The overhaul of South Africa’s outdated international arbitration framework serves as a stepping stone to position the country as a regional arbitration hub and will bolster security of investment.
The draft International Arbitration Bill, introduced into Parliament in March and which is expected to be open for public comment from this weekend until the end of July, will govern all international arbitrations seated in South Africa, replacing the obsolete Arbitration Act No 42 of 1965.
“[With the number of arbitration cases on the rise globally,] South Africa is perfectly positioned to become a preferred venue for international arbitration. The International Arbitration Bill, once enacted, will align the South African international arbitration law with international best practice,” said Deputy Minister Responsible for Justice and Constitutional Development in the Justice and Correctional Services Ministry John Jeffery.
Opening a Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr- (CDH-) hosted seminar, ‘The Africanisation of International Arbitration’, in Sandton, on Wednesday, he said the new Bill incorporated the Uncitral Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration and is a long-overdue renewal of the country’s severely lagging civil and commercial disputes platform.
The new Bill proposes amendments that would ensure South Africa’s government recognises and enforces foreign arbitration awards and gives effect to the New York Convention, which will further bolster potential foreign direct investment and deal with some concerns of industry.
“We are confident that the new legislation will contribute to economic growth and investment,” he told attendees at the seminar.
The Bill will ensure South Africa is an attractive venue for parties around the world to resolve their commercial disputes – a position that the country was well-prepared to rise up to.
“We are well-placed to become an arbitration force to be reckoned with,” he said, citing South Africa’s pro-arbitration courts and well-trained jurists and legal practitioners, as well as well-functioning courts and solid infrastructure.
“I have no doubt South Africa and Africa as a whole is fast becoming an international role-player in arbitration. Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating – the real test lies in if we can deliver,” Jeffery added.
“If we want to compete as an arbitration-friendly country and continent, we must deliver on cost, speed, flexibility, transparency and, above all, reputation.”
However, CDH dispute resolution director Jonathan Ripley-Evans stressed the importance of South Africa fostering relationships with its neighbours.
The show of unity and trust between Africa’s countries would serve to change perceptions about the continent.
“Advancing the interests of Africa as an attractive seat to international arbitration requires cooperation. The entire African continent will be judged by unity,” he said, pointing out that pursing selfish interests for South Africa alone would be detrimental.
Should there be general agreement over the contents, the new Bill is likely to be promulgated by year-end, Jeffery concluded.