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The Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, with in-kind support from the global law firm Baker & McKenzie, will fund over 2014 this project involving also my colleague specialising in Chinese law, Prof Bing Ling.

[Background] Regional economic integration is proceeding apace. ASEAN aims to completely eliminate tariffs among 6 original (out of 10) member states by 2015, as part of developing an economic, political (security) and socio-cultural “community”. Yet it has also established an ASEAN Committee on Consumer Protection, to avoid a regulatory “race to the bottom” along with this expansion of free trade. Since late 2012, ASEAN has also begun negotiating a “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership” (RCEP) with Australia-NZ, Japan, China, Korea and India – leveraging off existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with each of those states. Consumer protection is likely to arise also in the context of RCEP, and even the Trans-Pacific Partnership FTA (with negotiations already well advanced and involving many of the same states).

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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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Japan’s is well underway on the path to completing its first comprehensive reform of contract law since enactment of the Civil Code in 1896. A driving force has been Takashi Uchida, a prominent participant in Japan’s intense discussions over contract law theory in the early 1990s. He resigned in 2007 as Professor of Civil Law at the University of Tokyo in order to spearhead deliberations within the Legislative Council (hosei shingikai) of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), now charged with recommending specific reforms.

At the Council’s first Working Group meeting on 22 November 2009, one member reportedly suggested that deliberations should proceed “without paying too much attention to ‘the Basic Policy for the Law of Obligation Reform’ (draft proposals by [the] Japanese Civil Code (Law of Obligations) Reform Commission)” because it had been confirmed that the Working Group’s deliberations should start “from zero”. However, the Draft Proposals (DP) published in April 2009 by that semi-private Reform Commission, along with a detailed five-volume commentary written by its members, were clearly intended to frame the subsequent debate in the formal Working Group arena – and have mostly achieved that effect.

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Australia is long overdue for statutory intervention in private international law (PIL), so the recent ‘Discussion Paper 1’ (DP) from the federal Attorney-General’s Department (AGD) is very welcome. From a background in comparative and transnational business law, I strongly support legislative reform, particularly for cross-border consumer transactions and/or in relation to international arbitration. This can now draw on a wealth of experience at an international level and from our major (now mostly Asia-Pacific) trading partners. Such reforms will add tangible evidence of the Government's recently declared commitment to 'Australia in the Asian Century'.

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About the seminar:

This fourth ANJeL CLE Seminar in Tokyo, aimed especially at Australian practitioners in Japan, as well as Japanese practitioners interested in Australian law and the economy, introduces new Australian developments in labour law and consumer law, including dispute resolution aspects, comparing also some developments in Japanese law and practice. It will be followed by an informal networking opportunity.

To register and view the event flyer please click here.

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In an article published in the Zeitschrift für Japanisches Recht / Journal of Japanese Law [“Die Haftung für Nuklearschäden nach japanischem Atomrecht – Rechtsprobleme der Reaktorkatastrophe von Fukushima I” (Liability for Nuclear Damages pursuant to Japanese Atomic Law – Legal Problems Arising from the Fukushima I Nuclear Accident) (ZJapanR 31, 2011)] Julius Weitzdörfer, Research Associate with the Japan Unit of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law (and JSPS Visiting Researcher at Kyoto University Law Faculty), examines the legal challenges currently facing the Japanese judiciary, government and economy in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster. The article (in German along with an English abstract) can be downloaded here, and shorter summary by the author is reproduced below (from the MPI website).

Luke Nottage (also now at Kyoto University Law Faculty, as a Visiting Scholar over October-November) then adds a broader perspective on the disasters afflicting Japan since 11 March 2011, based on his presentation at Tohoku University in Sendai over 14-15 October.

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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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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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Product Safety is one major theme for the 4th Consumer Law Roundtable, hosted this year at Sydney Law School on 4 December 2009. Others include unfair contract terms and consumer credit, and this Roundtable will have an Asia-Pacific focus. Professor Michelle Tan will join us again from Japan, and keynote speakers are Professor Tsuneo Matsumoto (chair of Japan's new Consumer Commission, which he outlines here) and VUW's Kate Tokeley (considering unfair contract terms from a New Zealand perspective). A major role of the new Consumer Affairs Agency - supervised by Commission - is to collect and analyse consumer product-related accident data, which Japanese suppliers need to disclose since amendments in 2006.

Meanwhile, on 16 November the Australian Treasury initiated yet another public Consultation: "Regulatory Impact Statement - Australian Consumer Law - Best Practice Proposals and Product Safety Regime". Before being considered for a Bill, a cost-benefit analysis (RIS) has been required for these proposals, based on consumer law reform recommendations from the Productivity Commission in 2008 other than those (especially unfair contract terms regulations) which were introduced as a separate Bill in July - without the extra hurdle of such a RIS analysis. Unfortunately, the Treasury did not publicise well this latest Consultation (eg not via their http://www.treasury.gov.au/consumerlaw/ portal) and required Submissions by 30 November. They wanted to report to the Ministerial Council of Consumer Affairs (MCCA), also scheduled for 4 December - alongside, incidentally, PM Rudd's major conference on the Asia Pacific Community concept (see my revised blog on that here).

Despite this very tight deadline, I provided the following Submission in response to Part II (pp 82-98) of this consultation, regarding Product Safety (PS) re-regulation. I elaborated mainly on a few key points developed in my Submission to the first consultation on the Australian Consumer Law reform announced in February 2009. Hopefully Australia will finally join Japan and many other Asia-Pacific countries (China, Canada and the US) in adopting the new global standards for PS.

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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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Tezukayama University Professor Michelle Tan (who Commented recently on my previous blog on the new DPJ government and law reform) spoke with me on this topic at the big SOCAP (Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals) conference in Sydney over 25-6 August. Key conference themes were the impact of the GFC and world-wide recession, and the new nation-wide Australian Consumer Law reforms. We emphasised the need for Australia to unify consumer nation-wide by ‘trading up’ not only to best practice from among its states and territories, but also to emerging global standards. Our presentation compared developments in consumer policy/administration generally, product liability and safety, consumer credit and unfair contract terms, collective redress and consumer ADR. (Powerpoints and a related Working Paper are here, drawing on my various Submissions to aspects of Australia's current consumer law reform program.)

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This is the grand title of a modest Sydney Law School Research Paper (No 09/71) updating and editing another collection of my blog postings both here and on the East Asia Forum. Freely downloadable via http://ssrn.com/abstract=1446523, it is based mainly on developments from the end of 2008 through to mid-2009.

Many topics are important not only within Australia and Japan, but also potentially for bilateral relations (for example, as novel dimensions to the FTA or 'Economic Partnership Agreement' already under negotiation between these two countries). Several topics (for example, the state of economics as a discipline after the GFC, neo-communitarian perspectives on comparative law and society, the legacy of the post-War Occupation of Japan) also address more broadly how we should (re)conceptualise law, economics and public policy particularly in the Asia-Pacific context.

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Compared to Australian and New Zealand legislation, Japan’s Consumer Contracts Act 2000 has quite narrow restrictions on the bargaining process leading up to the conclusion of contracts between consumers and commercial suppliers (Luke Nottage ‘Nihon-Nyujirando Shohishakeiyakuho [Consumer Contract Law in Japan and New Zealand]’ 1620 Toki no Horei 4-5, June 2000). But it adds a ‘general clause’ regulating unfair contract terms, voiding those that ‘impair the interests of consumers unilaterally against the fundamental principle’ of good faith under Civil Code Art 1(2), as well as targeting some specific types of terms. The Consumer Contracts Act also extends to all types of contracts (except employment contracts: Art 48), and defines ‘consumer’ broadly as any individual not contracting for a business purpose (Art 2).

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1. I wrote to Australia's Treasurer recently agreeing we need re-regulation of Australia’s consumer credit markets, along the lines proposed in ‘The National Consumer Credit Reform Package’.

2. I considered some improvements that could be made regarding an External Dispute Resolution scheme. But I begin by supporting a key improvement proposed in the National Consumer Credit Protection Bill: imposing responsible lending rules (focused on ‘suitability’ and repayment capacity), drawing partly on my studies of Japanese law.

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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/]

The Kyoto Shimbun reported last Wednesday the first de facto victory by a consumer representative group in injunction proceedings regarding unfair contract terms. The same page mentioned the Education Ministry’s response to the recent death of a sixth-year elementary student, who choked on some bread provided in school lunches – basically, ‘chew well’! By contrast, Japan’s largest manufacturer of konnyaku (konjac) jelly snacks, MannanLife, halted all production after a one-year-old boy choked to death on 29 July.

But that situation is rather different. It also more directly highlights when and how a new Consumer Agency (shohisha-cho) might emerge in Japan. Ex-PM Fukuda’s Cabinet approved a Bill, but it then resigned without putting it through. It is unclear when and how PM Aso will submit a new Bill, and what line the opposition DPJ will now take, especially given the uncertainty about a possible early general election.

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

In Japanese banking, the big boys are back, as I explained last week: The Economist now confirms it. Indeed, the latter suggests that “if Japanese banks have any unique skill, it may well be in coping with crisis”. Not an obvious point, as evidenced by the collective dithering after Japan’s financial markets collapsed in the early 1990s or the almost completely unexpected 1995 Kobe earthquake. But I suppose the Japanese can be very good at responding systematically, once they establish the broad parameters of the problem.

Anyway, Mitsubishi UFJ has now proceeded to take 21% of Morgan Stanley, and is now considering further integrating its securities subsidiary (involved in US$18.3b of M&A advisory work involving Japanese companies in 2007) with Morgan’s Japanese arm (which did $17.9b). This would challenge Nomura, which did $34.2b (“Aiming to Rival Nomura”, Asahi Shimbun, 4-5 October, p 25); but the latter has also snapped up Lehman’s operations in Asia (mostly Tokyo), hoping to retain many staff to grow its own business.

And on Friday, the US government finally agreed on a public bailout plan for up to $700b, which I reviewed critically earlier in the week. Along with $85b for AIG and $29b for Bear Stearns, this amounts already to 5.8% of GDP, “well above the 3.7% of the savings-and-loan bail-out in the late 1980s and early 1990s” and significantly less than the 24% of GDP committed by Japan after 1997.

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

Australia’s Productivity Commission recommended in 2006 several ways to improve our consumer product safety regulatory regime, which dates back to the 1970s. In 2008 it published a more comprehensive Inquiry Report to strengthen our entire consumer law and policy framework. Several recommendations, like an obligation on suppliers to report serious product-related accidents to regulators, will start to bring Australia up to the higher standards expected and implemented in Japan since the 1990s. Those track the higher priority given recently to consumer protection particularly in the EU.

Japan and the EU illustrate the thesis of ANU Professors John Braithwaite and Peter Drahos that “global business regulation” can accommodate both economic deregulation of protected sectors domestically, and improved “social regulation” or a safety net for vulnerable groups of citizens. Japan also shares with the EU a greater concern about risks potentially affecting consumers or the environment. By contrast, as Berkeley Professor David Vogel has pointed out, since the 1980s the US has become much more concerned about risks to national security. Australia seems to have gone the same way. Yet such differing risk perceptions remain under-appreciated particularly in the Australia-Japan context.

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

Japan’s recent re-regulation of unsecured consumer credit provides another major example of the growing consumer voice in law and policy-making in that country since the 1990s. It also highlights another “blind spot” in the Australian media’s coverage of Japan. This is despite similar underlying problems in this country, and a belated awareness of the risks involved in consumer lending following the sub-prime loans crisis in the US.

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Japanese Law in Asia-Pacific Socio-Economic Context
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