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Australia-Japan Free Trade Agreement

My public lecture on this topic, bringing together two research fields of contemporary public interest, was presented on 24 September 2014 as part of Sydney Law School's Distinguished Speakers Program.

The session was kindly introduced by my colleague Prof Chester Brown, and ended with a commentary by NUS Asst Prof Jean Ho who kindly arrived straight from Sydney airport after her flight from Singapore.

The audio file of my presentation and Chester's introduction are available via Sydney Law School's podcast channel (specifically here), my Powerpoint slides are here (as a PDF), and a related short paper is here. Below is the abstract (with further hyperlinked references available here) and speaker/commentator bios.

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The Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) successfully hosted the Cairns Symposium on Japanese Law on Friday 16 May, with special thanks to ANJeL member and James Cook University Associate Professor Justin Dabner.

The Symposium's primary theme was 'Japanese Law and Business Amidst Bilateral and Regional Free Trade Agreements', which was a timely coincidence, in light of the conclusion of negotiations for the Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement on 7 April 2014. However, presentation proposals dealing with other Japanese Law topics were also welcomed, and topics discussed included agricultural land law and policy, corporate law reforms, insolvency law and practice, long-term contracting, cross-border investment dispute resolution, tax treaties, emissions trading schemes and political participation rights. Please see here for previously published abstracts and see here for the conference program.

The list of presentations topics and speakers, and where possible, their presentation slides appear below.

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There has been a flurry of media attention paid to Australia-Japan relations this week. For example, I was asked to appear on “The Wire” radio on 7 April, on the eve of the conclusion of 7 years of negotiating this major bilateral Free Trade Agreement (transcript here). At that stage, the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDS) protections for foreign investment in the treaty was still a real possibility, but I argued that there was no need to panic. Japanese investors have never experienced major problems with Australian government authorities illegally interfering with their investments, and indeed have never directly invoked ISDS (especially arbitration) procedures already provided by Japan’s treaties with around 30 countries.

Both governments subsequently announced key features of the Japan-Australia FTA, which ultimately did not include ISDS – unlike the Korea-Australia FTA concluded in December 2013 (and formally signed this week in Seoul). On this blog and then the East Asia Forum, I argued that this presumably meant that the Australian negotiators were happy enough with market access commitments offered by Japan, especially for agricultural products. This may be true but it is hard to be sure, and he argued that omitting even a weak form of ISDS in the FTA with Japan may complicate Australia’s ongoing regional and bilateral FTA negotiations (including with India and Indonesia).

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Australia and Japan finally concluded a bilateral Free Trade Agreement on 7 April 2014. Some Australian media outlets had prior inklings that negotiations had achieved significant breakthroughs, especially for agricultural market access into Japan, but a frequent assumption was that Australia must have “given up” something major in return. Concerns were expressed that this included measures favouring Japanese investors into Australia, especially protections from investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS, especially arbitration) provisions [listen to my radio interview here]. These provide an extra avenue for foreign investors to enforce the substantive treaty rights limiting a host state’s capacity to illegally interfere with foreign investments (eg through expropriation). They add to the (more politicised) inter-state arbitration procedure invariably included in investment treaties, as well as any rights under domestic law available through the host state’s court system – particularly problematic in developing countries, such as Indonesia.

ISDS provisions had been added to the Korea-Australia FTA concluded in December 2013 by the Abbott Government, which also declared that it was reverting to a case-by-case approach to ISDS. This contrasted with the position taken by the 2011 Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement, which had reversed Australia’s longstanding treaty practice by declaring that it would not agree to any forms of ISDS in future treaties – even with developing countries. The 2012 Malaysia-Australia FTA omitted ISDS, although that was meaningless in practice as ISDS remains available to enforce similar substantive rights under the 2009 ASEAN-Australia-NZ FTA. Curiously, however, the new Australia-Japan FTA ultimately omitted ISDS provisions as well. Why is this, and what are the broader implications?

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I am pleased to provide this Submission on The Trade and Foreign Investment (Protecting the Public Interest) Bill 2014. I specialise in international and comparative commercial and consumer law, and have produced extensive academic publications and media commentary on treaty-based investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). My interest is in the policy and legal issues associated with this system; I have never provided consultancy or other services in ISDS proceedings.

The Bill simply provides, in clause 3, that:

“The Commonwealth must not, on or after the commencement of this Act, enter into an agreement (however described) with one or more foreign countries that includes an investor-state dispute settlement provision.”

The Explanatory Memorandum provides no guidance as to the background to this proposal, or its pros and cons. However it seems to be aimed at reinstating the policy shift announced by the April 2011 “Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement”. That is no longer found on Australian government websites and is inconsistent with the present Government’s policy on ISDS, which allows for such provisions on a case-by-case basis (as evidenced by the recent Korea-Australia FTA).

The Bill, like the previous Trade Policy Statement in this respect, may be well-intentioned, but it is premature and misguided. Treaty-based ISDS is not a perfect system, but it can be improved in other ways – mainly by carefully negotiating and drafting bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and free trade agreements (FTAs). This may also have the long-term benefit of generating a well-balanced new investment treaty at the multilateral level, which is presently missing and unlikely otherwise to eventuate.

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The Australian Network for Japanese Law (ANJeL) will host the Cairns Symposium on Japanese Law on Friday 16 May, with special thanks to ANJeL member and James Cook University Associate Professor Justin Dabner. Registration should be completed by emailing your name and institution to anjelinfo@gmail.com; registration costs $60 for non-speakers (to cover lunch and teas) and can be paid on the day of the conference (please inform in advance if a receipt is required).

[Updated 26 April] The Symposium's theme is 'Japanese Law and Business Amidst Bilateral and Regional Free Trade Agreements' - by happy coincidence, in light of the conclusion of negotiations for the Japan Australia Economic Partnership Agreement on 7 April 2014 (see media commentary here). However, presentation proposals dealing with other Japanese Law topics were also welcomed, as in previous ANJeL conferences held since 2002. As indicated by Abstracts below, speakers will cover fields including agricultural land law and policy, corporate law reforms, insolvency law and practice, long-term contracting, cross-border investment dispute resolution, tax treaties, emissions trading schemes and political participation rights.

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Australia’s Coalition Government, dominated by the Liberal Party and led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, recently completed a rocky first 100 days in power. Diplomatic rows with China and Indonesia are only part of the story. The Government stands accused, for example, of sending ‘conflicting messages’ to the business sector. At the Business Council of Australia’s 30th anniversary dinner on 4 December, Abbott reiterated his election-night declaration that Australia was ‘once more open for business’. Yet five days earlier, his Treasurer had taken the rare step of blocking a major foreign direct investment (FDI) – a $3.4 billion bid by US firm ADM for GrainCorp.

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The (federal government's) Australian Research Council has provided $260,000 to support this project over 2014-6 (DP140102526), in collaboration with 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). Below are parts of our original project application to the ARC; an updated and edited version is available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=2362122.


[Abstract]
"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."

[Aims] Foreign direct investment (FDI) has become essential to global economic development, with FDI flows exceeding US$1.5 trillion in 2012 (UNCTAD 2012). Australia’s treaty making practice, especially its current policy with respect to investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), may be sub-optimal, in that it is not entirely based on sound economic cost-benefit data and supporting econo-legal research. Australia can potentially increase its share of the global FDI pool by adopting a more efficient approach to formulating policy with respect to ISDS.

This project aims to develop a key policy framework and devise salient institutional structures and processes that take account of two competing pursuits: the cost-benefit advantages of promoting Australia as an FDI destination; and the need to ensure that these advantages are considered in light of competing policy objectives that are not explicated exclusively on economic grounds (as explained in the Background section). This project is valuable and innovative because it identifies significant gaps in the current Australian policy framework and uses interdisciplinary research to address them.

The overall purpose is to ensure that Australia attains its optimal share of the global FDI market in the context of competing policy objectives. As such, the project will evaluate the economic and legal risks associated with the Australian Government’s current policy on ISDS 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 general aim 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 specific purposes therefore are: (1) to investigate policies that underpin Australia’s approach to negotiating international investment treaties, with particular emphasis on its policies on avoiding, managing and resolving investment disputes; (2) to identify and analyse links between these policies and the investment practices of both inbound and outbound investors; and (3) to propose recommendations on alternative approaches to investment policy, so that, through a carefully framed cost-benefit analysis, Australia can retain appropriate sovereignty over public policy issues (such as health and the environment) while promoting a positive economic climate for investment inflows and outflows.

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It remains to be seen whether the new Coalition Government will revert to Australia's longstanding treaty practice prior to the 2011 'Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement'. That declared that Australia would not include investor-state arbitration (ISA) protections in future investment treaties - including investment chapters of Free Trade Agreements - even with developing countries.

The new Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has declared that he is keen to conclude FTAs which Australia has long been negotiating with Japan, Korea and China respectively. The Gillard Government's stance on ISA adding to delays experienced in finalising these treaties - see comments, including some of my own in The Australian on 21 September 2013. It also complicates negotiations for regional agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

The ISA system is far from perfect, but there are many ways for Australia to draft provisions in investment treaties - old and new - to balance public and private interests effectively. Examples that attract varying degrees of support, from experts in international investment law, are provided in my paper co-authored with Chris Campbell and Sophie Nappert, forthcoming in a special issue of the Transnational Dispute Management journal. It and some of my other recent papers relevant to this topic, uploaded on SSRN.com, are listed with their Abstracts below.

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On 8 June 2013 the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Volkswagen Australia would be formally recalling Golf and other Volkswagen-made models that had suddenly lost power. The family of one driver and the driver of a truck that rear-ended her Golf vehicle are arguing before the coroner that this was a possible cause for her fatal accident. Over 300 other owners of Volkswagen-made vehicles have also reported problems. Similar concerns about some of Volkswagen’s direct-shift gearboxes had led to formal recalls of some models as early as 2009 in the USA, then in China, Singapore, Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan. However, Volkswagen reportedly stated that Australia does not have the same gearboxes, and instead had initially undertaken a program involving its dealers. Marketing experts have criticised the recall recently commenced in Australia, suggesting that Volkswagen will have suffered extensive damage to its brands by not acting publically earlier to address consumer concerns – in addition to the estimated $170m in direct repair costs.

It will probably come as no surprise that Volkswagen conducted recalls more promptly in the USA. Toyota suffered extensive adverse publicity there relating especially to problems instead involving sudden acceleration, generating recalls of over 10 million vehicles over 2009-2011 and a recently-finalised $1.6b class action settlement. Nor should it be surprising that Volkswagen undertook a recall in Japan. Japanese consumers have become increasingly sensitive about product safety issues, especially since 2000 - when Mitsubishi Motors was found to have been conducting illegal clandestine recalls over an extended period. The delay in Australia is disturbing, especially given the increased attention otherwise being paid to consumer protection since “re-harmonisation” pursuant to the Australian Consumer Law (ACL) reforms enacted in 2010.

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I was recently interviewed on this topic by NHK World Radio's principal program director, Yutaka Konishi. His main questions and some of my points in response are outlined below. Some of our interview was broadcast on "Radio News in English" on 9 May 2013, at http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/english/radio/program/), the transcript of the full interview is here (download PDF file), and my own notes are reproduced below.

Later I was also interviewed in Sydney by TV Asahi specifically about investor-state arbitration (and other ISDS) provisions in the expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, which Japan has now officially joined. The 14-minute special feature from their "Hodo Station" evening news on 24 May is also available on YouTube, and a video-clip of my edited comments (from 7m30s to 8m5s) can also be downloaded here (11MB .mov file). In the longer interview in Sydney, I reiterated that there is ample scope for this new FTA to include innovative ISDS provisions that appropriately balance the interests of host states (in regulating for the public interest) and private investors (seeking minimum and internationally-accepted legal standards before committing long-term investments). Em Prof Mitsuo Matsushita (former WTO Appellate Body judge) and especially Mr Shigeaki Koga (a former METI official) also emphasised this point in their comments for the Hodo Station special feature. As the TV Asahi website overview pointed out, this topic is now attracting considerable interest in Japan:

TPP検証『ISD条項』

TPP=環太平洋経済連携協定について考える。今回は、『ISD条項』について。国が制度を変えることによって、投資をしている企業が損をした場合、その企業が賠償金を求めて国際機関に訴えることができる仕組みだ。そもそも、ISD条項は、企業が安心して途上国への投資を行えるよう作られた制度で、これまでに提訴された国をみると、アルゼンチンやベネズエラ、メキシコなど、投資に関する法整備が遅れている国が目立つ。日本も、これまで結んだ投資協定のうち、ほぼすべてにISD条項が盛り込まれているが、実際に訴えられたケースはない。しかし、近年、先進国が訴えられるケースも増えている。メキシコ、アメリカ、オーストラリアの現場を取材。ISD条項をめぐり、各国が火花を散らすなか、日本はどうするのか。

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My recent Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 12/84, forthcoming in a special issue 119 (9&10) Hogaku Shimpo (Chuo University) for Professor Satoru Osanai, is an edited and updated collection of postings over 2012 on this 'Japanese Law and the Asia-Pacific' blog (and/or the East Asia Forum blog) dealing with investor-state arbitration (ISA) and other forms of investor-state dispute settlement.

The topic has become particularly controversial for Australia, given its ongoing Free Trade Agreement negotiations with Japan. Japan is also considering joining negotiations underway among Australia and 10 other states (including the US) for an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and both are also interested in the more recent 'Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership' (RCEP) initiative (ASEAN+6). Both Japan and Australia have almost always included ISA protections in their investment treaties, but Australia omitted them in investment treaties with the USA and New Zealand, and recently declared that it will no longer accept ISA in future treaties – even with countries with less developed legal systems and economies.

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[A version of the second half of this Comment, on the potential impact of Australia's new policy against treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration provisions on the pending FTA negotiations with Japan, appears also on the East Asia Forum - cited by Rowan Callick 'Arbitration Hitch Holds Up FTAs' The Australian (2 November 2012, p10).]

The remarkably well-attended and interactive 50th Anniversary Australia Japan Joint Business Conference took place in Sydney over 8-9 October. It was hosted by the Australian Committee, established in 1962 and comprising Australia-based firms involved with Japan. But the conference program was developed with its counterpart in Japan, which hosts there a Joint Conference in alternate years. This cooperative arrangement has become unusually close, and provides an inspiration for other bilateral business community centred relationships. (By contrast, for example, the Australia China Business Council hosts its own main events quite independently of those organised by its Chinese counterpart, comprising firms interested in doing business in Australia.) The Australia-Japan Committees’ arrangement is also very longstanding: the first joint conference took place in 1963 at the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce, with the second in 1964 at the Australian National University.

As ANU Emeritus Professor Peter Drysdale reminisced in his keynote address at this year’s conference in Sydney, this cooperative arrangement – and indeed the entire bilateral relationship between Australia and Japan – proved to be an unexpected success. After all, both countries were bitter foes during World War II. For several ensuing decades Australia maintained concerns about engaging with Asia, as well as trade liberalisation and inbound foreign investment more broadly, with Japan also habouring mercantilist tendencies.

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Some are concerned about treaty-based Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), especially binding Investor-State Arbitration procedures in investment treaties and Free Trade Agreements. One response includes public calls for states to eschew such procedures completely in future treaties, for example in the expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement presently under negotiation. This approach would essentially leave foreign investors to approach local courts if host states illegally interfere with their investments, or to encourage their home states to activate an inter-state dispute resolution process, or to try to negotiate individualised arbitration agreements with host states.

An alternative approach is to identify and address more specific concerns with treaty-based ISDS. An example is the scoping paper and Public Consultation on ISDS generated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, over 16 May – 23 July.

As a constructive contribution to this debate, we created an online form asking for views on whether ISDS should be left as is, abandoned completely, or adapted in various listed ways. As explained below, no respondents favoured eschewing ISDS completely. Yet that position represents the policy shift announced by Australia in the "Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement" (April 2011), resulting in ISDS being omitted from the Australia-Malaysia FTA (May 2012) but difficulties in negotiating other bilateral treaties (with Korea, and Japan) and the TPPA. Implications and other topics related to the TPPA negotiations will be discussed at a Roundtable in Canberra on 8 August, hosted by the Crawford School of Public Policy (ANU College of Asia and the Pacific).

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As NZ lawyer Daniel Kalderimis points out recently, concerns about treaty-based investor-state arbitration (ISA) have been:

stirred up by the release of an “Open Letter from Lawyers to the Negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Urging the Rejection of Investor-State Dispute Settlement” on 8 May 2012. The letter is backed by well-meaning, and several well-known, signatories; most of whom are not especially well-informed about investor-state arbitration. The fact of the letter is welcome, as the issues are important. But the letter itself contains several overstatements and does not make a balanced contribution to the debate.

Another oddity about the "Open Letter" is that it refers generically to "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" (ISDS) and ends by calling on "all governments engaged in the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA] negotiations to follow Australia’s example by rejecting the Investor-State dispute mechanism and reasserting the integrity of our domestic legal processes". ISDS incorporates both ISA (where the parties agree to be bound by the arbitrators' decision) and investor-state mediation ("ISM") or conciliation procedures (where the parties agree to negotiate a settlement but are not obliged to accept any proposals made by the third-party neutral mediator). At least the rest of the "Open Letter" indicates that the primary objection is to binding ISA.

By contrast, the "Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement" (April 2011) simply eschews ISDS in Australia's future treaties, including the TPP. Perhaps the Statement meant only ISA, which allows greater inroads into host state sovereignty, given that overall it draws on the Productivity Commission's recommendations from a 2010 Trade Policy Review report. But, by seemingly eschewing all forms of ISA, the Statement seems to go beyond the Commission's recommendation on ISA itself.

Hopefully the Australian government, other states involved in FTA negotiations (such as the TPP) and those who wish to improve the ISA system (such as myself) or abandon it altogether (as do some signatories to the Open Letter) will not simply transpose their objections over to ISM too. There is significant scope for mediating investor-state disputes, and indeed the Draft Rules on ISM published recently by the International Bar Association (IBA) are a valuable guide to conducting mediation more effectively. Below I set out some preliminary analysis of those Draft Rules, prepared for the Law Council of Australia but representing my own personal views - particularly regarding the scope for arbitrators to adopt them as a means of settling ISA claims earlier and more effectively (ie 'Arb-Med'). A fully-footnoted version of my views is available on request, and I encourage feedback.

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[A version of this posting also appeared on the The Conversation blog (28 July 2011) and then the East Asia Forum blog (30 July 2011). The former is 'an independent source of information, analysis and commentary from the university and research sector' involving 'content support' from the Go8, including the University of Sydney.]

Prime Minister Julia Gillard was one of the first among world leaders to visit Japan, over 20-23 April, after the nation was stricken on 3 March by the ‘earthquake-tsunami-radiation triple disaster’. But the Australian government was tactful and realistic in not placing high priority on progressing bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations. Talks had resumed in Tokyo over 7-10 February 2011 after stalling for almost a year, but a lack of progress - particularly over agricultural market access - had then prompted respective Trade Ministers to call for a high-level political summit to regain momentum. The ‘3-11’ disaster generated more urgent priorities for the Japanese government. Indeed, reversing a commitment to decide this question by end-June, in May the Kan administration announced it would defer any decision about whether to join with the nine nations (including Australia) now negotiating an expanded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

Nonetheless, Japan has some significant incentives to resume FTA negotiations with Australia in the wake of 3-11, although the road ahead still looks rocky.

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[Slightly updated on 2 September. A shorter version of this posting appeared in a Roundtable on "The Conversation" blog (25 August 2011). It draws 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.]

Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill passed the federal House of Representatives on 24 August, although a week before it had looked like foundering. The Bill received its second reading in the Senate today, but it should pass without further change or controversy. The Bill passed by the House has already attracted commentary, mostly lauding this admittedly well-intentioned legislation.

But the legislation stuck to the original proposal for implementation: sales will have to be in the plain packaging from 1 July 2012. So Philip Morris Asia (PMA) are likely to commence investor-state arbitration (ISA) proceedings after expiry of the 3-month “cooling off” period under Art 10 of the 1993 Australia – Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty, calculated from notification of the dispute on 27 June.

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Downloadable here is my draft paper on this topic for various forthcoming events, beginning with a 3 August seminar hosted by Sydney Law School on "Australia's New Policy on Investor-State Dispute Settlement".

The paper draws 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.

Treaty-based investor-state arbitration (ISA) has gradually become a more established part of the legal landscape in the Asian region. But this development is threatened by the 'Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement' announced in April 2011.

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[This blog by my colleague Dr Brett Williams is based on his research for our 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.]

As part of this project on possible dispute settlement provisions that could be incorporated into an Australia Japan Free Trade Agreement, Dr Brett Williams is working on papers suggesting two innovations that could be incorporated into the provisions for inter-state dispute resolution regarding alleged violations of market access commitments. Both of these innovations would enhance the transparency of the issues at stake in the potential dispute, and potentially promote earlier and more cost-effective dispute resolution.

One important further aspect of both of these possible innovations would be that they would be capable of being incorporated into the WTO dispute settlement procedure. Both Australia and Japan have long traditions of support for the multilateral trading system and both have a keen interest in being active players in enhancing and improving the system. Therefore, in suggesting these innovations for possible incorporation into an Australia Japan FTA, Dr Williams also considers whether Australia and Japan could use the FTA as a way of trialling some procedures which could later be the subject of a joint proposal by Japan and Australia to amend the WTO dispute settlement procedure. Neither of the proposed innovations are particularly contentious in their concept but there could be some contention about the practical aspects of implementing them.

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[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.]

The Australian Government’s Productivity Commission (PC) released on 13 December its Research Report on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements (BRTAs). Recommendation 5 of the Draft Report in July had suggested that BRTAs (including International Investment Agreements or IAAs) should include Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDS) only if Australia’s counterpart country has a relatively underdeveloped legal system, and more generally only if foreign investors did not obtain more expansive protections than domestic investors. Following criticism of some factual errors and various arguments included in the Draft Report, the PC convened a policy workshop for officials, academics (including myself) and other stakeholders. Some views expressed there are partly reflected in the longer and somewhat better-argued section on ISDS now found in the final Report (at Part 14.2, pp265-77). Unfortunately, however, there remain serious problems with the analysis, which includes the following Findings by the PC:

'1. There does not appear to be an underlying economic problem that necessitates the inclusion of ISDS provisions within agreements. Available evidence does not suggest that ISDS provisions have a significant impact on investment flows.

2. Experience in other countries demonstrates that there are considerable policy and financial risks arising from ISDS provisions.'

Below I focus on the implications of this approach. They are particularly acute for Australia’s present negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Japan, for accession to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP, which Japan is also interested in joining), and for developments more generally within APEC and at the multilateral level

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[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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Imagine an international regime with these institutional features:

1. Virtually free trade in goods and services, including a "mutual recognition" system whereby compliance with regulatory requirements in one jurisdiction (eg qualifications to practice law or requirements to offering securities to the public) basically means exemption from compliance with regulations in the other jurisdiction. And for sensitive areas, such as food safety, there is a trans-national regulator.

2. Virtually free movement of capital, underpinned by private sector and governmental initiatives.

3. Permanent residence available to nationals from the other jurisdiction (and strong pressure to maintain flexible rules about multiple nationality).

4. Treaties for regulatory cooperation, simple enforcement of judgments (a court ruling in one jurisdiction is treated virtually identically to a ruling of a local court), and to avoid double taxation (including a system for taxpayer-initiated arbitration among the member states).

5. Government commitment to harmonising business law more widely, eg now for consumer and competition law.

No, the answer is not the obvious one: I am NOT talking about the European Union (EU). I am referring to the Trans-Tasman framework built up between Australia and New Zealand, particularly over the last decade, sometimes through treaties (binding in international law) but sometimes in softer ways (eg parallel legislation in each country). And since both countries are actively pursuing bilateral and now some regional Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), especially in the Asia-Pacific region, can't at least some of these Trans-Tasman initiatives become a template for a broader "Asia Pacific Community"?

This question is particularly timely as the new DPJ-led government in Japan, has declared its support not only for the WTO system but also for FTAs, particularly in the Asian region. It also advocates improvements in food and consumer product safety measures. Whether or not Australia is considered part of Asia, either by Japan or itself, the two countries are continuing bilateral FTA negotiations in the context of growing involvement in regional arrangements in the Asia-Pacific region. Such developments constitute one theme at the NZ Centre for International Economic Law conference, “Trade Agreements: Where Do We Go From Here?”, over 22-23 October 2009 in Wellington. Below is an edited introduction to my four-part paper, now available in further updated form as a Sydney Law School Research Paper. Powerpoint slides are also available in PDF here.

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Emeritus Professor Peter Drysdale recently presented in Sydney a preview of his now-published consultancy report for Austrade, which urges (p3):

“a paradigm shift in thinking about Australia’s relationship with the Japanese economy. The Japanese market is no longer confined to Japan itself. It is a huge international market generated by the activities of Japanese business and investors, especially via production networks in Asia. It is a market enhanced by the economic cooperation programs of the Japanese government throughout the developing world, particularly in the Asian and Pacific region. And it is a market in which Japanese business now plays an increasingly important role from an Australian base in manufacturing, agriculture and services.”

The Australian Financial Review now confirms that Japan has led China and other Asian investors into Australia over the last year (“What Crisis? Asian Investors rush to our shores”, 24 September 2009). But many probably remain unaware of these facts highlighted by Drysdale’s report (pp 3-4):

“The stock of Japanese investment in Asia amounted to A$ 180 billion out of Japan’s global investment of A$ 772 billion at end-2008. The flow of export and import trade which Japanese business generates in Asia each year was US$ 690 billion in 2008. Procurements through Japanese corporate subsidiaries in Asia amount to A$ 1.2 trillion annually. In addition, Japan spent A$ 11 billion (901 billion yen) in Asia on Overseas Development Assistance programs and procurement through economic cooperation programs. Japanese business has now also established a platform for export to the region from Australia, with diversified investments across food, manufacturing as well as resources, that already delivers A$ 6 billion in Australian sales to Asian markets other than Japan. These are all large new elements in the economic relationship with Japan beyond the A$ 51 billion export trade and A$ 20 billion import trade that Australia already does each year with Japan itself.”

These pervasive economic ties are underpinned by very wide-ranging and stable relations between Australia and Japan at all sorts of levels: governmental, judicial, educational, working holidays, and so on. As pointed out in another recent report “Australia and Japan: Beyond the Mainstream”, by Manuel Panagiotopolous and Andrew Cornell for the Australia Japan Foundation, the GFC has led policy-makers as well as businesspeople to look again more favourably on relationships that combine lower risk with less return, compared to high risk/return ventures.

We can take advantage of these strong and still very profitable Australia-Japan bilateral relationships, as well as the investment and trading links each country (especially Japan) has developed in other parts of Asia particularly since the 1990s, by more actively joining Australian and Japanese partners for ventures throughout Asia. This spreads the risks typically associated with the possibility of higher returns, and also allows each partner to contribute goods or services in which that country has more of a comparative advantage. Thus, for example, Drysdale suggests (p25):

“partnership with Australian services firms in finance, legal services and engineering could be mutual productive. … In FTA talks with Japan the Rudd Government is trying to open the way for professional and financial services firms to set up in Japan, encouraging wider recognition of qualifications and the removal of barriers to obtaining licences in Japan”.

As an example of “legal and consultancy services”, Drysdale mentions that several Australian law firms have long experience in the Asian region, and gives the example of Mallesons Japan. But he concludes that “if we are serious about joining global supply chains and capturing service industry opportunities in Asia then Australian firms need to be there on the ground to capture the business”.

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[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks and various Comments, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

Japan appeared finally to have recovered from its own financial crisis a decade ago, albeit at the cost of much accumulated government debt. But now the country has been hit by the collapse of its export markets and the rapid rise of the yen, following recession in the US and increasingly world-wide. Professor Iwao Nakatani, former Chairman of Sony, urges a radical shift in economic policy in Japan and elsewhere - from policy ‘based on neo-conservative economics and the philosophy of small government to one based on Keynesianism and welfare state ideology’.

Some may remain sceptical that Japan ever really embraced the former philosophy, and its ascendancy was certainly never as pronounced as in the US, the UK or then Australia - where market liberalisation tended to be linked closely to race politics (Mark Davis, The Land of Plenty, MUP 2008). But deregulation of alcohol distribution is one of Japan’s many transformations over the last decade. It is also the flipside of ever-stricter rules on drink driving, although they also reflect a broader trend towards criminalisation of socio-economic deviance (evident eg in product safety or consumer credit re-regulation).

On the other hand, deregulation is most notable in terms of where you can buy alcohol to celebrate this New Year of the Ox, namely vending machines and those ubiquitous convenience stores. It is less notable in what you pay especially for certain beer-substitutes, which mainly reflects differential tax rates. In fact, such rates may well violate WTO law. Yet there is probably not enough financial reward for potential beer exporters to encourage their home governments to sue Japan. So an implication may be for FTA negotiators (even those now from Australia) to seek some offsetting advantage in their overall bilateral deal with Japan. Yet that would further undermine the entire multilateral WTO framework.

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All my blogs over July-October 2008, posted originally with full hyperlinks at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/], have been edited and updated as:

Nottage, Luke R., 'Economics, Politics, Public Policy and Law in Japan, Australasia and the Pacific: Corporate Governance, Financial Crisis, and Consumer Product Safety in 2008' (November 3, 2008) Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 08/134, Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1295064 (and forthcoming, early 2009, in Ritsumeikan Law Review)

Some of the individual topics focused more directly on Japanese Law, asterisked below, are also available on this USydney blog:

* 1. Taking the Australia-Japan FTA negotiations to new levels
* 2. Whaling: What can law add to science, economics, ethics and politics?
3. Australia also should ‘Rail at Australian’s Tabloid Trash’ about Japan
* 4. Consumer over-indebtedness in Japan, Australia and the US
* 5. Dodgy foods and Chinese dumplings in Japan
* 6. FDI and corporate governance in Japan
* 7. Investor-state arbitration for Indonesia, Australia and Japan
8. Rivals: China, India and Japan – economic, not Olympic?
* 9. The politics of Japan’s new Takeovers Guidelines
* 10. Tables turned in Japanese and US financial markets
* 11. Lessons from Japan for the US financial crisis
* 12. The financial crisis - and loansharks in Japan and NZ
* 13. Consequences of melamine-laced milk for China, NZ, Japan and beyond
14. Political dynasties in Japan, the US, Australia … but not NZ?
* 15. A New Consumer Agency for Japan?

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[Originally posted, with full hyperlinks, at http://eastasiaforum.org/author/lukenottage/]

As we know from postings to the East Asia Forum, especially by Peter Drysdale, Hadi Soesastro and Hugh White, it was not clear what Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had in mind when, on 4 June before his first trip to Japan, he proposed a better regional architecture for the Asia Pacific region. Views differ even further about whether such reforms are politically feasible.

Some, particularly in the mainstream media, interpreted him as proposing some European Union-like institutions for the Asia-Pacific. The analogy is not necessarily a bad one, and it’s time to take this idea more seriously. After all, the EU has emerged from small beginnings back in 1958, and is itself still a work-in-progress. Yet regional arrangements have many advantages. They can generate more transparency and public participation, and hence legitimacy, than multilateral systems. They can also minimise parochial impulses often found in national and even bilateral approaches. Such impulses may also threaten the free-trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated between Australia and Japan.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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