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    Dispute Resolution Managers Meet for First Time


    © International Trade Centre, International Trade Forum - Issue 1/2005

    Photo: ITC/C. Hossmann

    In a worldwide first, ITC brought together managers of new and well-established arbitration and mediation centres to discuss the challenges of running a centre. They left with new ideas to tackle common problems as well as new training and cooperation initiatives.

    Bringing business disputes to court takes time and money, and may be too much in the public eye. Even though arbitration and mediation centres can offer firms a faster, confidential solution, they have their own problems, particularly in developing economies.

    To address common operational issues, ITC brought together more than 60 directors of centres from 50 developing and developed countries at a Symposium on Strengthening Commercial Arbitration and Mediation Services (Chamonix, France, September 2004). Some of the world's foremost institutions in the field were present, including the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Federation of Commercial Arbitration Institutions and the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law. 

    New centres, especially in developing economies, benefited from the experience of well-established institutions in the efficient management of commercial disputes. Experienced centres could evaluate fresh ideas.

    High demand for services

    The sheer volume of cases in an era of increased trade is an important factor in operating a centre. South Africa's Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration - the most outstanding example - has settled some 340,000 cases since January 2000 and handles 500 cases on a daily basis. The caseload shows that case managers need excellent organizational skills, on a par with their knowledge of arbitration. 

    Often, however, there are few trained staff available for the secretariats, not to mention for the pool of arbitrators. To survive, centres cannot rely just on providing arbitration or mediation services, but also have to engage in training. Creating an association for young lawyers, especially women, has helped Germany's institution boost numbers of trained arbitrators.

    Changing mindsets

    Managers also stressed the diplomatic and awareness-building skills required of them. Centres have to network with the "traditional" legal profession, from legislators to court officials, to raise awareness of their services. Participants learned that such efforts have paid off in the United Kingdom, where the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution now receives referrals through the court system.

    Various centres explained how they are working to raise the profile of arbitration and mediation services with the business sector. Most are linked with the national chamber of commerce. 

    Practices to build visibility and confidence range from using experienced foreign arbitrators when starting up a centre, to providing free services to small firms that cannot afford the costs of a trial to organizing activities such as conferences.

    Specializing in solving the disputes of particular sectors or industries - from consumer disputes to construction and sports - is also an effective way to build a solid client base.

    From competition to collaboration

    Another recurring challenge is competing for business with other centres in one country. In Latvia, for instance, over 100 centres offer dispute resolution ser-vices. Participants proposed two solutions to this probem. Centres can merge, as happened in neighbouring Lithuania. Another approach, adopted by the 25 new centres in Argentina and six in Switzerland, is harmonization. Agreeing to use the same procedura rules and undertaking a collective "branding" effort helped raise the profile of all their centres, nationally and internationally.

    Centres are also linking up on a regional and international basis. Giving support to client companies wherever their business activities take them is a growing trend, reflected by the many cooperative agreements that larger arbitration centres have reached with counterparts around the world. "We believe that creating or reinforcing our ties with the arbitration centres of the 14 member states of the Southern Africa Development Community is important, because South African companies are conducting business and investing in these countries," said Danie van Wyk of the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa (AFSA).

    Enhancing dispute resolution services

    All participants agreed that arbitration and mediation services are here to stay, and play a growing part in international trade. As a result of this meeting, ITC is helping centres establish an open network for technical assistance among them, flowing South-South and North-South, but also South-North. 

    For example, ITC and several southern African countries, in cooperation with AFSA, are working on a cooperation agreement between centres in the region. The initiative was driven by demand from business circles to ease disputes between, for instance, firms from South Africa and Madagascar, or Mauritius and Mozambique. ITC is using the expertise of centres in the area to lead the project, such as AFSA, the Arbitration and Mediation Centre of Madagascar and the arbitration centre of the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce. 

    Also at the request of business, the centre in Madagascar is linking with the Indian Council of Arbitration, due to an increase in disputes arising from more business being done between these countries.

    In another outcome of the meeting, several arbitration centres, impressed by the effectiveness of non-adversarial approaches, are looking into providing conciliation and mediation services along with their existing arbitration services. They include the centres in Algiers (Algeria), Estonia and Geneva (Switzerland).

    Getting the message to others

    Several participants published reports on the meeting in their journals and on their web sites, among them the centres in Cameroon, Geneva, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Madagascar and Mexico. The Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in London, probably the world's foremost reservoir of arbitration experience, also set up an online networking forum for the managers of arbitration and mediation centres to continue the discussions begun at the meeting.

    "The Chamonix meeting of arbitration and mediation centre managers is set to become a regular feature in the calendar of events for dispute resolution services," said Jean-François Bourque, ITC's Senior Legal Adviser and the organizer of the symposium. The next meeting is scheduled to take place early in 2006. Participants will look more closely at setting up mediation and conciliation services for the business community, with examples from developing and transition countries in particular. These often have cultural traditions of mediation, and are leading the way in devising less conflictual solutions to business disputes.

    Part of the changing business landscape

    For ITC, settling business disputes rapidly and efficiently is an essential link in the chain tying suppliers and buyers together. "Mediation and arbitration centres of developing and emerging economies have a unique role to play to help their countries join in the world economy," said ITC's Executive Director, J. Denis Bélisle. "Not only do they provide methods for solving the disputes that inevitably arise from trade, but they can promote ways to prevent commercial disputes and provide direct support to the business community at the operational level."

    It is no longer in question that providing such services contributes to a competitive business environment. "If you want to do business in Mauritius, you know that you will be subjected to international arbitration rules," said Barnen Pillay of the Permanent  Arbitration Court of the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry. An efficient dispute resolution system will attract investors and business people to a country, in the same manner as its transport systems, and macroeconomic and fiscal policies.

    Out-of-court dispute resolution services have brought new and innovative concepts  - from partners to processes, techniques and attitudes - into the legal and business landscape. For instance, many women manage arbitration and mediation centres.

    For more information, contact Jean-François Bourque, ITC Senior Legal Adviser, atbourque@intracen.org