Laura Keily, Founder and Managing Director of Immediation
Australia has been left out in the cold on a major matter for international trade.
Earlier this year, representatives from 54 countries attended the United Nations Convention on International Settlement Agreements Resulting from Mediation – known as the Singapore Mediation Convention. The aim was to establish international recognition for enforceability of settlements that arise from mediation.
So far, 46 countries (including economic heavyweights US, China, along with India and South Korea) have signed the treaty. Australia is not one of them.
The Convention itself is an important step in the maturity of dispute resolution globally. It enables negotiated settlements to be enforced in the same way as a court order or arbitral award (in States that have signed the New York Convention on Arbitration). Mediation is crucial because it gives power to parties to resolve their disputes without being bound up in unnecessary process.
Enabling uniform enforcement of mediated settlements promotes international trade by helping disputing parties resolve their problems quickly and commercially, allowing them to move forward with confidence that the agreement reached will be upheld. In effect, it means less time and money spent in settling disputes and keeps relationships on track. It’s likely that once enforcement is possible under the Convention, mediation will become a more appealing prospect for businesses engaged in international disputes.
Yet the Convention will not apply to enforcement of settlement agreements in Australia at this stage. In fact, the decision not to sign could very well impact our ability to do international business in the future. If we can’t guarantee that an international settlement agreement will be enforced here easily, we’re just as likely to be left out of the whole arrangement, as signatory countries trade amongst themselves.
The Convention as a whole recognises that mediation is on the rise as the go-to dispute resolution method in international trade. Admirably, the Convention enables settlement agreements to be signed electronically for the first time, a major step forward for the growing sector of online dispute resolution. The Convention’s ratification will help businesses avoid legal warfare and ensure disputes are resolved quickly, more affordably and effectively.
Of the more than 54 countries that attended the convention, 46 chose to sign the treaty. The countries that haven’t signed are still able to do so in the future and it’s imperative that Australia does. Choosing not to sign burdens our international trade businesses with the substantial costs and procedures of litigation or arbitration, because international parties trading with Australian companies may consider that relying on international private settlement agreements with them is too risky.