Takeaways from energy arbitration and dispute resolution conference

Brandon Malone FCIArb, from Arbitra International and Chair of Ciarb’s Scottish Branch, shares his thoughts on the 7th Annual Conference on Energy Arbitration and Dispute Resolution in the Middle East and Africa, 30-31 May 2024.

Organised by the International Law Summits, the event brought together leading experts and practitioners to discuss pressing issues in energy arbitration. The conference set the stage for a day filled with insightful discussions centred around Africa. Funke Adekoya SAN FCIArb, a distinguished arbitrator, delivered the keynote address titled "Balancing the Scales: Fairness in Economic Distribution in International Arbitration." Her speech emphasised the necessity of rectifying imbalances in international arbitration, particularly from the perspective of African nations. Adekoya highlighted the legal resource disparity, the disproportionate quantum of damages awarded, and the preference for European seats in arbitration, which often disadvantage African parties.

Following the keynote, Stuart Amor from FTI Consulting provided a detailed outlook on the energy industry in Africa and the Middle East. Paul Cliff from Grant Thornton discussed key quantum issues arising from energy transition disputes, examining how different valuation methods can produce radically different results, and developing the theme of unfairness introduced in the keynote.

The morning panel session, moderated by Tunde Fagbonhunlu SAN, explored the impact of the energy transition on dispute resolution in Africa. Panellists included Peter Hood from King and Spalding, Jessica Crow MCIArb from Arbitra, Steven Finizio from WilmerHale, and Peter Cameron FCIArb from the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy (CEPMLP). The discussion underscored the evolving nature of disputes due to the energy transition and the need for adaptive dispute resolution mechanisms.

Post-lunch, the session on best practices in African ADR featured Noreen Kidunduhu FCIArb as the moderator, with contributions from Hamish Lal FCIArb, Sean Gibbs ICE FRICS FCIARB FCIOB FCICES, Bill Barton, and Michelle Bradfield. The panellists shared their experiences and challenges in African ADR, providing valuable insights into the trends and future directions of dispute resolution on the continent.

The subsequent session, moderated by Tunde Ogunseitan FCIArb, delved into the emerging disputes related to LNG, lithium, and hydrogen. Speakers included Duncan Bagshaw FCIArb from Howard Kennedy, Ana Stanic FCIArb from EA Law, Olivier Mette from Xodus, and Paul Sills from Arbitra International. This session highlighted the increasing importance of these resources and the ways in which they will generate disputes.

The day concluded with a session on energy arbitration in North African states, moderated by Lady Olga Maitland. Contributions from Professor Dr. Mohamed Sameh Amr, Sally El Sawah, from Egypt and Gofran Abaoub from the firm Eltumi, in Libya provided a comprehensive overview of the arbitration landscape in North Africa.

The second day commenced with a keynote speech from Sarah Malik of SOL. Sarah’s address focused on the reform and cultural shifts in the Middle East, positioning the region as a new centre for dispute resolution.

Philipe Fortuit then presented a lecture on the emergence of energy issues in governance across the Middle East and Africa, highlighting the critical role of governance in managing energy disputes. The first session, moderated by Craig Tevendale from Herbert Smith Freehills, who hosted the conference, examined the convergence of common law, civil law, and Sharia law in the Middle East. The panel, including Fatima Balfaqeeh FCIArb, Dr. Aseel Zimmo MCIArb, and Dr. Youseph Farah MCIArb, discussed the unique challenges and opportunities presented by these legal traditions.

The afternoon session on geopolitics, natural resources, and sustainability in the energy sector, moderated by Hugh Fraser FCIArb, featured insights from Khushboo Shahdadpuri, Hind Al Aissi, Jamie Trinidad KC, and Dr. Arman Sarvarian. The discussion emphasised the geopolitical complexities and the need for sustainable practices in the energy industry.

Roberto Pirozzi moderated the session on emerging and established dispute resolution options in the MENA region, with contributions from Antonia Birt, Aysha Abdulla, Lara Hammoud, and Daniel Greineder. The panellists explored the diverse options available and the strategic considerations for parties involved in disputes.

The final session, moderated by Karen Gough FCIArb, focused on the use of dispute boards in Middle East energy infrastructure projects. Saad Hegazy FCIArb, Luis Martinez, Jane Davies Evans KC FCIArb, and Dr. Nasser Mehsin MCIArb shared their experiences and discussed the efficacy of dispute boards in resolving complex infrastructure disputes and the likelihood of their increased use.

The purpose of this conference has always been to look beyond technical arbitration points to the wider social, political and economic factors that drive dispute resolution in the focus regions, and to provide a forum for debate and discussion. With its excellent faculty of speakers, many who had flown in from the Middle East and Africa for the conference, this edition delivered on its promise.

Next year, the conference will take place on 25-26  May in the Gulf region at a venue to be confirmed, and will be held in partnership with the GCC Commercial Arbitration Centre.