Arbitration|Conflict Resolution|International|Mediation

Global Symposium on ADR for SMEs

The third biennial Symposium of the International Trade Center on the management of commercial dispute resolution services offering effective dispute resolution services to SMEs was held in Chamonix, France, on 14-15 May 2009.  It attracted leaders in commercial mediation from many countries, and offered a forum for the exchange of ideas, experiences and inspiration.


The Symposium included addresses by Muchadeyi Masunda, Mayor of Harare and Chair of the Zimbabwe Arbitration Centre; Emmanuel Jolivet, General Counsel of the ICC; Tatiana de Oliviera Goncalves, Secretary General of the Arbitration Center of Brazil; Wang Chengjie, Deputy Secretary General of CIETAC; Tanayi Mbuy-Mbiye, Chair of the Arbitration Center of the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Sophie Henry, Chief Executive of the Chamber of Mediation and Arbitration of Paris; Guillermo Argerich, President of the Arbitration Commission of the Argentine Chamber of Commerce; and others.

So rich and varied an attendance made for especially rewarding discourse. It was apparent early in the Symposium that the days of developing economies looking to the UK and the US as models of commercial ADR are past – if indeed they ever really were. Disputes in developing economies are frequently with players within its own region or otherwise with other developing economies, and so cultural, legal and economic similarities press more forcefully on commercial dispute resolution – as a practical matter – than do the teachings of Roger Fisher or the experiences of General Electric.

This was particularly noteworthy during a breakout session on “Training of Mediators.” The speaker from the UK described the training activities of his service organization, which requires that those listed as mediators undertake training offered by the center itself, at substantial cost.

The speaker from Netherlands emphasized esoteric (and fascinating) challenges of psychology, empathy, perception and cognitive dissonance as essential to mediator training.The speaker from Argentina distinguished between a region’s capacity and a center’s formal training.

But the speaker from Burkina Faso noted that, traditionally, disputes in her country have been resolved “under the banyan tree” by an elder of the community.She conceded that the elder had no training in empathy or psychology, but rather enjoyed what all neutrals must possess – trust and the peculiar authority that derives from respect.

This theme was also voiced by delegates from Malaysia and elsewhere.And other concerns that are not commonly shared among American and European mediators were heard. The Chinese delegate spoke clearly and convincingly of the social utility of mediation in the course of adjudicative proceedings such as arbitration and trial.

The delegate from Zimbabwe considered at length the abstruse course of action necessary to obtain justice when an aging and waning central authority holds dictatorial control over the quasi-judicial processes involving resolution of land disputes. A delegate from Costa Rica bemoaned the sectarian schisms among the lawmaking and judicial bodies in her region, that frustrated efforts to impose commercial harmony and predictability among the various countries who so closely rely upon each other’s trade. The challenges and cultural traditions of two former communist territories – Estonia in the north and Bosnia in the south – were completely contrasting, belying the facile attribution of “Eastern Europe.”

Among the other topics discussed were the role of courts as “inducers” of out-of court mediation (i.e., what was the practice and the success among participating countries of court-annexed and court-required mediation); the challenges and best practices of organizing centers that provide commercial mediation services to SMEs; the role of the revenue derived from training mediators in the fiscal stability of mediation centers (and the consequent lack of independent assurance of mediator quality); and the necessity to reach out to SMEs to ensure they are aware of, and take advantage of, mediation and arbitration services offered by centrally-located (and therefore sometimes remote) ADR organizations.

Two offerings at the Symposium were unique. A period of 2.5 hours was set aside for 0ne-on-one meetings of 15 minutes apiece. Pursuant to responses to a previously circulated questionnaire, participants were handed a schedule of meetings held at 32 different tables (half in French, half in English).They scurried from table to table when an alpine cow bell rang, and in this way had an opportunity to spend brief but important “networking” time with other individual delegates.Another particularly successful offering came at the end of the Symposium, when delegates were treated to performances of skits, sketches, dances, comedy routines, and other quasi-theatrical amusements of surprising quality, most involving the delegates themselves and all having real impact. Particularly memorable was Ms. Bintou Boli of the Centre d’arbitrage de mediation et de conciliation de Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) whose skit, titled “A Not So Perfect Mediator,” involved her greeting one party with a formal handshake and the other with back slaps, shouts of recognition, hearty inquiries about the children, and requests for the recipe for last week’s meal. Very funny, and (delivered as it was) a lesson not soon forgotten.

Countries represented included Algeria, Argentina, Azerbaijan, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, China, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Croatia, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Korea, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mali, Morocco, Mexico, Mongolia, Nepal, Netherlands, Nigeria, Panama, Senegal, Serbia & Montenegro, South Africa, Swaziland, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.

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