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August 2010

[This is based on research for the project, “Fostering a Common Culture in Cross-Border Dispute Resolution: Australia, Japan and the Asia-Pacific”, supported by the Commonwealth through the Australia-Japan Foundation which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. An edited and updated version is also on the East Asia Forum.]

The Productivity Commission (PC) released on 16 July a Draft Report for its Review of Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements, commissioned by the Assistant Treasurer to reconsider the Australian Government’s policy in negotiating Free Trade Agreements (FTAs). It acknowledges the inefficiencies of preferential agreements compared to multilateral approaches. However, given the persistent impasse in WTO negotiations, the Report pragmatically suggests various means to maximise benefits in the short-term, which may also lead to longer-term multilateral solutions. Unfortunately, that ideal is unlikely to be achieved – risking perverse implications throughout the Asia-Pacific, where Australia has concentrated its FTA activity – if the PC’s Final Report ends up including all these suggestions in its Draft Recommendation 5:

1. “Where the legal systems of partner countries are relatively underdeveloped, it may be appropriate to refer cases to third party dispute settlement mechanisms.
2. However, such process should not afford foreign investors in Australia or partner countries with legal protections not available to residents.
3. Investor-state dispute settlement procedures should be subject to regular review to take into account changing international best practice and the evolving legal systems in partner countries.”

As explained in my Submission to the PC (reproduced here), I have no great difficulty with the last point, although I suggest that one way to achieve that goal would be for Australia to develop and update a Model Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT). I have much more difficulty with the PC’s second recommendation, but I focus now on problems with the first as it is particularly relevant to Australia’s policy position in regard to the Asia-Pacific, and especially now Japan.

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This is the title of a project funded by the Australia-Japan Foundation over 2010-11 for myself and Sydney Law School colleagues, Dr Brett Williams and Micah Burch, which will consider the scope for both countries to develop greater common ground in cross-border dispute resolution law and practice, to facilitate bilateral, regional and even multilateral economic integration. Australia and Japan have recently amended their Double-Tax Treaty and are now negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Yukio Hatoyama floated the idea of a broader "Asia Pacific Community" or "East Asian Community", not limited to matters conventionally found in FTAs. The project will look at the possibility of adding:

(a) novel inter-state arbitration mechanisms, namely for:
(i) disputes about interpretation of Double Tax Treaties, a process triggered by taxpayer in a state (which must then obtain a decision from arbitrators binding on both states) and now envisaged since the 2005 revisions to the OECD Model Tax Treaty;
(ii) disputes about market access for goods and services (including typically some forms of investment), usually modelled on provisions set out in the 1994 Dispute Settlement Understanding of the World Trade Organization (itself under review, with considerable leadership from Australia);

(b) appropriate mechanisms for disputes involving a broader array of investments, in response to discriminatory or other illegal treatment from the host state, allowing investors to bring arbitration proceedings directly (often now provided in FTAs and bilateral investment treaties or "BITs") instead of via appeals to their home state for inter-state dispute resolution;

(c) provisions or measures to improve commercial arbitration law and practice for the resolution instead of business-to-business disputes, achieved through commitments that might also be entrenched through treaties, but potentially instead through parallel legislation in each state, or through common Rules or agreements among the main Japanese and Australia arbitral institutions).

The project will also involve Professor Tatsuya Nakamura, former ANJeL Research Visitor and General Manager in the Japan Commercial Arbitration Association, and anyone willing to share experiences or views in these three fields (particularly in Australia or Japan) is very welcome to contact me at first instance.

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This is the title of my third paper in a series of edited and updated selections of my postings to the ‘East Asia Forum’ blog (indicated with a double asterisk in the Table of Contents below) and this partly-overlapping ‘Japanese Law and the Asia-Pacific’ blog. They mainly cover developments from mid-2009 through to mid-2010, with a focus on law and policy in Australia and Japan in a wider regional and sometimes global context. The paper is freely downloadable here.

Half of the postings edited for the paper introduce some new policy and legislative agendas proclaimed by the then Prime Ministers of Australia (Kevin Rudd, in late July 2009) and Japan (Yukio Hatoyama, through the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ] which he led to a remarkable general election victory in late August 2009). Both had resigned by mid-2010, indicating some of the difficulties involved in implementing ambitious reforms in both countries. All the more so, perhaps, if innovative measures are to be added to both countries’ Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) in order to foster more sustainable socio-economic development in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

The remaining postings end by introducing Australia’s regime for international (and domestic) commercial arbitration enacted in mid-2010, centred on a United Nations Model Law – like Japan’s Arbitration Act of 2003. However it sets these enactments in broader context by focusing on legal professionals – lawyers, judges and specialists in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) – as well as aspects of the legal education systems in both countries. Those systems will need to gel better as well for both Australia and Japan to achieve the ‘cultural reform’ needed to generate sustainable critical mass in commercial (and investor-state) arbitration activity.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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