ITC Impact:Côte d’Ivoire

10 February 2015
ITC News
Solving commercial disputes quickly and cheaply through mediation

The enforcement of contracts is central to the functioning of a market economy. Yet commercial disputes are an inevitable part of running a business. Seeking formal adjudication through the legal system is often time-consuming and expensive, especially in developing countries like Côte d’Ivoire. The burden of these costs and delays is particularly heavy for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

Private commercial arbitration is an alternative that can provide binding decisions generally within a year, but it remains adversarial and expensive. Meanwhile, many commercial disputes can be resolved swiftly, affordably and in a conciliatory manner through mediation. Making reliable mediation services available can thus represent a significant improvement in the business environment, particularly for SMEs.

Since 2012, ITC has worked with Côte d’Ivoire’s Court of Arbitration (CACI, for Cour d’Arbitrage de Côte d’Ivoire) to build and support institutional capacity, as well as to raise awareness of mediation among Ivoirian businesses. This work was part of the European Union-funded Trade and Regional Integration Support Program (PACIR) for Côte d’Ivoire, which seeks to boost trade and regional integration among countries in West Africa.

ITC’s support for the CACI took the shape of a multi-stage plan, involving training activities and new training materials on commercial arbitration, together with temporary work experience abroad for CACI officials. These were accompanied by targeted multimedia outreach to educate the private sector, trade support institutions, and lawyers about alternative methods of dispute settlement. The result has been a stronger CACI, one better equipped to provide the quality services the Ivoirian private sector is increasingly demanding.

Growing use of mediation

From its usual five or six cases per year, the CACI dealt with nine cases in 2012, 14 in 2013, and 13 in the first half of 2014 alone – three of which were commercial mediation cases, rather than traditional arbitration. In September 2014, the CACI announced that a US$2.6 million dispute had been resolved in half a day through mediation – facilitated by one of the 22 certified mediators trained by ITC.

‘Commercial mediation is a great comfort for those of us who do business,’ said Yévile Kouassi, head of the Compagnie Ivoirienne des Routes et du Bâtiment (CIROBAT), a road maintenance company. ‘In the event of a dispute, I am ready to go to the CACI. With its principles of speed, impartiality, and confidentiality, it is truly a tool that corresponds to our needs,’ she added.

In March 2014, the CACI organized a national mediation day, and, in a testament to its growing influence, successfully campaigned for a new law on mediation, in force since June of the same year. The law defines mediation as ‘an alternative form of dispute resolution’ in which parties seek to reach an amicable accord with the help of a mediator of their choosing or one designated by the judge responsible for the case. It establishes a three-month maximum for mediation attempts.

Increased awareness among businesses about commercial mediation has already started to be reflected in their practices, according to Adeh Kouassi, a lawyer and mediator. ‘We are already sought after by both the CACI and directly by businesses to write mediation clauses into contracts. There is enormous enthusiasm; it’s remarkable.’

Beyond enhanced mediation capacity, CACI’s team has a deepened understanding of dispute settlement procedures, and has an electronic case management system that is in line with international best practices.

‘ITC’s support has been essential for our institution,’ said Francois Abondio, CACI Secretary- General. ‘It has played a very fundamental role in improving the business environment in Côte d’Ivoire.’

Côte d’Ivoire was among the top reformers identified in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index for 2015, with ‘trading across borders’ highlighted as a particular area of improvement.