 1890 and survived for over a century (Part 3).

In 1961, Japan also became one of the first states in Asia, indeed world-wide, to ratify the 1958 New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (NYC). A few years after the 1985 release of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration (ML), a group comprising mostly academics proposed new legislation based on that emerging global standard. However, the concept was only enacted 15 years later as the Arbitration Act (Law No 138 of 2003),[1] as part of the government’s broader package of reforms into justice system reforms. Instead, in 1996, legislation was amended to allow “fly-in” foreign lawyers (in addition to “foreign law solicitors” registered in Japan under legislation since 1986) to represent clients in international arbitrations in Japan. Their scope of permitted practice was somewhat expanded in 2021, as part of the government’s initiatives from 2018 to have Japan catch up with larger regional hubs for international arbitration. As another part of that program, the first amendments to the Arbitration Act were approved in 2023 (Part 4).

Despite this rather slow development of cutting-edge legislation for international arbitration in Japan, the courts have been comparatively consistent in rendering pro-arbitration decisions complying with the NYC and ML as international instruments (Part 5). Japan’s two main arbitration institutions, The Tokyo Maritime Arbitration Commission (TOMAC, established in 1926) and the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association (JCAA, established in 1953), have also helped keep arbitration practices updated by periodically revising their Arbitration Rules. The government’s push since 2017 to promote Japan more actively as a seat has led to further new Rules as well as new arbitral institutions, including for sports and intellectual property disputes (Part 6).

Japan has also become a comparatively active proponent of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration provisions in international investment agreements, although again after a slow start. Japan has seen few outbound and even fewer inbound ISDS arbitration claims. However, this means that arbitration generally may not attract as many negative associations with the general public as in other states experiencing more and/or high-profile ISDS arbitration claims from foreign investors (Part 7).

Despite such positive developments, arbitration has not yet captured the imagination in Japan. The general public remained quite unfamiliar with it, although awareness nowadays may be improving. Indeed, one colloquial understanding or definition of arbitration (chusai) was closer to mediation (chotei), even though the latter does not involve imposition of a binding decision by the agreed third-party neutral.[2] This confusion may have persisted from the Tokugawa era (1603-1867),[3] when notions of judiciable rights were comparatively weak and mediation was actively practiced to resolve civil disputes.[4]

As for awareness among Japanese firms in the modern era, the larger ones have long been quite familiar with the advantages of including arbitration clauses especially in maritime matters and other cross-border commercial contexts. Accordingly, some have got involved in some arbitrations and even some high-profile related court proceedings particularly abroad. In addition, sustained efforts by arbitral institutions and business associations since World War II have made smaller and medium sized enterprises more likely to include arbitration clauses in their own growing cross-border trade and then investment contracts, although many probably remain quite unfamiliar with arbitration. Furthermore, as a whole, Japanese firms have been more willing to agree to arbitration clauses specifying a seat outside Japan. In addition, they have appeared more reluctant actually to proceed with arbitration claims even under such clauses, or locally when the seat is agreed to be in Japan, compared to companies from other states in Asia and beyond.[5]

The result has been that Japan’s major arbitration institutions have not yet seen the significant growth in international case filings evident in several states in the region. Arbitration is also still used infrequently to resolve domestic commercial disputes. As with Japan’s still comparatively low per capita civil litigation rate, the reasons may be related to (general, organisational or legal) culture or institutional barriers (including comparatively few lawyers, experts, arbitrators and institutions pro-actively specialising in the field, at least until recently). These questions, and therefore the prospects for expanding arbitration services in Japan, are explored further in the Conclusions (Part 7).


[1] For a semi-official translation, see Japan Ministry of Justice, ‘Arbitration Act (Act No. 138 of 2003)’ (Japanese Law Translation) https://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/en/laws/view/2784 accessed 14 April 2023.

[2] Tatsuya Nakamura, Chusaiho Gaisetsu [Outline of Arbitration Law] (Seibundo Shinkosha 2022) 1.

[3] Yoshihisa Hayakawa, ‘Nihon ni okeru Chusai no Rekishiteki Isou [Historical Phases of Arbitration in Japan]’ (2015) 87 Horitsu Jiho 19, 19-20.

[4] Nonetheless, some litigants did actively press their rights even during this pre-modern era, when Japan largely closed itself off from the wider world: see e.g., Herman Ooms, Tokugawa Village Practice: Class, Status, Power, Law (University of California Press 1996).

[5] Compare generally [[X-ref to Chapter 3 (Japan as seat) in this volume].

Japan’s International Investment, Evolving Treaty Practice and Arbitration Related to Corruption and Illegality

Written by: Luke Nottage and Nobumichi Teramura#

Abstract: This article forthcoming in 55 Journal of Japanese Law (mid-2023), part of an interdisciplinary book project on Corruption, Illegality and Asian Investment Arbitration [including a conference held in Brunei on 29 May 2023 (booklet here) supported by ANJeL and CAPLUS], addresses for Japan the difficult practical and policy question facing arbitration tribunals when a foreign investor claims mistreatment by a host state but the latter alleges that the investment was tainted by corruption or other similar serious illegality. By way of background, Japan emerged from the 1980s as a leading exporter of foreign direct investment (FDI). Yet it has low inbound FDI despite some significant growth since the late 1990s (Part II). This is despite Japan having comparatively very little corruption, which is often problematic for foreign investors (Part III).

To protect and promote outbound FDI after a hesitant start, over the last two decades, Japan has accelerated ratifications of standalone bilateral investment treaties (BITs) as well as investment chapters in free trade agreements (FTAs). Almost all allow foreign investors from the home state to directly initiate investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arbitration against host states to get relief from violations of substantive treaty commitments, such as non-discrimination or compensation for expropriation (Part IV.1).

Japan’s investment treaty practice on corruption and illegality is comparatively interesting for two reasons (Part IV.2). First, from around 2007, its treaties have often required host states to take measures against corruption. This should help Japan’s outbound investors, but these obligations are generally weakly phrased. Secondly, Japan’s treaties have been less consistent in expressly limiting their protections to foreign investments made in accordance with host state laws (including against corruption). This may be due to treaty drafters from Japan and counterparty states being less aware of the significance of such express legality provisions, which will often lead tribunals to decline jurisdiction if corruption is established, thus leaving foreign investors without treaty protections. Such outcomes may also incentivise host states to ensure a bribe is taken, to use as a treaty defence if foreign investors ever launch treaty claims, whereas other outcomes for tribunals are possible if there is no express legality provision. Another possibility is that this drafting is deliberate, again to benefit Japanese outbound investors as claimants because the absence of a legality provision renders more difficult defences from host states, which typically have more corruption than in Japan.

Japan may adopt more and clearer legality provisions if it becomes subject to more inbound ISDS arbitration claims, and/or if claims by Japanese outbound investors are mostly against well-governed host states with little scope for corruption. Yet both types of claims remain few (Part V). The shift may therefore come more from other counterparty states pushing for such legality provisions and Japan agreeing in its future treaties to demonstrate its overall commitment to combatting corruption, and to preserve the legitimacy of the ISDS arbitration system (Part VI).


# Respectively: Professor, University of Sydney Law School; Assistant Professor, Institute of Asian Studies, Universiti Brunei Darussalam.

Consumer Protection Administration, Product Safety Regulation and Contracts in Japan: Contemporary Comparisons with Australia and Beyond

Written by: Souichirou Kozuka and Luke Nottage (c) 2023

[On 19 January 2023 I interviewed Gakushuin University Professor Souchirou Kozuka about consumer law and policy developments in Japan (here on Youtube). He has been appointed to the Consumer Safety Investigation Commission within Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency, and has co-authored papers with me on consumer credit regulation, Civil Code reform and corporate governance as well as sole-authoring several articles on consumer law in the Journal of Japanese Law, and serves as an ANJeL-in-Japan program convenor. We have summarised and expanded somewhat our conversation as below, aiming to develop a joint paper for a law journal (now in draft on SSRN).]

  1. Consumer Administration
    • Since 2009: Consumer Commission (independent members) supervising Consumer Affairs Agency (law reform plus enforcement)
      • Cf Productivity Commission (occasionally requested by federal Treasurer, eg 2008 Inquiry Report recommending harmonisation through ACL from 2010; 2017 Inquiry Report into consumer admin and enforcement, parallel to first five-yearly review into other ACL operations), but mostly Ministers (federal Assistant Treasurer with Treasury officials and state/territory consumer affairs ministers) deciding policy and law reform) ostensibly separated from law enforcement (federal ACCC, plus state/territory consumer affairs regulators) …[1] but latter sometime develop reform proposals for ministers and staff sometimes seconded eg from ACCC to Treasury
      CCA subsumed enforcement of Unjustified Premiums and Misreps Act from JFTC competition regulator, but not enforcement of Anti-Monopoly Law unfair trade practices “abuse of superior market provision”
      • Latter has some similarities with ACL prohibition on unconscionable conduct, former with misleading conduct (and other specific unfair trade practices) prohibitions, all enforced instead by combined ACCC (combining competition and consumer law enforcement from its established in 1970s as Trade Practices Commission – inspired by US law) and state/territory consumer regulatorsPerhaps because JFTC older (Allied Occupation), wouldn’t want to merge with newer, less-resourced CCA?
      CCA and other govt departments: Shares with METI jurisdiction over law reform for Designated Commercial Transactions Act (door-stop selling, distance selling etc: cooling off rights etc), and [see 2. Below] METI retains primary jurisdiction to set mandatory safety standards for types of (industrial) consumer products – like MHW does for foods and medical devices/services, and Transport Ministry does for cars etc
      • Cf Australian consumer affairs ministers/regulators have sole jurisdiction over such unfair trade practices, and minimum safety standards as well as bans/recalls for foods etc although have MoU with sectoral regulators and usually defer to them (but eg no power until recently to order recalls of cars – amended after Takata airbag recall problem[2])Shared or primary jurisdiction for other ministries because they are even older, more resourced (and losing jurisdiction means losing budget!)? Similar to problems with newer regulators in most (SE)Asian countries?[3]
      CCA and other stakeholders: CCA cannot seek injunctions eg to stop misrepresentations or use of unfair terms by suppliers under the Consumer Contracts Act 2000, or bring representative actions (under Brazil inspired two-stage law 2013, amended 2022), instead those via govt certified consumer NGOs (German approach, Singapore too through CASE until injunction power shifted to competition regulator now with consumer protection aspects so renamed SCCC from 2018)
      • Cf ACCC and state/territory regulators have full jurisdiction / powers for injunctions, opt-in representative actions (where individual consumers consent to regulator lawsuit) for damages – but rare, etc. But they (or consumer NGOs) don’t bring opt-out US-style class actions – instead individual/representative plaintiffs, and active law firms including (since 2006) third party litigation funders.
    CCA separate from consumer financial services regulators

Also in Australia, but eg ACCC and federal ASIC (no state laws/regulators for securites/corp law, consumer credit under shared national scheme) exchange some personnel, have some similar substantive laws (eg against unconscionable conduct and unfair terms) and if one gets greater powers/sanctions then the other usually soon asks for them too!

2. Product Safety Regulation

  • CPSA 1973 set limited pre-market controls (eg METI sets mandatory safety standards for manufactured products), but more expansive post-market controls (bans and – albeit like Australia rare – mandatory recalls) that can allow CCA to “encourage” line ministries to set mandatory safety standards.
    • ACCC and (temporarily) state/territory regulators can both ban and advise Minister to set mandatory safety performance or information/warning standards (hence covering more types of products than Japan? Although latter also encourages a voluntary product liability insurance scheme), including eg foods (konjac jelly stacks must not be smaller than 45mm in diameter, to reduce choking risks – no bans or standards set in Japan![4])Australia initiated a consultation on adding an EU-style General Safety Provision (as in EU, then Malaysia, HK, Macau and 2010 Canada, partially Singapore from 2011, and Thailand in 2019) but no progress; no discussion in Japan perhaps because CAA doesn’t even have yet powers to set mandatory safety standards for specific types of consumer goods?[5]
    CPSA amendment in 2006 (inspired by EU) requiring suppliers to report deaths or serious (hospitalised) injuries, as well as some risks (by Regulation: carbon monoxide emissions eg from gas fan heaters, and fires), to regulators; 2007 amendment also required notices to consumers to get some appliances (heaters) checked periodically
    • ACL introduced mandatory accident (but not risks) reporting in ACL 2010, but reports kept confidential to ACCC (and State/territory regulators)[6]
Consumer Safety Act 2009: channel accident reports (to local/central govt consumer centres, other depts, etc) to CAA, recalls etc if products found unsafe and not subject to other department laws (eg konjac jelly snacks!) but not to set mandatory safety standards (instead can eg urge other ministries to seek law changes to expand their jurisdiction and set standards). Also established Consumer Safety Investigation Commission under CAA, to (a) investigate causes of product-related injuries, (b) recommend actions (eg law reforms) but not liability (so like Japan Transport Safety Board)

Similarities of latter Commission with (ad hoc and semi-judicial) coronial inquiries in Australia (eg into Takata airbag deaths, op cit) or even (Royal) Commissions of Inquiry (under parliamentary supervision, so larger-scale problems)?

3. Consumer Contracts

Consumer Contracts Act 2000 inspired by EU: (a) pre-contract rules allowing broader termination rights than under the Civil Code (cf what became the 2005 EU Unfair Commercial Practices Directive – NB includes black list of worse practices), (b) regulations voiding unfair terms – some exclusion clauses, otherwise one-sided contrary to good faith principle (cf 1993 EU Unfair Terms Directive, but that has grey list of possibly unfair terms, unlike 2000 Act). Interestingly, several amendments re (a) specifying quite detailed types of transactions of concern (eg salespeople trying to use romantic infatuations or scaremongering about religion to secure contracts), but not re (b) where statute remains broad. Former maybe because higher profile and obvious or bigger problems (infecting entire contracts), making it easier for consumers / groups / CAA to mobilise, while (especially majority good) businesses prefer clarity.

  • Former NSW CJ Bathurst extra-judicially also noted that having some such guidance re (a) from legislators may also make it easier for courts to intervene to set aside contracts.[7]
    • But instead quite a push to add a new ACL prohibition on unfair practices generally (potentially wider than unconscionable or misleading conduct prohibitions)! Triggered partly by growth of e-commerce and use of “dark patterns” etc digitally[8]
Australian legislators (starting initially with Digital Services inquiries by PC etc) have enacted in 2022 comparatively unique powers of regulators to issue infringement notices and (larger) civil penalties if they think terms are unfair (and extended further 2016 amendment making terms unfair in many B2B transactions) and are consulting now about doing the same for mandatory performance standards in consumer contracts (also applicable to many B2B transactions, perhaps for political reasons), as relying on consumers enforcing ACL rights seems to have been insufficient.
  • Also likely to enact a super-complaints mechanism allowing certified consumer groups to get nominated regulators (eg ACCC, maybe also ASIC) to respond to evidence of serious / emerging consumer problems.[9]
    • Unlikely in Japan as consumer groups mostly smaller / less resources and regulators (even CAA) stronger even than in Australia in maintaining discretion, including over budget / resourcing?

ACCC latest report on digital platforms recommends they be required to have an external Ombudsman scheme free to consumers but with determinations only binding on the seller and platform[10] (like Banking and financial services or telecoms schemes, cf weaker scheme introduced more recently in Japan) which could also improve internal DR between users and the platforms

Unlikely in Japan but it has meanwhile new laws regulating some aspects of relationship between platforms and retailers, and requiring big platforms to take down products considered unsafe (inspired by laws on liability of platforms for defamation etc, and maybe new EU laws)


[1] https://consumer.gov.au/australian-consumer-law/consumer-policy-australia

[2] https://japaneselaw.sydney.edu.au/2022/05/the-interface-of-inquests-and-consumer-law-and-policy/

[3] Nottage, Luke R., ASEAN Consumer Product Safety Law: Fragmented Regulation and Emergent Product Liability Regimes in Southeast Asia (March 10, 2020). “ASEAN Consumer Law Harmonisation and Cooperation: Achievements and Challenges”, Cambridge University Press (2019), Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/13, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3551793

[4] Kawawa, Noriko, Jelly Mini-Cups Containing Konjac: Is a Warning Enough to Protect Vulnerable Consumers? (March 4, 2013). Australian Journal of Asian Law, 2013, Vol 13 No 2, Article 2: 135-152, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2228461

[5] Nottage, Luke R., Improving the Effectiveness of the Consumer Product Safety System: Australian Law Reform in Asia-Pacific Context (February 3, 2020). Journal of Consumer Policy (2020) 43:829-850, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/05, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3530671

[6] Nottage, Luke R., Suppliers’ Duties to Report Product-Related Accidents under the New ‘Australian Consumer Law’: A Comparative Critique (May 4, 2010). Commercial Law Quarterly, Vol. 25, No. 2, pp. 3-14, 2011, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 10/41, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1600502

[7] https://japaneselaw.sydney.edu.au/2019/11/guest-blog-launch-by-bathurst-cj-of-asian-law-books/

[8] See https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/serial-publications/digital-platform-services-inquiry-2020-2025/digital-platform-services-inquiry-september-2022-interim-report-regulatory-reform

[9] https://medium.com/@PhilipCullum/up-up-and-away-what-australia-can-learn-from-two-decades-of-uk-super-complaints-848e4469a748

[10] Ibid at https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/serial-publications/digital-platform-services-inquiry-2020-2025/digital-platform-services-inquiry-september-2022-interim-report-regulatory-reform

“Corporate Environmental Responsibility in Investor-State Dispute Settlement” by Tomoko Ishikawa

[This is my draft review – for the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law – of an excellent new book (Cambridge University Press, 2023, ISBN 978-1-316-51397-2) by one of Japan’s leading international investment law and dispute resolution scholars, Professor Tomoko Ishikawa of Nagoya University’s Graduate School of International Development. She was previously Associate Professor at Tsukuba University and Assistant Professor at Waseda University. Unusually for a Japanese academic, Prof Ishikawa also served as a judge of the Tokyo District Court (2002-5) and working on international law matters in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2010-12). She has been appointed to the Panel of Conciliators by the Chairman of ICSID over 2017-23. Her research intersects with my current book project with Nobumichi Teramura and Bruno Jetin on corruption and investor illegality in Asian investment arbitration.]

This thought-provoking, extensively researched and well-argued book combines two hot topics for international economic law experts as well as the general public: corporate environmental responsibility, comprising both hard law and voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). It is highly recommended for scholars, practitioners and policy-makers, including national delegates, observers and the Secretariat of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) engaged in ongoing multilateral reform deliberations on ISDS since 2019.

Chapter 1 outlines how ISDS arbitration reinforces substantive protections offered through international investment agreements (IIAs) to foreign investors typically going beyond customary international law, notably against discrimination, uncompensated indirect as well as direct expropriation, and violation of fair and equitable treatment (FET) including denial of justice in national courts and administrative procedures. Yet burgeoning IIAs and ISDS cases have highlighted how foreign investment can adversely impact the environment and often related human rights in host states. The book’s key concern is how the ISDS system, which seems “asymmetrical” in only allowing foreign investors to claim against host states, also does or can significantly allow counterclaims by host states to offer relief against environmental degradation.

Professor Tomoko Ishikawa’s well-structured book (pp17-21) devotes the first part of chapter 2 (pp 24-48) to the challenges of regulating and pursuing the responsibility of transnational corporations (TNCs) in domestic legal orders (including poor governance capacity and access to impartial justice), but also the persistent lack of effective general mechanisms internationally. Ishikawa examines the paucity of customary and treaty-based international law obligations and enforcement mechanisms, recent attempts to expand the international human rights obligations of corporations, and some “soft law” instruments to promote corporate social responsibility (including private initiatives involving CSR). The second part analyses 1000 randomly selected IIAs and Model IIAs (pp 49-55). There is a trend especially over 2010-19 to add express provisions reinforcing the host state’s general “right to regulate” (such as “no lowering of standards” or general exceptions clauses). Yet very few IIAs (39) set express investor obligations (plus six out of 56) Model IIAs), although somewhat more (54) refer to voluntary CSR in the preamble or especially main text (plus 11 Model IIAs), and both types of provisions have also emerged particularly over the last decade or so.

Chapters 3-5 delve into the procedural mechanism of counterclaims potentially under IIAs. Chapter 3 outlines the benefits compared to pursuing investor responsibility under domestic law (pp 60-65). These include problems with the rule of law (such as judicial corruption, mentioning some notable cases) and cross-border enforceability, which I would add are essentially the flipside of problems faced by foreign investors without (especially ISDS-backed) IIAs.

In addition, Ishikawa deals with a fascinating and little-discussed issue, pointing out that in some cases the actual victims of environmental harm may not benefit from the host state proceeding with a counterclaim. A primary conclusion is that ISDS arbitral tribunals should be able to rule it inadmissible based on due process concerns (as a general principle of international law) if allowing the counterclaim “would result in effective deprivation of remedy for the victims” (p84). One factor in this determination will be the host “state’s representation of the interests of its people” (p84), presumed if it has representative democracy but rebutted for example if the host state colluded with the investor in causing the damage. A second suggested factor is doubts about the distribution to victims of compensation potentially awarded. Nonetheless, Ishikawa rightly concludes that in proving such matters, the investor faces “a difficult task. After all, there is a strong presumption that the host state acts on some public purpose, and tribunals would be very reluctant to interfere with internal political affairs by second-guessing the issues of representation and fair distribution” (p85, footnotes omitted).

Chapter 4 first deals with jurisdiction or consent to counterclaims. Again, Ishikawa makes good use of her empirical dataset. She agrees with some other commentators that treaties’ (typical) “absence of reference to the host state’s right to file a counterclaim, which is already responsive to the principal claim, is a logical choice and does not necessarily indicate the parties’ intention to exclude counterclaims” (p97, footnote omitted). She argues this conclusion is buttressed because 706 IIAs out of the 1000 sample contain seemingly narrow locus standi provisions (only expressly mentioning the investor’s right to claim) but 263 go on to provide narrow definitions of investment disputes and claims (pp 98-99). Only the latter subset of treaties, Ishikawa contends, impede tribunals taking jurisdiction over counterclaims because such IIAs allow only for disputes and claims over host state obligations assumed under the treaty. She further argues that a narrow applicable law clause (not expressly referring to domestic law, but only international law: 140 IIAs and 12 Model IIAs) does not imply exclusion of domestic law in ISDS as tribunals “always possess the incidental jurisdiction to apply domestic law to questions that cannot be answered by international law” (p101).

Nonetheless, the second half of Chapter 4 investigates whether tribunals, despite taking jurisdiction under (most) treaties, should rule counterclaims as inadmissible (pp 104-115). Ishikawa argues that there need only be a factual not legal nexus between the principal claims and counterclaims. More complicated is whether a parent’s counterclaim for damage caused by its subsidiary should be inadmissible due to the principle of limited liability. Ishikawa concludes otherwise, noting for example that investment treaties often allow conversely for parent companies to bring claims on behalf of local companies they control or (more controversially nowadays) have shareholdings in. She further concludes that “the question of whether the parent company directly owes a duty of care or is shielded from liability in a particular case must be considered at the merits stage, in accordance with a careful interpretation and application of the relevant domestic law” (p115). This sub-topic, and perhaps the arguments about jurisdiction presented in this Chapter, nonetheless will likely generate some significant divergences among other commentators and tribunals.

Chapter 5 turns to assessing the merits to be considered by tribunals for counterclaims (pp. Ishikawa first elaborates quite compellingly the argument that tribunals generally can and should apply aspects of domestic law, including those imposing responsibility for environmental harm. Concerns about the legitimacy of international adjudicators applying such laws can be addressed by them adopting a “domestic jurisprudence” approach (like the Permanent Court of International Justice), considering a wide range of domestic law sources (pp 128-9) and more use of local legal experts (although very few sampled treaties provide expressly for tribunals to appoint ex curia experts, and only for factual issues: p 131).

The second half instead considers counterclaims based on international law (pp 135-56). An interesting but ambitious argument is that for some instruments imposing liability on TNCs but not expressly providing for remedies or others not yet implemented into national laws, host states might seek to fill that gap through tribunals applying domestic law (as for example in some US case law). Ishikawa also argues that violation of proliferating CSR commitments through treaties (as well as national laws, evolving corporate practices and representations) might generate civil tort claims under at least some domestic laws.

Having considered an investor’s environmental responsibility as a ground for the host state’s counterclaim, Chapter 6 discusses the effects of such responsibility in assessing the investor’s principal claims. Problems usually arise with environmental harm during the performance phase, and Ishikawa argues that misconduct at that stage will usually have only a limited impact on a tribunal’s jurisdiction and even admission of the claim (pp 159-66). However, when considering the merits, host state liability for lack of FET (especially “legitimate expectations”) can arguably be obviated by the investor’s performance-phase misconduct as part of the principle’s balancing exercise and (more controversially) the evolving notion of a corporation’s “social licence to operate” (pp 166-191). More commonly found in investment arbitration and other international law for a is the application of contributory fault to reduce relief awarded, although Ishikawa urges sufficient reasoned explanation over percentages applied by ISDS tribunals (pp 191-98).

Chapter 7 concludes with “implications for reform”. Although the book mainly argues that there is already most scope for counterclaims under many IIAs than most have appreciated, Ishikawa suggests that more explicit rights to counterclaims in treaties would be useful. Substantively, moreover, treaties should expressly provide obligations on investors to comply with host state laws, but if and when extra international standards are set they should be “clearly specified so as to constrain the interpretative discretion of tribunals” (pp 204-5) and provide secondary rules determining consequences for breach (rather than tribunals having to invoke domestic law).

By contrast, a reform option of requiring exhaustion of local remedies before ISDS claims is unclear concerning the extent this “would contribute to advancing the victims’ interests” given “the known cases suggesting corruption and a lack of political independence in the judiciary in the context of TNCs’ misconduct” (p206). Ishikawa also suggests that the most drastic reforms, allowing host states and affected third parties to initiate claims against TNCs (rather than responding with counterclaims) is better pursued outside the IIA regime (eg through the 2019 Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration). Otherwise, the regime including its legitimate interests for investors could unwind: “ISDS reform should strike a careful balance between the need to keep its value for the regime’s participants and the need to advance responsible investment” (p208).

The most detailed reform proposal, not really prefigured in the preceding chapters, involving promoting third party participation in investor-state mediation. This more consensus driven dispute resolution procedure has been promoted in recent years by various institutions and commentators due to growing concerns about ISDS arbitration, including its costs and delays.[1] Ishikawa interestingly highlights how some UNCITRAL reform discussions have mentioned that participation by affected third parties through mediation could allow more public interest to be represented, while some scholars support including “non-disputant” stakeholders in mediation (p213). Various suggestions are made to make this process work well for cases involving alleged environmental harms, including appointing co-mediators with relevant expertise, partially lifting confidentiality and reporting and establishing best practices through capacity building and other initiatives.

However, Ishikawa shares scepticism with some other commentators about reforming IIAs by mandating mediation before arbitration – including through a multilateral instrument retrofitting such a step to old treaties, along the lines of the UN’s 2019 Mauritius Convention on transparency (pp 214-5). She notes only a few treaties currently provide a mandatory mediation step, while acknowledging the 2019 Indonesia-Australia FTA (Art 14.23), 2019 Hong Kong – UAE BIT (Art 8), and the Investment Agreement for the COMESA Common Investment Area (Art 26(4) of the 2007 version).[2] Nonetheless, the general argument that mandating mediation goes against its consensual essence is challenged by developments in domestic legal systems (with courts often requiring some initial good faith mediation attempt) and cross-border resolution (with many contracts now committing to mediation before arbitration). Recent empirical research into investment dispute settlement patterns also challenges other concerns often expressed about mediation.[3] Ishikawa’s proposals for mediation, to involve third parties in resolving disputes involving environmental issues, could therefore be bolder on this point. Overall, this book is comprehensive, erudite and balanced, articulating many compelling insights for a variety of legal experts interested in counterclaims and other mechanisms to reassess ISDS and the IIA system. It richly deserves to inform ongoing debates on ISDS reform in UNCITRAL and other fora internationally and domestically, treaty negotiators, future academic research, and investment arbitration practice – even if some of Ishikawa’s more innovative arguments do not prevail among investment tribunals.


[1] See also eg Claxton, James and Nottage, Luke R. and Williams, Brett G. and Williams, Brett G., Mediating Japan-Korea Trade and Investment Tensions (December 3, 2019). in Nottage, Luke; Ali, Shahla; Jetin, Bruno; Teramura, Nobumichi (eds), “New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution”, Wolters Kluwer, (2021), https://ssrn.com/abstract=3497299 (with an earlier version in Journal of World Trade).

[2] The relevant provision in the latter treaty, as revised in 2017, is Art 34(4)). Ishikawa also refers to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (Art 9.18) but that does not mandate mediation (emphasis added): “(1) … the claimant and the respondent should initially seek to resolve the dispute through consultation and negotiation, which may include the use of non-binding, third party procedures, such as good offices, conciliation or mediation”. See further: 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, (2021) https://ssrn.com/abstract=3548358; and (with James Claxton) http://arbitrationblog.kluwerarbitration.com/2020/09/05/pioneering-mandatory-investor-state-conciliation-before-arbitration-in-asia-pacific-treaties-ia-cepa-and-hk-uae-bit/ (updated and elaborated in Volume XIII of the Indian Journal of International Economic Law (2022) via https://ijiel.in/volume-xiii).

[3] Ubilava, Ana, Amicable Settlements in Investor-State Disputes: Empirical Analysis of Patterns and Perceived Problems (March 13, 2019). Journal of World Investment and Trade, Vol. 21, 2020, pp. 528-557, https://ssrn.com/abstract=3352181; incorporated into her PhD thesis based book (2022) https://brill.com/display/title/63844?rskey=uPsqiO&result=6.

Collective Reflections from Team Australia: Second Again in INC Moot!

Guest blog by: Ben Hines, Irene Ma, Damian Young (USyd), Isabella Keith (ANU) and Orian Ibraheim (Monash), with James Fisher (coach, ANU)

Competing in the INC Negotiation and Arbitration Competition in Tokyo was a fantastic experience for us all, substantially developing a variety of our skills in alternative dispute resolution and opening our eyes to the possibilities that exist in Japan.

From the outset, the intense preparation began even before the problem question was released. As members of Team Australia supported by the cross-institutional Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL), we came together from a number of the country’s leading law schools to meet like-minded students and our fantastic coach, James. The intensity of our preparation was never a burden, and the fascinating subject matter and intellectually stimulating training developed our skillsets and collective ability to work effectively as a team unit. In addition to the competition itself, this process was invaluable to us all.

Interestingly, we discovered that INC is more than just a mooting competition: it is unique and a fantastic experience in so many ways. First, unlike other mooting competitions where you sign up for either arbitration or negotiation, INC is a competition that really tests all of your skills. Across the two rounds, both arbitration and negotiation, we were required to train for these two very different skillsets, gaining knowledge and insights that will undoubtedly benefit us all in the future. It is also not a one-off competition, and throughout our experiences with INC alumni we learned that by competing for Team Australia you really do join an extensive and amazing network comprised of teams from years past. Every alum we met was incredibly friendly and happy to give back. The team was lucky enough to visit the offices of several leading international law firms, where Team Australia alums offered their insight and experiences working in Japan and provided their office space for our preparation efforts.

In Japan, we were lucky enough to gain the unique cultural exposure that only venturing to the country itself could bring. James, a verified local after his decade in Tokyo, showed us the sides of Tokyo that might be missed by tourists alone. But our experience didn’t finish there.  Of course, the INC trip to Tokyo is very different from the usual trip of a tourist. Instead of going to Disneyland (despite our year’s question centring around a theme park) or Mount Fuji, we visited different law firm offices, including Herbert Smith Freehills and Linklaters, and the classrooms at Sophia University where we spent our time in intense preparation for the competition.

The competition itself lasted across two days and was conducted in an order that was carefully considered by the competition organisers – arbitration on the first day, and negotiation on the second day. According to the steering committee, this is because they wished to encourage a collaborative and intercollegiate approach to future disputes, and by practicing both forms of resolution the legal minds of the future will be well-equipped. Both rounds ran for approximately 4 hours, though the arbitration round ran even longer given that the process was entirely controlled by the Tribunal. This was a huge test of physical and mental endurance, and if you decide to compete in the future, we will strongly suggest you bring some food so you can recharge during the break!

We were lucky enough to compete against Chuo University and Sophia University across our two hard-fought yet collegial rounds. The quality of the competition was exceptionally high, which put our skills to the test in order to achieve the best results we could. Thankfully, given our extensive preparation efforts, we were able to face any challenge thrown at us. After our round, both opposing teams were incredibly kind, and we made new friends that we are excited to stay in contact with!

Sitting in the final closing ceremony, we were happy to learn our hard work had paid off, and not only had we won the Best English Negotiation and second in English Arbitration by a mere one point but had come second overall in the competition (by a similarly minor margin)!

We will never forget the experience, and we encourage anybody interested to apply – you certainly won’t regret it.

Postscript by James Fisher (Lecturer @ ANU, ANJeL co-convenor for teaching and learning):

As the team’s coach, it was a pleasure and privilege to witness their skills develop and watch their stunning performances at the competition in Tokyo. They definitely demonstrated the high quality of the emerging jurists at Australia’s top law schools. Their personal success, the growing and supportive alumni community they have joined, and the lessons they will apply to their future studies and careers prove the enduring value of the collaborative inter-varsity project that is INC Team Australia, supported by the Australian Network for Japanese Law. I hope Ben, Irene, Damian (USyd), Isabella (ANU) and Orian (Monash) are as proud of themselves as we are of them!

Australia’s (Dis)Engagement with Investor-State Arbitration: A Sequel

A seminar held on 10 November 2022 during the Australian Arbitration Week, organised by the UNCITRAL National Coordination Committee for Australia (UNCCA) and hosted by Allens in Melbourne, discussed “Australia’s engagement in the ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] reform process”. My presentation divided successive governments’ approach into three significant eras over the last decade or so: anti-ISDS (2011-13), case-by-case ISDS (2014-21), and uncertainty (2022-).

Some of the uncertainty in this current third era has dissipated since the seminar. On 14 November Australia’s current Trade Minister Dan Farrell declared that the new Labor Government “will not include ISDS in any new trade agreements” and would attempt to reduce their impact in existing agreements. On the latter point, he stated that “when opportunities arise, we will actively engage in processes to reform existing ISDS mechanisms to enhance transparency, consistency and ensure adequate scope to allow the Government to regulate in the public interest”. The announcement has already generated concern from commentators from the Business Council of Australia and legal practice, including Dr Sam Luttrell (who also presented at the UNCCA seminar). Below I locate the Trade Minister’s announcement in context and sketch some implications, drawing partly on my 2021 book of selected essays on investor-state and commercial arbitration, focusing on Australia and Japan in regional and global contexts. 

Before this sequel, in the first era beginning in 2011, the centre-left (Labor/Greens) Gillard Government had declared that Australia would no longer agree to any form of ISDS in future bilateral investment treaties (BITs) or FTA investment chapters. That stance derived partly from the Productivity Commission’s recommendation (by majority) in its 2010 report into international trade policy more generally, which favoured more unilateral liberalisation measures and was skeptical about proliferating FTAs from a more laissez faire perspective. On ISDS provisions, the draft and then final reports asserted that there was no good evidence that offering them led to more FDI flows, Australian investors did not invoke investor-state arbitration, and ISDS could lead to “regulatory chill”. Additionally, the Gillard Government anti-ISDS policy from 2011 was driven by concerns from the political left about investment and trade liberalisation generally. It was probably also influenced by Philip Morris Asia initiating the first-ever ISDS dispute against Australia around this time, challenging Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation under the (then) BIT with Hong Kong. The anti-ISDS policy delayed conclusion of major FTAs with China, Korea and Japan, large exporters of capital to Australia which pressed for such provisions.

However, after the centre-right Coalition government won the election in late 2013, it reverted to the pre-2011 approach of agreeing to ISDS provisions on a case-by-case assessment. FTAs were soon concluded with China and Korea, including ISDS. The FTA concluded with Japan did omit ISDS, but probably because it did not offer Australia sufficient extra export market access or other benefits, at a time when the Coalition Government had difficulties passing legislation through the upper house of Parliament. Japan’s longer positive experience of investing in Australia also meant it could play the long game and seek ISDS-backed protections through other treaties, which it eventually achieved in fact through both countries ratifying the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership mega-regional FTA (CPTPP, in force for both states from 2019). The Labor Opposition voted with the Government to pass tariff-reduction legislation needed to ratify these ISDS-backed treaties, unlike the Greens, declaring the Labor Party’s continued opposition to ISDS but assessing the FTAs as overall in the national interest.

Additionally over this second era, the Coalition Government omitted ISDS in the PACER-Plus FTA with Pacific Island micro-states, given their limited inbound investment prospects and capacity as host states to defend ISDS claims; and in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) ASEAN+5 FTA, probably because almost all pairs of its 15 member states have at least one ISDS-backed treaty among themselves anyway. The Coalition Government also renegotiated a few early FTAs and BITs (eg with Singapore, Uruguay and Hong Kong), replacing them with CPTPP-like provisions to clarify provisions or make them somewhat more pro-host-state in light of emerging investment treaty case law. It also solicited public submissions to inform a review of older treaties, although the Government did not then publish a report (let alone any Model BIT) formalising its evolving negotiating preferences. Australia further ratified the Mauritius Convention in 2020 to help retrofit transparency provisions on older treaties, although this will bite primarily only if other states also ratify the Convention and so far few have done so.

Australia’s renewed nuanced approach towards ISDS over 2014-21 may have been influenced by some (but not very strong) evidence, in Asia and more widely, that ISDS provisions do in fact have significant positive impacts on FDI flows. Also, ratifying investment treaties globally certainly impacted FDI, meaning that a minority of states increasingly holding out against all ISDS would have instead reduced ratifications and therefore FDI flows. Other empirical research, highlighted by Dr Sam Luttrell at the recent UNCCA seminar, adds that ISDS-backed treaties reduce the cost of syndicated loan finance for cross-border investors.

Luttrell’s presentation further reinforced how Australian investors (particularly in long-term resources projects) not only take into account ISDS protections but also started commencing outbound investor-state arbitrations under Australian treaties (or contracts) alleging host states have violated their substantive commitments. This is especially so since the successful White Industries v India award in 2010, which the Productivity Commission seems to have been been unaware of. Concerns about “regulatory chill” also seem to have declined as Australia defeated Philip Morris Asia on jurisdiction in 2015 (and Uruguay later defeated the parent company on the merits regarding its own tobacco packaging measures), and as no further inbound ISDS arbitrations were commenced against Australia. Nonetheless, perhaps because ISDS remained a live issue in parliamentary treaty ratification hearings and successive Coalition Governments did not control the upper House, Australia does not seem to have been particularly vocal in multilateral ISDS reform discussions in UNCITRAL or ICSID, although it has participated.

After Labor won the general election in May 2022, the new Government had not publically declared its policy approach towards ISDS, until the Trade Minister’s announcement on 14 November. At the UNCCA seminar the week before, I noted that the foreign ministry’s website still stated that Australia assesses ISDS on a case-by-case assessment. However, setting policy going into the election, the Labor Party’s 2021 National Platform had reiterated that “Labor will not enter into agreements that include ISDS provisions” (p9 para 45). In addition, it stated (p94, paras 33-34):


“Labor in government will review ISDS provisions in existing trade and investment agreements and seek to work with Australia’s trading partners to remove these provisions. While this process is underway, Labor will work with the international community to reform ISDS tribunals so they remove perceived conflicts of interest by temporary appointed judges, adhere to precedents and include appeal mechanisms.

Labor will set up a full time negotiating team within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade whose sole job will be to negotiate the removal of ISDS clauses …”

Until 14 November 2022, there had been no public announcement about any such initiatives.

* * *

Accordingly, at the UNCCA seminar, I pointed out that Australia’s major ongoing FTA negotiations involving investment were with India (with a provisional agreement reached only on trade related matters) and the European Union. India unilaterally terminated its BIT with Australia in 2017, as part of its broader policy of winding back protections for foreign investors since the White Industries award and successive claims against India under other older treaties. Although India’s new Model BIT from 2016 retains ISDS, it provides a narrow window and its substantive protections are heavily circumscribed, and India has been able to only conclude a few new investment treaties from this negotiating position. Even maintaining the second era’s case-by-case assessment policy, I therefore considered it quite possible that Australia and India could end up agreeing on a parallel investment treaty that leaves only inter-state arbitration, especially if India offered significant preferential market access to Australian investors.

Omitting ISDS is now the only possibility, under the newly announced Labor Government stance, but India now may not offer as much market access or other benefits to Australia. A better compromise, given problems encountered by foreign investors in India as well as JNU Prof Jaivir Singh’s empirical evidence that ISDS-backed treaties cumulatively have had positive impact on FDI inflows for India, could have been a CPTPP-like investment treaty with some further innovations. Those might include a mandatory mediation step before arbitration, as Australia agreed upon (unusually) with Indonesia in 2019 but not with Hong Kong.

Australia is also still negotiating an FTA with the EU. Since 2015, as a partly political compromise internally, the EU offers only an “investment court” alternative to traditional ISDS, on a take it or leave it basis. Singapore took this option, for example, but Japan did not (preferring to stick with pre-existing BIT with EU member states with traditional ISDS, and watching longer term multilateral reform discussions). Australia should probably take the investment court option, to secure an overall better FTA deal, as I have argued (with Prof Amokura Kawharu) also for New Zealand after it too from 2018 mimicked Australia’s first anti-ISDS policy. Arguably, this option is not “ISDS” so it would not conflict with the Labor Party’s 2021 platform and now the 14 November 2022 Labor Government’s anti-ISDS position. Although the EU’s investment court model allows foreign investors the right to directly commence arbitration, they cannot nominate arbitrators; they instead are pre-selected only by the home and host states, and then randomly assigned to hear the claim (and any appeal). If Australia adopts this interpretation of its stance eschewing ISDS, to conclude a deal with the EU, this would also signal to other regional players and UNCITRAL delegates that there is scope to be flexible in investment treaty negotiations.

However, one wild card for Australia has been that a right-wing politician and mining magnate (Clive Palmer) escalated complaints in 2020 by formally seeking consultations with the federal Government and then notifying a dispute through his Singaporean company (Zeph), after unsuccessful constitutional and other domestic law challenges. They allege expropriation and breach of fair and equitable treaty (denial of justice) related to Western Australian state legislation impacting on iron ore rights and related past domestic arbitration awards. Given his high public profile, and rights originally held by his Australian company being transferred to Zeph in Singapore, if and when an ISDS arbitration is commenced (potentially from early 2023) under one of Singapore’s multiple treaties with Australia, this risks another Philip Morris Asia moment. An arbitration filing would certainly rekindle media and political interest in ISDS, which peaked in Australia over 2010-16.

In addition, concerns were reportedly being raised last week about potential ISDS claims brought by Asian and other investors and in Australian gas resources under the Labor Government’s plans to deal with the global energy crisis. Announcing now a renewed anti-ISDS policy may help pre-empt public criticisms in this respect as well. However, any such claims would be preserved under existing treaties, while substantive commitments made under Australia’s treaties (especially FTAs) anyway give the host state considerable scope to introduce emergency measures.

Whatever the impact of these potential claims on its policy-makers, Australia’s renewed anti-ISDS posture will make it even more difficult for RCEP to add ISDS protections, unless the Labor Government backtracks or loses the next elections in 2025. ISDS must be discussed again among member states within 2 years of RCEP coming into force, with a decision then on whether and how to add ISDS to be reached within another 3 years (Art 10.18). Any implications for Australia’s recently concluded review of its FTA with New Zealand and Australia have yet to be spelled out. In addition, the new Labor Government policy will probably have further ripple-on effects particularly across the Asia-Pacific region. It could also potentially impact on wider multilateral discussions about ISDS in UNCITRAL, and even on the “modernisation” of or withdrawal from the ISDS-backed Energy Charter Treaty (which Australia signed in 1994 but never ratified), especially if the Australian government can articulate more specifically the arguments and evidence for adopting this renewed anti-ISDS position.

“Crisis as an Opportunity for Development of Japanese Law”

Following on the inaugural ANJeL-in-Europe symposium organised by Prof Giorgio Colombo for UPavia in late 2019, Dr Wered Ben-Sade and other attendees or associates are participating online in this law-related session on the first day of the Sixth Bi-Annual International Conference of the Israeli Association for Japanese Studies (15-17 November 2022).

Chair: Wered Ben-Sade Bar-Ilan University, Israel

CRISIS AS AN OPPORTUNITY FOR DEVELOPMENT OF JAPANESE LAW
Chair: Wered Ben-Sade
Crises create new opportunities for development, particularly when traditional perceptions and customs (or habits) are questioned and reexamined. Similarly as “Necessity is the mother of invention” (Plato), crises push us out of our comfort zone while simultaneously lowering the risks of change, thus motivating us to operate differently in order to solve them or improve our response. This is true both at the micro, personal level, and at the macro level of society. Understanding this mechanism at the macro level can facilitate us when we encounter a personal crisis and inspire us to search for the opportunity that is encapsulated within.
Five presentations will examine how crises serve as an opportunity for the development of Japanese law, both in the past (from the second half of the 19th century) and now. Some of the most debated challenges that Japan and the world are currently facing, such as inclusiveness of women, legal education, Covid19 impact and sustainability (in the context of corporate governance), will be discussed.

Béatrice Jaluzot Lyon Institute for Political Sciences & Lyon Institute for East Asian Studies
Crisis as an opportunity for development from a historical perspective: The choice of a positivist legal system following the signature of the Unequal Treaties
In the second half of the 19th century, Japan experienced the collapse of a thousand-year-old culture based on the Chinese model and the emergence of a society inspired by Western models. The disappearance of the old regime, caused by the imperialist movements of the time, gave way to a country that was profoundly renewed in all its fundamental structures. Among them, the country’s legal system was one of the essential novelties and one of the main achievements of the new leaders. They were thus able to set up institutions that are still largely those of today. The aim is to present how this legal system is the result of this brutal overthrow of the regime, but also to understand how the accelerated transition from which it emerged took place. This rupture gave rise to the powerful and efficient structures we know today.

Makoto Messersmith University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
Insights on the possibility of inclusiveness of women in law studies of Japan
When we look at the status quo and history of female law professors in the U.S. and Japan, it shows that unlike the U.S., Japan has not experienced great improvement regarding inclusiveness of women into law studies, yet. Although it seems that Japan has made some efforts to encourage more women to enter the field of law, women in law studies are still facing unique challenges. For instance, in many universities, female law professors are still less than 20%. In my talk, I will explore their challenges and discuss how we can encourage more women to be included in law studies.

Luke Nottage University of Sydney, Australia and Ken’ichi Yoneda, Kagoshima University, Japan
Introducing ICT into Japanese Legal Education:
The Postgraduate Law School Movement and Covid-19 as Cornerstones
This report explains the evolution of online legal education in Japan, particularly in its universities. Three phases can be discerned: before and after the introduction from 2004 of a new postgraduate Law School system to improve and expand core legal professionals, as part of a wider justice system reform program, and a more dramatic expansion prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic since 2020. The Law School reforms had trickled down somewhat to undergraduate legal education, building on and linking to wider nationwide and university-sector initiatives in Information and Communications Technology. This fortunately positioned Japanese legal education quite well for pandemic-related challenges, although the transitions have not been easy.


Ying Hsin Tsai College of Law, National Taiwan University
The Development of Shareholder Activism following the COVID-19 Pandemic
The development of shareholder activism in Japan, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, creates new opportunities. The Japanese company law designs assorted ways by which shareholders can participate in shareholders’ meeting, even if they cannot attend in person (e.g. proxy, written voting and electronic voting). Due to the pandemic, the shareholders’ meeting could not be held in-person, and instead these other ways were gradually put to use. In this presentation I will discuss the practical merits and legal drawbacks surrounding these ways. The overall picture that emerges is that while providing a variety of ways for shareholders to participate in the shareholders’ meeting itself can certainly enhance the practice of shareholder activism, how to design these ways in a manner which overcomes the legal issues remains a challenge.


Kozuka Soichiro Faculty of Law, Gakushuin University, Japan
Introducing Sustainability into the Japanese Corporate Governance
Japan’s corporate governance practice is making rapid developments towards engaging with sustainability. Japan has already the largest number of companies in the world, which have announced support for the TCFD (Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures) framework. The development towards sustainability will probably continue, induced by the external global crisis of the need for sustainability, and by the internal pressure of the institutional investors. In this presentation I will evaluate the current and expected developments. The Japanese nuances in both regulation and practice of corporate governance will also be discussed.

Guest Blog: ‘Exporting Japanese Legal Ideas to the Mekong Subregion of ASEAN’

Written by: Asst Prof Nobumichi Teramura (for MPI Hamburg Festchrift conference, 1-2 September 2022) [for the full paper, not just Part I below, you may try checking his webpages or contacting him]

[Abstract] Japan has long been a successful importer of western legal systems. The country has also exported its law to the rest of Asia for many years. Japan’s national ODA agency – the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) – has been offering legal technical assistance projects since the 1990s. These initiatives have impacted the development of legal systems in Central and Southeast Asian countries. In particular, the outcome of the projects in the countries along the Mekong River is allegedly outstanding in terms of their comprehensive influence on the private laws of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The projects have arguably helped these host countries establish and reform a significant number of private law frameworks. Nevertheless, the extensive work by Japanese legal experts has been struggling with a low profile and a lack of international recognition, most likely due to a lag in anglophone scholarship that delivers a sufficiently detailed examination of the current private laws of those host countries and their operation in practice. This paper intends to address the gap by providing a critical (albeit preliminary and succinct) evaluation of how Japan’s legal technical assistance has led Japanese legal ideas to form part of the legal pluralism in the Mekong Subregion of ASEAN. It also encourages Japanese and local law experts to undertake further actions to re-assess the influence of Japanese law in these countries.

Part I. Introduction: Exporting Japanese Law to the Rest of Asia

Japan has long been perceived as a successful example of legal transplantation based on western models such as the legal systems of Germany, France and the US.[1] However, Japanese law has rarely treated as a source of legal ideas that are applicable outside Japan.[2] When it comes to Japan as a source of legal influence, commentators tend to focus on the country’s role in disseminating a modern German-style legal system to its neighbouring countries, but not on how Japanese law itself has influenced legal thinking in those countries.[3] Moreover, little attention is paid to how these countries are inspired by specific aspects of Japan’s success in importing western legal concepts because commentators are inclined to attribute the success to the specific institutions, culture and environment of Japan, perceiving Japan’s experience as inapplicable to other countries.[4] Those commentators writing in English appear to confine Japanese law and its legal institutions to Japan’s domestic domain.

However, Japanese law has extended its reach to Southeast Asia, as pointed out by several scholars in the last few decades. For instance, Tamura refers to Dr Tokichi Masao’s significant contribution to the codification of modern civil laws in Thailand during his tenure as the General Legal Adviser to the Kingdom of Siam in the early 20th century.[5] Tamura also reminds us that Thai commissioners adopted the (old) Japanese Civil Code as the foundation for their reception of the German Civil Code into the 1925 Revised Civil and Commercial Code of the Kingdom of Siam.[6] Moreover, Taylor highlights the importance of reviewing Japan’s legal technical assistance since the 1990s in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and beyond, suggesting that it reveals ‘ongoing tension between a western/globalized vision of rule-of-law assistance and the political imperatives at the national/local level’.[7] Along with Taylor’s thesis, this paper advocates for the need to examine the impact of Japanese positive law through the technical assistance in a recent hotspot for the global economy and comparative legal studies – the Mekong Subregion of ASEAN.[8]

These days, countries along the Mekong River, such as Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, have been gaining new economic prominence and increased global attention because of geopolitical tensions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic and the US-China trade war.[9] Many multinationals have been relocating their factories from China to those countries in the Mekong Subregion for cost reduction and risk aversion,[10] being attracted to the competitive labour costs, liberal economic policies, trade openness, social stability and growth potential of those countries.[11] Those foreign investors and experts working on the field of international business are so interested in the legal environments of the host states that much has been written about the legal and judicial systems of the countries along the Mekong River.[12]

Japan’s national ODA agency, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA),[13] has since the 1990s been committing to the modernisation of law in the Mekong Subregion (and other countries) through its legal technical assistance projects.[14] Especially, Japanese legal advice provided through the assistance projects have heavily influenced the private laws of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, according to Japanese commentators[15] and mainstream media.[16] Nevertheless, we can rarely find corresponding observations or relevant discussions in anglophone scholarships or official documents issued by the governments of English speaking countries.[17] Thus, this paper critically and succinctly evaluates how Japanese legal ideas have shaped part of the legal pluralism in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, calling for further research to assess the influence of Japanese private law in these jurisdictions. It also discusses whether and how such research may help Japanese legal studies and local legal practice overcome challenges they have faced.


* Assistant Professor of ASEAN and Asia-Wide Integration, Universiti Brunei Darussalam; Affiliate, Centre for Asian and Pacific Law in the University of Sydney (CAPLUS); ANJeL-in-ASEAN Convenor, Australian Network for Japanese Law. The author acknowledges […]. Note that this paper is based on the following articles written by this author: Nobumichi Teramura, ‘Japan as a Source of Legal Ideas: A View from the Mekong Subregion of ASEAN’ (2021) 13 New Voices in Japanese Studies 19; and Nobumichi Teramura, ‘JICA and Regional Soft Power: Japan’s Legal and Judicial Development Project in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos since 1996’ (2022) IAS Working Paper Series <https://ias.ubd.edu.bn/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/working_paper_series_69.pdf> .

[1] Michele Graziadei, ‘Comparative Law, Transplants, and Receptions’ in Mathias Reimann and Reinhard Zimmermann (eds), Comparative Law, Transplants, and Receptions (Oxford University Press 2019) 449; Mathias Siems, ‘The Power of Comparative Law: What Types of Units Can Comparative Law Compare’ (2019) 67 American Journal of Comparative Law 861, 865.

[2] Veronica Taylor, ‘Spectres of Comparison: Japanese Law through Multiple Lenses’ (2001) 6 Journal of Japanese Law 11.

[3] Chen Lei, ‘Contextualising Legal Transplant: China and Hong Kong’ in Pier Giuseppe Monateri (ed), Methods of Comparative Law (Edward Elgar Publishing 2012); Uwe Kischel, Comparative Law (Oxford University Press 2019) 55, 689, 699, 728–35; Graziadei, ‘Comparative Law, Transplants, and Receptions’ 450.

[4] Stephen Givens, ‘The Vagaries of Vagueness: An Essay on “Cultural” vs. “Institutional” Approaches to Japanese Law’ (2013) 22 Michigan State International Law Review 839; Giorgio Fabio Colombo, ‘Japan as a Victim of Comparative Law’ (2014) 22 Michigan State International Law Review 731.

[5] Shiori Tamura, ‘The Role of the Japanese Civil Code in the Codification in the Kingdom of Siam’ in Yuka Kaneko (ed), Civil Law Reforms in Post-Colonial Asia: Beyond Western Capitalism (Springer 2019) 54-55.

[6] Ibid 57ff.

[7] Veronica L Taylor, ‘Rule-of-law Assistance Discourse and Practice: Japanese Inflections’ in Amanda Perry Kessaris (ed), Law in the Pursuit of Development Principles into Practice? (Routledge-Cavendish 2009) 164.

[8] The Mekong Subregion consists of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand: Shawn Ho and Kaewkamol Pitakdumrongkit, ‘Can ASEAN Play a Greater Role in the Mekong Subregion?’, (The Diplomat, 20 January 2019) <https://thediplomat.com/2019/01/can-asean-play-a-greater-role-in-the-mekong-subregion/>.

[9] Nobumichi Teramura, Shahla F Ali and Anselmo Reyes, ‘Expanding Asia-Pacific Frontiers for International Dispute Resolution: Conclusions and Recommendations’ in Luke Nottage and others (eds), New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution (Wolters Kluwer 2021) 356.

[10] John Boudreau and Nguyen Dieu Tu Uyen, ‘Rural Vietnam Booms With Jobs From Apple-Led Move in Supply Chains’, (Bloomberg, 26 October 2020) <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/newsletters/2020-10-26/supply-chains-latest-apple-shift-means-boom-in-rural-vietnam>; John Reed, ‘Vietnam Prepares for Supply Chain Shift from China’, (Financial Times, 28 December 2020) <https://www.ft.com/content/e855b706-e431-4fc5-9b0a-05d93ba1bcbe>

[11] See, eg, Swiss Re Institute, ‘De-risking Global Supply Chains: Rebalancing to Strengthen Resilience’ (2020) <https://www.swissre.com/institute/research/sigma-research/sigma-2020-06.html> ; OECD, ‘Trends in Foreign Investment and Trade in Lao PDR’ in OECD (ed), OECD Investment Policy Reviews: Lao PDR (OECD Publishing 2017).

[12] See generally The MLS Academic Research Service, ‘Southeast Asian Region Countries’ Law’ (Melbourne Law School, 2022)  <https://unimelb.libguides.com/asianlaw> accessed 29 June 2022.

[13] JICA is an independent administrative institution under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan.

[14] Luke Nottage, ‘The Development of Comparative Law in Japan’ in Mathias Reimann and Reinhard Zimmermann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2019) 204-207; Zentaro Kitagawa, ‘Development of Comparative Law in East Asia’ in Mathias Reimann and Reinhard Zimmermann (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Law (Oxford University Press 2006) 254-256; MOJ, ‘Legal Technical Assistance Activities by the International Cooperation Department ~Contributing to the World Is Japan’s Strength!~’ (n.d.)  <https://www.moj.go.jp/EN/housouken/houso_lta_lta.html> accessed 29 June 2022.

[15] Yuka Kaneko, ‘Japan’s Civil Code Drafting Support for Socialist Reform Countries: Diversity of Normative Choice’ in Yuka Kaneko (ed), Civil Law Reforms in Post-Colonial Asia: Beyond Western Capitalism (Springer 2019) 155.

[16] Shuichiro Sese, ‘Japan’s Judicial Diplomacy at Crossroads as Laos Enacts Civil Code’, (Nikkei Asia, 21 May 2020) <https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/International-relations/Japan-s-judicial-diplomacy-at-crossroads-as-Laos-enacts-civil-code> (noting that ‘Laos became the third country in Southeast Asia, after Vietnam and Cambodia, to introduce a civil code with Japanese support’).

[17] See Section 4 below.