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'Sweden missing chance to host UN agency'

Published: 18 Dec 2013 07:01 GMT+01:00

In the summer, Uncitral, the UN Commission that formulates and regulates international trade law, drew up carefully negotiated rules for increased transparency in arbitration between private companies and states. The increase in such contracts has led to an increasing demand for transparency.

"Investor-state disputes have grown quickly in the past ten years," explains Annette Magnusson, Secretary General of the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce.

"And Stockholm and Sweden have developed into a very strong venue (to resolve) this type of dispute," she tells The Local.

The UN has been hunting for a home for its new transparency rules, a centre that would not only put them  into play, but also, Magnusson argues, publicize the importance of transparency.

She has asked the government whether Sweden should raise its hand and volunteer to house the new office function for the new rules on transparency.

"Transparency is one of Sweden's core values. We have the right to public information law (offentlighetsprincipen) and while more and more countries are now pushing for greater transparency, that principle is so fundamental to us." 

"We are used to and we cherish transparency," says Magnusson. "In addition, we have a very strong tradition of international arbitration."

So far, however, the reception from the government has been lukewarm. For Magnusson, the establishment of a registry for transparency in investor-state dispute resolution in Stockholm would not only be a gesture of goodwill if the government said it was ready to finance it, but it would also place Sweden on the global map when it comes to the growing field of disputes that concern either public money or the public interest - or both.

"It isn't rare that these disputes touch upon public interest, for example waste management in a city, or access to clean water, or when a state changes environmental policy so it affects a contract," Magnusson explains.

"Traditionally, these cases have often been confidential, but when it comes to public interest there is a strong movement to make them transparent." 

The new secretariat should be up and running by April 1st, 2014 if all goes to plan. It leaves a slim window for the Swedish government to register its interest, Magnusson argues. 

"The government has shown some interest, but they're moving too slowly. There has neither been a yes or a no, and they need to be quick on their feet," she adds. 

The arbitration secretariat would employ at most two persons.

Magnusson also says having the arbitration secretariat in Stockholm would strengthen Sweden's global trademark. 

"If you do business abroad, and the other party knows nothing about Sweden apart from its position as a neutral venue for high-stake international disputes, that puts Sweden in a positive light," she says.

"It would provide an advantage to Swedish companies working abroad." 

Ann Törnkvist (ann.tornkvist@thelocal.com)

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