Contracting with governments: pitfalls, arbitration, sovereign immunity and enforcement

Entering into a contract with an entity owned or controlled by the state poses unique challenges not faced when dealing with a private commercial counterparty. Parties should be aware of certain distinctive features of negotiating with a state entity from the start of any commercial relationship. It is particularly important for parties to consider these implications when conducting business in the Middle East given that:

i. state entities play a major role in the procurement of major projects, particularly in GCC countries; and

ii. the reconstruction of infrastructure and the development of natural resources in countries such as Iraq require significant foreign investment in the form of contracts with state-owned entities.

Determining whether or not a commercial party is dealing with a state entity is not always a straightforward process in the Middle East. As such, parties should take extra care and consider the following factors at the outset:

a) the capacity of the entity to enter into an arbitration agreement;

b) the ability of the state in question to raise a defence of sovereign immunity in the future; and

c) the investment treaty protections that a company may be able to utilise.

In this article, we set out the key factors that parties should consider when negotiating with a state entity in order to maximise the protections available should a dispute arise at a later point.

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