Good for the Goose, Not Good for the Gander? Australian versus Japanese Approaches Towards Investor-State Arbitration
[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.