Dispute resolution involving international mining transactions

When Canadian mining companies are involved in interna­tional projects with multiple parties and jurisdictions, the legal landscape that comes with it can be challenging to navigate. If there is a dispute, the courts of more than one...

When Canadian mining companies are involved in interna­tional projects with multiple parties and jurisdictions, the legal landscape that comes with it can be challenging to navigate. If there is a dispute, the courts of more than one country may assert jurisdiction. The laws of more than one legal system may apply. Enforcement of rights and remedies must be effective.

In international mining transactions, international arbitra­tion is the most appropriate dispute resolution mechanism. For parties to protect themselves and get the maximum benefits from the process, it is important to pay careful attention to draft­ing an arbitration clause. Considering these issues needs to hap­pen early in the negotiation, rather than at the 11th hour. This will help ensure the arbitration mechanism is enforceable and that if there is a need to arbitrate, it proceeds in as timely and cost effective a manner as possible.

The benefits of international arbitration

Neutrality is the principal benefit of international arbitration. Neither party in an international transaction is likely to be willing to submit to the courts of the other side’s home jurisdiction. International arbitration provides an alternative – the parties agree on a neutral and convenient place of arbitration; on independent, impartial and qualified arbitrators; and on a neutral governing law.

The second principal benefit of international arbitration is the enforceability of the arbitral award (the decision) issued by the tri­bunal. The New York Convention is the international legal frame­work that commits the courts of its nearly 200 signatory countries to enforce decisions, without reconsidering the merits of the case. This makes decisions not only final, but – crucially – portable, and far easier to enforce in foreign countries than court judgements.

These benefits are particularly relevant in investor-State disputes. These disputes typically arise under bilateral or multilateral invest­ment agreements, and involve issues such as expropriation of min­ing properties or unfair/discriminatory treatment of a foreign com­pany by the State where a mine or other investment is situated.

The right framework and agreeing on rules

Unlike domestic litigation, international arbitration does not have one set of rules that all parties follow if there is a dispute. To maximize the benefits of international arbitration, and avoid an unenforceable or unworkable agreement, parties must state their intentions to arbitrate clearly. This is an essential requirement and makes it unambiguous that disputes will be handled through arbitration, rather to the courts. This is typically done by insert­ing a carefully considered arbitration clause in the contract.

Another key requirement is to identify expressly the place (the seat) of the arbitration. This impacts the efficiency of the clause and the process that results. The choice of the place is guided by looking at its arbitration law (which will usually govern the conduct of the arbitration), as well as whether the place is in a country that has adopted the New York Convention. Factors of convenience to the parties – distance, costs, etc. – should also be considered.

After selecting the place of arbitration, parties should con­sider agreeing on a set of procedural rules. The leading rules are those issued and administered by institutions such as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) and American Arbitration Association (AAA). There are subtle differences among these so-called “institutional” rules, and all of these differ from rules for so-called “ad hoc” or non-administered arbitration, such as the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Rules. All such rules allow for their modification by consent of the parties, in effect allowing the parties to tailor the process to suit their needs and interests and the nature of the industry, business and dispute in question.

Practical considerations

The inherent flexibility of international arbitration should be used to maximize its potential. Doing so, however, requires careful attention to a range of both legal and practical considerations. This attention can anticipate and avoid or mitigate aspects of an arbitra­tion that could otherwise lead to undue delay or costs, or even an unwanted outcome. Defining at the outset such practical matters as the scope of document production or the rules for presentation of evidence or the timeframe for the process is highly recom­mended. So too is consideration of potential arbitrators’ availabil­ity to conduct the arbitration and issue an award within an accept­able timeframe. Focusing on these and other important practical considerations will ensure the efficiencies and benefits that can be gained through international arbitration.


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