The (federal government's) Australian Research Council has provided $260,000 to support a project led by Prof Luke Nottage, Prof Leon Trakman (lead-CI, former Dean of Law at UNSW), A/Prof Jurgen Kurtz (Melbourne Law School) and Dr Shiro Armstrong (ANU Crawford School of Public Policy, co-editor of the East Asia Forum blog).

The abstract for this project is as follows:
"This project will evaluate the economic and legal risks associated with the Australian Government’s current policy on investor-state dispute settlement through multidisciplinary research, namely econometric modeling, empirical research through stakeholder surveys and interviews, as well as critical analysis of case law, treaties and regulatory approaches. The aim of this project is to identify optimal methods of investor-state dispute prevention, avoidance and resolution that efficiently cater to inbound and outbound investors as well as Australia as a whole. The goal is to promote a positive climate for investment inflows and outflows, while maintaining Australia's ability to take sovereign decisions on matters of public policy."

The following is a list of publications related to the project (published as at 1 April 2015, or forthcoming).

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Chulalongkorn University’s ASEAN Studies Centre will sponsor this major international conference in Bangkok over 28-29 July 2015, with collaboration from and at the downtown venue of the Department of International Trade Promotion within Thailand’s Ministry of Commerce. The key organiser is the immediate past Dean of Law at Chula, Prof Sakda Thanitcul, assisted by Prof Luke Nottage, immediate past Associate Dean (International) at the University of Sydney Law School and a visiting professor at Chula for parts of 2015. Other speakers include Professor Geraint Howells, renowned consumer product safety law expert and presently Dean of Law at the City University of Hong Kong, as well as the following other country reporters:

1. Singapore: Mr. Lawrence Teh (lawrence.teh@rodyk.com)
2. Vietnam: Mr. Jim Dao (Jim.D@tilleke.com)
3. Cambodia: Mr. Ly Tayseng (tayseng@hbslaw.asia)
4. Laos: Mr. Sornpheth Douangdy (Sornpheth.douangdy@la.pwc.com)
5. Myanmar: Prof. Dr. Khin Mar Yee (dr.khinmaryee.ygn@gmail.com)
6. Malaysia: Mr. Lim Chee Wee (lcw@skrine.com)
7. Indonesia: Mr. Riza Buditomo (Riza.Fadhli.Buditomo@bakernet.com)
8. Philippines: Prof. Emmanuel Lombos (emlombos@syciplaw.com)
9. Brunei: Prof. Dr. Colin Ong (onglegal@gmail.com)

Country reporters will summarise key features in their respective jurisdictions, elaborating eg from Jocelyn Kellam (ed) Product Liability in the Asia-Pacific (3rd ed 2009), but focus on new developments in private law, public regulation, enforcement and media coverage of product safety issues. The conference also draws on my research for a smaller project, focusing on free trade agreement aspects, for the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre.

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I welcome this Inquiry and the opportunity to make a public Submission on a topic that has been addressed now several times by the Australian Parliament. As an expert in international business law, I have made several Submissions to other inquiries related to Australia’s international affairs, including Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and investment treaties, mostly recently giving evidence to this Senate Committee’s Inquiry into The Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014 (the “Anti-ISDS Bill”). In that evidence I remarked that there could be improvements in how Australia approaches FTA negotiations. Due to time and space constraints I make three specific suggestions regarding (a) treaty negotiation process and (b) treaty implementation and review, since both stages are encompassed by this Inquiry’s Terms of Reference.

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As part of our joint ARC-funded research project on investment treaty dispute resolution, also involving Shiro Armstrong (ANU) and Leon Trakman (UNSW), Jurgen Kurtz and I have completed a note on Australia's recent policy and political debate over investor-state arbitration, which ultimately was not provided for in the Australia-Japan FTA signed last year (as explained here).

The complex and ongoing saga in Australia may also impact on pending negotiations for an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and (ASEAN+6) Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership FTA, each of which involves Japan as well as Australia.

Our paper will be published in early 2015 in the ICSID Review, with a longer version also at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2561147. Below is an outline.

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The second stage conference for the book project critically comparing and assessing "Independent Directors in Asia" is hosted by co-editor A/Prof Dan Puchniak at the National University of Singapore Law Faculty over 26-27 February 2015. In addition to comprehensive reports from different countries in the region, including one co-authored by myself and Sydney Law School colleague Fady Aoun regarding Australia), the project will include a chapter comparing significant case studies from various jurisdictions, based on short (1000-word) contributions from experts in various jurisdictions. Below is the (unfootnoted) text of Mr Aoun's contribution on a very significant corporate collapse in Australia in 2001.

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Written by: Joel Rheuben (Herbert Smith Freehills, Brussels) and Luke Nottage

It has been almost four years since the devastating triple disaster comprising a magnitude-9 earthquake, tsunami and meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant struck northeastern Japan on 11 March 2011. While a variety of programmes exist to clean up serious nuclear contamination and assist residents of the affected areas, it is only victims of the third of these disasters – tens of thousands of evacuees (even nowhttp://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/03/13/national/thousands-sue-nuclear-companies-over-fukushima-disaster/#.VMXASMZdHTA) as well as many affected local businesses – who have access to a comprehensive scheme of compensation, administered by the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”). Claimants for compensation have three options for the resolution of claims: direct negotiation with TEPCO, mediation via the specially established “Dispute Resolution Centre for Nuclear Damage Compensation” (the “Dispute Resolution Centre”), and civil action under the Nuclear Damages Compensation Law (No 147 of 1961). Each avenue is outlined in turn below, based on an unfootnoted but updated version of our article published in October 2013 at pp126-31 of the Asian Dispute Review (supported by HKIAC and several other arbitral bodies) under the main title of “Now that the (radioactive) dust has settled”.

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

A. Under-Enforcement of Product Liability Law for Small-Value Claims

Manufacturers can be incentivised to supply safe consumer goods due to market (reputation) mechanisms, public safety regulation, and/or private law (especially potential tort law liability if consumers claim compensation for harm caused by defective products). The first two mechanisms work better if there is a high probability or risk of harm, as public opinion is then easier to mobilize, although public safety regulation is usually only implemented when the potential harm from unsafe goods is also high. Product liability (PL) law is therefore particularly important to incentivise manufacturers of goods that present a lower probability of harm. However, because of costs associated with enforcing PL law – ultimately through the court system – it tends to work best where the harm and therefore compensation amounts are high. Strict liability PL regimes, increasingly common in ASEAN member states, aim to lessen the burden of proof on potential plaintiffs, who no longer have to prove negligence on the part of manufacturers. Accordingly, they can make more feasible this mechanism even for defective products that generate lower levels of harm and compensation amounts.

Nonetheless, strict liability PL law is still often difficult for consumers to invoke, even in developed countries with comparatively good access to court procedures. After all, unsafe products may often just cause consequential loss to other “consumer goods”. (Only a few countries extend strict PL law coverage to consequential losses to non-consumer goods, which tend to be more extensive. ) Even when personal injury results from the defective products, the harm suffered by each consumer may be low even if the aggregated harm is high. (Good recent examples may be Kanebo’s skin-whitening cosmetics, recently recalled throughout Asian markets, or defective foodstuffs – if consumed in small quantities. ) In such situations, each individual consumer will be reluctant to pursue claims through the court system.

Such problems are compounded in developing and even middle-income countries, where courts are under-resourced or face other generic problems, or accessing them still runs counter to prevailing social norms. This helps explain the limited impact of strict liability PL law reforms observed in South East Asia, despite some of those countries going beyond the European Union (EU) substantive law, for example by allowing consumers to claim multiple damages (i.e. more than the actual harm suffered).

The consequent under-enforcement of consumer law in this field is problematic from the viewpoint of economic efficiency as well as broader justice concerns. After all, the basic economic rationale for introducing strict liability for unsafe manufactured products is that consumers lack expertise to assess safety levels. The latter furthermore correlate only weakly with the pricing of such goods (except some that could cause catastrophic losses if risks eventuate, such as automobiles, which tend to subject to minimum public regulatory standards anyway). Even if particularly well-informed consumers are able to differentiate safety levels of various products, they may end up in the hands of third parties. The economic benefits of introducing strict liability PL law to mitigate such problems, by forcing manufacturers to “internalize” the full costs associated with putting goods into the market, is undermined if those substantive laws are inadequately enforced. This is also problematic from the perspective of justice and advancing the rule of law, a major objective particularly in developing countries and for ASEAN.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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