Written by: Prof Luke Nottage & Ana Ubilava
The UNCITRAL Coordination Committee for Australia (UNCCA) and the Commercial Law Association (CLA) is holding an online seminar on Monday 26 October 2020 partly to celebrate the fortieth anniversary on the CISG (UN Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods). The live, interactive seminar will be supplemented by a full conference package including pre-recorded presentations. A longer (30-minute) version of a pre-recording by UNCCA Fellow Dr Luke Nottage (Professor of Comparative and Transnational Business Law) and Ana Ubilava (PhD student at Sydney Law School and ANJeL Executive Coordinator) can be viewed here. Our presentation is entitled “Australia’s recent investment treaty ratifications and reviews: The UN Transparency Convention and investor-state mediation”. It is based on Ana’s recent postings on investor-state mediation (her PhD thesis topic) for the Kluwer Mediation Blog (reproduced here) and for the Kluwer Arbitration Blog with Luke and Prof James Claxton, as well as her lead-authored chapter with Luke for his co-edited book on Asia-Pacific international business dispute resolution due out from Kluwer by end-2020:
Ubilava, Ana and Nottage, Luke R., Novel and Noteworthy Aspects of Australia’s Recent Investment Agreements and ISDS Policy: The CPTPP, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Mauritius Transparency Treaties (March 4, 2020). in Nottage, Luke; Ali, Shahla; Jetin, Bruno; Teramura, Nobumichi (eds), “New Frontiers in Asia-Pacific International Arbitration and Dispute Resolution”, Wolters Kluwer, (Forthcoming) , Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 20/12, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3548358 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3548358
Our presentation updates for recent developments including DFAT’s public consultation to review Australia’s remaining BITs, with Luke’s Submission here and a related thought-provoking Clayton Utz / University of Sydney International Arbitration Lecture this year by Prof Zachary Douglas; but a summary of our original chapter manuscript is as follows.
Abstract: Investment treaties, and especially investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, became a political hot potato from around 2011 when Philip Morris brought the first-ever ISDS claim against Australia under an old bilateral investment treaty (BIT) with Hong Kong. A Labor-Greens Government declared that it would no longer agree to ISDS provisions in future treaties, but when a centre-right Coalition Government regained power from 2013 it reverted to concluding treaties containing ISDS clauses on a case-by-case assessment. Australia therefore agreed to ISDS in FTAs with Korea and China, but not bilaterally with Japan. However ISDS-backed provisions apply between Australia and Japan since the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) can into force between them (and five other Asia-Pacific nations so far) from January 2019. Yet the Australian parliament engaged in robust debate about ratification of the CPTPP, with Labor Opposition (and Greens) parliamentarians continuing to voice concerns over ISDS provisions, despite the Philip Morris claim against Australia’s tobacco plain packaging having been rejected on jurisdictional grounds in 2015.
This paper examines how (US-style) CPTPP drafting compares with two important recent investment agreements subsequently signed by Australia over 2019, namely with Indonesia as part of a wider free trade agreement (IA-CEPA), and with Hong Kong (AHKIA, alongside a bilateral FTA covering non-investment matters). AHKIA came into force from 17 January 2020, while IA-CEPA has been ratified by Australia but not yet by Indonesia. IA-CEPA adds a provision unique in the universe of over 3000 investment agreements world-wide, probably proposed by the Indonesian side: a compulsory mediation step prior to arbitration, if the host state requests mediation after the foreign investor initiates ISDS. The paper also highlights other features of both treaties that may help reduce delays and hence costs in ISDS. The paper summarises empirical data about delays and costs, as well as transparency around ISDS as another growing public concern, including some of our own empirical data provided as evidence to an Australian parliamentary inquiry into ratifying the CPTPP.
We also examine the 2019 parliamentary inquiry that agreed with the submission that Australia should ratify the Mauritius (“UN ISDS”) Convention, thereby retrofitting extensive transparency provisions on pre-2014 treaties between Australia and other states that might also accede to that framework Convention. Even if Mauritius Convention ratifications proliferate, however, it will not retrofit extra transparency provisions to treaties concluded even after 1 April 2014 even among those states (say between Australia and Indonesia, where the investor chooses the ICSID Rules rather than UNCITRAL Rules option for arbitration). Accordingly, states ratifying the Mauritius Convention will still need to agree bilaterally to expand any still-limited transparency provisions in such post-2014 treaties, which is quite inefficient compared to a multilateral solution. Nonetheless, we conclude from these new developments that Australia is now better placed to play a more active role in guiding the future path of international investment treaty-making multilaterally and especially in the Asia-Pacific region.