By Amber Cooper,2014-08-08 08:49
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    By Horacio Falcão with Geoff Groesbeck

Imagine the following….

    After months -- possibly years -- of discussions, false starts and endless negotiations, a high-profile, multi-billion-dollar Latin American infrastructure project is finally ready to take off. The financing is in place, bids have gone out, vendors have been qualified. The lenders have taken the proverbial leap of faith, the government has pledged itself to seeing the project through, and an ambitious campaign to secure the support from all sectors of society has been launched.

    The scope of the project is enormous: It is the largest undertaking ever in the country and carries with it important economic, political and social consequences. The players include bi- and multi-lateral lenders from both the public and private sectors, several government agencies, independent oversight commissions and experts, and dozens of vendors, as well as those not on the payroll, such as various interest groups and the media. More than one hundred different contracts are linked with one another toward a common goal. This fragile coalition is responsible for working together for the duration of the project, which is expected to last -- from planning, contracting, financing, and implementation to coming on line -- more than five years. Left unspoken, but in the back of everyone’s mind, is the thought that five years is also time enough for the country to go through another economic and/or election cycle.

    Sound risky? Welcome to Latin American project financing. Now imagine that you are one of the parties to the project. You have invested in and committed to it a considerable amount of money, time and resources, along with your credibility and hopes.

    As the project starts to pick up speed, you increasingly find yourself having misunderstandings with other parties, and already can see that the delays created by these numerous conflicts will not allow you to end your participation in the project on time and within budget. You discover that the safety regulations have just changed, too, obliging you to run more tests at additional cost to you -- than you initially thought.

    Elections are about to be held, and you know that the front-runner is not particularly fond of the project. Arguments regarding performance, compliance, construction methods, chains of command and myriad other factors are daily routines. Your one ray of hope is that if worse comes to worst, you can always resort to international arbitration, as outlined in the contract, get your investment back, and exit the project. Right?

    Not so fast. In truth, most Latin American countries have not revamped their international arbitration laws, and where you are is not an exception. Your small relief of having an option to go to international arbitration has disappeared. The country is still discussing its policy in regard to the recognition and enforcement of foreign arbitration awards. In other words, even if you win the arbitration, you may not be able to enforce it. As broad as enforcement of international arbitration is becoming nowadays, it still would prove difficult to enforce an award from a party whose assets were domiciled in just one Latin American country. You likely would end up the victim of a judicial system that is well known to be corrupt, slow, costly and ineffective. Your future is now uncertain, but it does not look bright.

? 1999 by CMI International Group, LLC. All rights reserved. C:\convert\temp\69519058.doc

    This nightmare scenario already has happened in several developing countries around the world, not just Latin America. The point of this hypothetical example is to demonstrate what should be obvious to all foreign investors: When making the difficult decision of whether or not to engage in project financing in a developing country, one cannot overlook the importance of the many risks involved, be they currency, economic, legal, political or even weather-related.

Types of Risk

    Foreign investment risks in project financing in Latin America encompass several concerns (e.g., commercial, political, force majeure), but the one that relates to the

    above scenario and which is of increasing importance is the risk associated with the laws and legal system of the country hosting the investment.

    All investors naturally try to minimize their risks. In this instance, a better understanding of the risk associated with Latin American legal systems as well as solutions to avoid

    or share it among several parties, such as “partnering” -- will offer participants more

    adequate preparation and protection and suggest strategies and action plans to minimize other risks as well.

    Partnering, in conjunction with efficient, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) methods, represents an excellent “1-2 punch” insurance policy and better option to the moribund judicial systems still in place in much of Latin America. Partnering provides a proactive approach, addressing potential conflicts before they arise, through an improved

    negotiation atmosphere, while effective ADR methods function as reactive strategies, in response to actual disputes. The two together form an essential strategy to limit legal and associated risk.

Quantifying Risk

    In project finance, risk management is obviously a paramount concern. Thus, quantifying risk (along with profit projections) is usually the first step in gauging the feasibility of a project. Assessing the likelihood and impact of various types of risk is at heart a qualitative exercise clothed in quantitative analysis: Predicting the future is as much based on which variables one includes as the weight each is given. This is especially true in the interdependent world of international finance, where one factor can have profound repercussions on others, even when talking about such seemingly dissimilar events as last summer’s Russian currency devaluation and today’s economic woes in


    Although all risk is to some degree subjective, some types are more easily predicted or insured against than others. Furthermore, some can be proactively addressed through collaborative techniques (e.g., partnering). Legal risk is one such example.

Legal Risk

    An acute problem facing project financing investments is the state of the judicial systems of many Latin American countries. International project finance in these countries can proceed only so far without the host country’s institutional and legal support to help

    manage various risks. All too often, the element of legal risk as a result of the poor quality of judicial systems and other dispute resolution alternatives overcomes the projected profit margin and discourages potential foreign lenders and investors.

? 1999 by CMI International Group, LLC. All rights reserved. C:\convert\temp\69519058.doc

    In these nations, legal risk can translate into many different obstacles for project financing should there be an impediment or conflict. Unfortunately, many Latin countries have slow, bureaucratic, inefficient and corrupt judicial systems when compared to similar institutions in the U.S. and Europe. To compound matters, the disputes that originate from international projects can be technically complex, and many of these countries’ courts do not have the requisite resources and technical comprehension to

    incorporate the findings of expert third-party participation. Differing legal cultures almost always require expensive international litigation procedures, each carrying cross-cultural challenges that require the support of lawyers, translators, experts and an ever-growing list of professionals. Along the way, there is another form of risk to be mindful of: legislative risk. Legislation may be enacted that changes the power relations among the parties and creates even more tension.

    As a consequence to these legal risks, when a dispute occurs, resorting to host countries’ judicial systems often means fewer profits; in some cases it may mean hindering the project’s progress to the point of compromising its success. In sum, due to poorly managed or anticipated legal risks, a conflict may slow down a project, increase its costs and reduce the return on the investment, if not put it on hold or even end it.

Current Legal Risk Management Tools

    Fortunately, there are some tools available to minimize the legal risks pointed out above. For instance, ADR methods are already well known to the international business community (and its legal staff) and their inclusion in international contracts is increasing. Other mechanisms include international commercial arbitration, “sleeping giant”

    mediation and neutral ADR techniques (both binding and non-binding), such as adjudication, dispute review boards, engineer’s decision and expert opinion.

These methods are good alternatives to the judicial systems’ problems noted above.

    They provide a fast, inexpensive and reliable system of dispute resolution, with more technical expertise and more flexibility to manage cross-cultural issues, and far less rancor and suspicion among participants. However, ADR methods only address half of the problem. They are not proactive in trying to prevent disputes from happening; alone, they only manages the disputes better than the courts would once disputes do occur.

New Developments

    Instead of waiting for a dispute to arise and then trying to fix the problem, participants

    particularly foreign ones -- now have the means to proactively minimize their legal risks and prevent conflicts from happening. Relationship management is a preventive approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and is already used in major international construction and investment projects. Within the construction industry, relationship management is also known as partnering.

    Partnering, as a form of relationship management, is a dispute prevention process. An educational training program is offered before beginning construction to ensure that all participants will understand and work collaboratively towards the common goal of the project. This partnering process assists the parties in working together on the process of their collaborative relationship, so that everyone can focus on the substance and goals of the project. Partnering helps ease and often eliminate the tension between having too little time to deal with the substance of the project and yet also having to manage conflicts and relationship problems on a daily basis.

? 1999 by CMI International Group, LLC. All rights reserved. C:\convert\temp\69519058.doc

The main steps used in a partnering process include promoting a collaborative vision

    and effort. Explore the advantages of a long-term relationship and the importance of future efforts in considering present actions. Change the “payoff” in such a way that it becomes more interesting to collaborate than it does to defect, enter a dispute or not collaborate. This can be achieved by financial or other incentives. The goal is to make people recognize each other as part of an environment of collaboration and trust.

    Joint training is used to change the mentality (at all levels of decision making) from one solely focused on the substance and technical issues, to one that also considers process and collaborative efforts, using a new model to implement the collaborative vision. Joint training lets people feel they are part of a single, cohesive group with a shared vocabulary and atmosphere of mutual cooperation.

    A joint process design offers an opportunity to learn and define how participants will collaborate with each other. The participants get together to negotiate, in a facilitated session, how they will deal and communicate with each other throughout the project, and decide who the appropriate decision-makers will be for each type of dispute. The joint process design also defines the decision-making processes and how information will flow by categorizing which kind of decisions should be negotiated, communicated or consulted.

    Specific problem-solving tools are also used. No matter how good a relationship is, there is always a potential for some conflict or disagreement. Having a previously agreed-upon “safety ADR net”, in which differences can be creatively and effectively managed, can greatly increase the chances of an amicable settlement.

Finally, partnering is a dynamic process that can take as little as two days to be

    implemented, and that can be adapted whenever there are major changes in the parties’ relationships. It can be use periodically to gauge the quality of the interactions and improve them wherever and whenever necessary. An example is in the case of realized legislation risk, that through the enacting of a new law the power balance between the parties can change, in which case asking for a renegotiation on the way parties will deal with one another may prove very useful.


    Partnering, as well as relationship management, is increasingly being turned to as a means of avoiding (or at least proactively preparing for) disputes in Latin American project financing, as is its post-dispute mechanism ADR. This interest is not regionally limited, however: The two have been used with great success in several of the world’s largest project finance schemes, not only because this combination addresses potential conflicts ahead of time, but also because of its numerous benefits, particularly in terms of cost and time saved.

    Effective resource allocation and minimization of the legal risk are critical components of all projects, of course, and the larger the project at hand the greater the imperative that the work proceed smoothly and all parties understand their roles. Partnering and ADR options are also relatively easy to implement, require little in the way of capital expenditures, and can be incorporated into a company’s modus operandi in a very short

    time. Communication is open and two-way, reducing the likelihood of costly errors or delays, and as all parties are privy to the arrangement, accountability is shared proportionally.

    ? 1999 by CMI International Group, LLC. All rights reserved. C:\convert\temp\69519058.doc

    For more information on partnering as a means of reducing legal and associated risk in project finance, please contact CMI International Group, LLC, a Cambridge, MA-based consultancy specializing in relationship management consulting and negotiation strategy in Latin American and around the world. 617.547.4610 (tel.); 617.576.3653 (fax); (e-mail).

? 1999 by CMI International Group, LLC. All rights reserved. C:\convert\temp\69519058.doc

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