by: Luke Nottage and Leon Trakman

[A shorter version of this also appears today under a different title on The Conversation blog.]

Alongside this week’s APEC leaders’ summit in Manila, US President Obama met with counterparts and trade ministers from 11 other Asia-Pacific states that agreed in October to the expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement. These states, covering around 40 percent of world GDP, cannot sign it before 3 February, when the US Congress finishes its 90-day review. But Obama and others in Manila reiterated the importance of the TPP for regional and indeed global economic integration.


The preceding analysis highlights another important feature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement: its inclusion of an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, especially arbitration (generating a decision binding on both disputing parties, unlike mediation – which they may also attempt under Art 9.17.1 but do not need to try first). This alternative to inter-state arbitration (found in Chapter 28, as in almost all investment treaties) emerged as a common extra option for foreign investors to enforce their substantive rights if their home states did not wish to pursue a treaty claim on their behalf, for diplomatic, cost or other reasons. This mechanism has been seen as particularly important for credible commitments by developing or other countries with national legal systems perceived as not meeting international standards for protecting investors.


On 5 October the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA was substantially agreed among 12 Asia-Pacific countries (including Japan, the US and Australia), and the lengthy text was released publically on 5 November 2015. Commentators are now speculating on its prospects for ratification, as well as pressure already for countries like China and Korea to join and/or accelerate negotiations for their Regional Comprehensive Partnership (ASEAN+6) FTA in the region. There has also been considerable (and typically quite polarised) media commentary on the TPP’s investment chapter, especially investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The Sydney Morning Herald, for example, highlights a remark by my colleague and intellectual property (IP) rights expert, A/Prof Kimberlee Weatherall, that Australia “could get sued for billions for some change to mining law or fracking law or God knows what else”. Other preliminary responses have been more measured, including some by myself (in The Australian on 6 November) or Professor Tania Voon within Australia, and other general commentary from abroad.

Based partly on an ongoing ARC joint research project on international investment dispute management, with a particular focus on Australia and the Asia-Pacific, I briefly introduce the scope of ISDS-backed protections for foreign investors in the TPP, compared especially to the recently-agreed bilateral FTAs with Korea and China. Overall, the risks of claims appear similar to those under Australia’s FTAs (and significantly less than some of its earlier generation of standalone investment treaties). However, some specific novelties and omissions are highlighted below, and issues remain that need to be debated more broadly such as the interaction between the investment and IP chapters (as indeed raised by both A/Prof Weatherall and myself in last year’s Senate inquiry into the “Anti-ISDS Bill”). The wording of the TPP’s investment chapter derives primarily from US investment treaty and FTA practice, which has influenced many other Asia-Pacific countries (including Australia) in their own international negotiations. Yet the European Union is now actively considering some further innovations to recalibrate ISDS-based investment commitments.


[This is the title of a well-known Australian journalist's recently published book, which provides a useful platform for comparing the law and politics of foreign investment regulation in other Asia-Pacific countries. The following is an un-footnoted version of the first part of my paper for a special issue of the NZBLQ, following the lively "FDI Roundtable" hosted in June 2015 by Amokura Kawharu at the University of Auckland.]

1. Introduction

According to the FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) Regulatory Restrictiveness Index compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Australia scored 0.13 overall in 2014 compared to an average of 0.10 across 55 countries (including all OECD and G20 countries) and the OECD average of 0.07. In terms of significant world economies, this places Australia in a group with somewhat above-average restrictiveness towards FDI, including also Korea (0.14), Canada (0.17) and Russia (0.18). Another group is even more restrictive, including China (0.42), Indonesia (0.34), India (0.26) and – intriguingly – New Zealand (0.24). At the other extreme are major economies with more permissive regulatory regimes: the Netherlands (0.01), Japan (0.05), the United Kingdom (0.06) and the United States (0.09).

The FDI Index is based on:
• foreign equity limitations;
• screening or approval mechanisms;
• restrictions on the employment of foreigners as key personnel; and
• operational restrictions (eg on capital repatriation or land ownership);
and the OECD acknowledges that: “is not a full measure of a country’s investment climate. A range of other factors come into play, including how FDI rules are implemented. Entry barriers can also arise for other reasons, including state ownership in key sectors”. Indeed, a detailed academic study shows that the screening mechanisms are conceptually similar in China and Australia, but now applied in a much more liberal manner in Australia.

Index data since 1997 shows how restrictiveness has gradually diminished, as in other OECD countries. But it is revealing to outline (in Part 2. below) the longer-term historical evolution of Australia’s regulatory controls and broader public debates over FDI. This analysis usefully sets the scene for a close analysis of a topical issue nowadays: treaty-based investor-state arbitration (Part 3 [omitted below, but discussed generally elsewhere on this Blog]). Some parallels and contrasts can then be drawn with New Zealand, its close trade and investment partner (Part 4 [omitted - but further elaborated here, also comparing Korea]).


[A version of this posting appears on the East Asia Forum blog.]

Those opposed nowadays to greater economic integration through the WTO or free trade agreements typically assume that this will undermine consumer protection, especially due to more unsafe goods coming into local markets. But as David Vogel documented in the mid-1990s for the US, we often find “trading up” to higher safety standards. Partly this is because exporters may need to improve safety features to comply with requirements set by public or private law in the destination country. It is then often inefficient to remove such features for products also sold into local markets, where requirements may initially be lower, or if features are removed consumers and regulators in local markets will more readily press for local safety standards to be raised.

FTAs and other international agreements can also facilitate enactment of better consumer product safety laws. The EU was an early example. In 1979, the Treaty of Rome was interpreted to require “mutual recognition”: goods produced to safety standards required in one EU country would be deemed to satisfy standards in an importing country. But to avoid a “regulatory race to the bottom”, the EU also developed a new and more effective approach to setting joint minimum safety standards.

Intriguingly, Southeast Asia is experiencing similar developments. ...


[The following is a longer and un-footnoted draft of a sixth Policy Digest prepared for a Sydney Southeast Asia Centre joint research project and an ASEAN Secretariat project on harmonising consumer protection law.]

1. Introduction

Recalling or withdrawing consumer products from the marketplace or taking other “corrective action” regarding actually or potentially unsafe or sub-standard products are important parts of consumer law and practice. Manufacturers and other suppliers can be incentivized to monitor the ongoing safety of their products after delivery into the supply chain for consumers, and then undertake corrective action to minimize harm, by private law mechanisms (such as tort claims for negligence brought by consumers) or reputational considerations (loss of customer goodwill etc). However, especially in developing countries experiencing problems with access to justice through the courts or limited media or NGO activity with respect to consumer affairs, public regulation relating to recalls has become significant.

National laws in ASEAN Member States (AMSs) mostly now provide for regulators to require suppliers to undertake mandatory recalls, under specific legislation enacted for (higher-risk) sectors such as automobiles, health products or foods, and/or under general consumer protection laws. In the shadow of such powers, regulators can also more effectively encourage or negotiate with suppliers to undertake (semi-)voluntary recalls. Sometimes suppliers even decide to undertake (purely) voluntary recalls, even without prior consultation with regulators or knowing their extent of their mandatory recall powers.

However, AMSs still lack general consumer protection laws that oblige suppliers to notify regulators when they undertake such voluntary recalls, as required by amendments in 1986 in Australia and 2013 in New Zealand. Nor do such laws in AMSs impose a broader product accident or hazard reporting duty on suppliers, even if the latter have not yet initiated a recall, as required in Australia since 2010 as well as the EU since 2001, Japan since 2006, Canada since 2010, and the US. Both types of obligations can encourage and assist suppliers to undertake recalls more effectively, through drawing on the technical expertise and communication networks of the consumer regulators.

Especially if AMSs take the first step of amending their national consumer protection laws to require suppliers to notify regulators about voluntary recalls, but even now given the mandatory recall powers generally available to regulators, it becomes important to define what is meant “recall” or whatever broader term (like “corrective action”) may be used in the relevant legislation, and provide guidance on when and how to undertake such remedial action effectively. In many major economies that have introduced duties on suppliers to make disclosures to regulators, on top of legislation providing for the latter’s back-up powers to order mandatory recalls, guidelines have recently been published or updated that elaborate quite extensively on rather sparse legislative provisions relating to recalls. These include quite detailed guidelines or handbooks publicized recently by authorities in the EU, the US, Australia, and Japan (although only in Japanese). By contrast, there is little publically-available guidance provided in AMSs. For example, the “Guidelines on Product Defect Reporting and Recall Procedures” are issued by the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore as a relatively short (undated) webpage, and anyway only relate to health products.

This Policy Digest therefore compares such recent guidance materials to identify key components and features that might be elaborated into “ASEAN Recall Guidelines” for consumer products generally. Although aimed primarily at suppliers and regulators, facilitating also evolving information-sharing platforms such as the ASEAN Product Alert website assembling national reports on some mandatory and voluntary recalls, such Guidelines aim also to benefit consumers. Accordingly, peak consumer associations or relevant NGOs should be closely consulted in elaborating such ASEAN Recall Guidelines.


[Updated 2 July 2015. An abridged earlier version of this posting can be found at It forms the basis of my Submission presented to parliamentary inquiries into the FTA by JSCOT and a Senate Committee.]

Australia signed its bilateral free trade agreement with China on 17 June 2015, after announcing last November that negotiations had been concluded – including investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. These provide another way for foreign investors to claim against host states that violate substantive commitments, if the investor's home state doesn't use the inter-state arbitration protections also given in the treaty, for political or diplomatic reasons. ISDS is especially useful when the host state’s laws and procedures do not meet commonly-accepted minimum international standards.

ISDS variants are included in most of the treaties concluded by Australia as well as many by China. In fact, as it emerges as a major capital exporter, China’s recent treaties have expanded the scope of protection reinforced through ISDS provisions. Australia has instead become more cautious, like other countries after being subjected to an initial ISDS claimPhilip Morris Asia’s claim in 2011 regarding Australia’s tobacco plain packaging law, still pending along with WTO claims. Indeed, the Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement (2011-13) went as far as eschewing ISDS in any future treaties. Since September 2014, however, the Abbott Government has reverted to including ISDS on a case-by-case assessment. It was incorporated into the (long-stalled) FTA signed with Korea last year, but not the FTA with Japan. Relevant factors seem to be whether the counter-party presses strongly for ISDS and offers enough in return during negotatiations, and whether Australia may have concerns about investor protections available through the counter-party’s local courts.

Australia’ reversion to pre-2011 treaty practice has not stilled public debate. It has escalated, particularly given negotiations for an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (including also Japan and the US, but not China). A Greens Senator introduced an “Anti-ISDS Bill” last year to prevent ISDS being included in future agreements, but even Labor Senators on the Committee agreed that this encroached too far on the executive branch’s constitutional responsibility to negotiate treaties. Labor parliamentarians initially opposed ratification of the Korea FTA, raising ISDS concerns, before agreeing in October 2014 to vote for legislation implementing tariff reductions, even in the Senate where the Abbott Government lacks an absolute majority. This year the Greens and others highlighted ISDS again in a broader Senate inquiry into the role of the legislature and public consultation in Australia’s treaty-making process. Parliament will now inquire into the China FTA, including of course ISDS, and there is a (small) chance that Labor Senators will vote against tariff implementation legislation to prevent ratification and the treaty coming into force.

Against this backdrop, Australia’s major newspapers reflect and encourage polarized views over ISDS. The Sydney Morning Herald (like The Age in Melbourne) is consistently opposed, as explained below.


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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context