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Most of the leading arbitral institutions in the Mainland PRC experienced strong growth in 2023, according to the most recent statistics.

Key themes include: generally substantial increases in the number of new cases and the total amount in dispute; increases in the number and proportion of foreign-related cases (which represented 25% of the total value in dispute); an increase in appointments of foreign arbitrators; substantial growth in online case filings; and a drop in the numbers of virtual hearings (which nevertheless remain substantial).

This post reviews and compares the statistics published in the 2023 annual reports of five leading institutions:

The links above are to the English versions of the annual reports where available (those of BAC and SHAC are available in Chinese only).

Presentation of data

This post seeks to compare institutions on a like-for-like basis and provide year-on-year comparisons for individual institutions where possible.  This has not been feasible in all cases in relation to the data on (i) total caseloads and amounts in dispute and (ii) caseloads and amounts in dispute for foreign-related cases.  This is due to a change in calculation methodology for these data categories in the 2023 annual report of SCIA, which presents data in these categories only for SCIA headquarters (referred to below as SCIA (headquarters)), excluding SCIA Jiangmen and SCIA Hong Kong.  In contrast, although CIETAC and SHIAC (the other institutions with sub-branches) do not specify the scope of their statistics in their annual reports, it is understood that they generally cover all branches.  These differences should be taken into account when reviewing the data below in relation to caseloads and amounts in dispute, which should be treated as broadly indicative only.

Unless otherwise indicated, USD figures given below are the approximate equivalent of original RMB figures.  Percentages given in the text are rounded to the nearest percent while those given in tables are generally also rounded to the nearest percent (except in a small number of cases where the level of the percentages makes it appropriate to round to 1 or 2 decimal places).

Increasing caseloads and amounts in dispute

A total of 36,453 new cases were filed with the five leading PRC institutions in 2023, with the total amount in dispute in all arbitration cases handled by those institutions being RMB 529.2 billion (USD 73.6 billion).

Most of the five institutions reported a significant increase in caseload and/or amounts in dispute in 2023, possibly reflecting economic headwinds in key market sectors.  The headline points for each institution are as follows (with a tabular breakdown of the figures being set out below):

  • CIETAC set a new record with 5,237 new arbitration cases in 2023, an increase of 28% on the figure for 2022 (when 4,086 new cases were filed).  The total amount in dispute in arbitration cases handled by CIETAC in 2023 was RMB 151 billion (USD 21 billion), the highest of the five institutions and a 19% increase on the 2022 figure of RMB 126.9 billion (USD 17.6 billion) in 2022.  This was the sixth consecutive year in which the total amount in dispute surpassed RMB 100 billion (USD 13.9 billion).
  • BAC reported 12,222 new arbitration cases for 2023, an increase of 45% on the figure for 2022 (when 8,421 new cases were filed) and the highest of any of the five institutions.  The total amount in dispute was RMB 124.8 billion (USD 17.4 billion), a 29% increase on the previous year’s figure of RMB 97 billion (USD 13.5 billion).
  • SHIAC reported its highest number of new arbitration cases in over 10 years, with 4,879 cases in 2023, a year-on-year increase of 89% against the 2022 figure of 2,576 cases.  The total amount in dispute reached RMB 70.8 billion (USD 9.8 billion), representing a 13% increase on the 2022 figure of RMB 62.9 billion (USD 8.7 billion).
  • SHAC registered a total of 7,348 cases, representing nearly 30% year-on-year growth from the 2022 figure of 5,671 cases.  The total amount in dispute was RMB 44.3 billion (USD 6.2 billion), an increase of 4% compared with the 2022 figure of RMB 42.4 billion (USD 5.9 billion).
  • SCIA (headquarters) reported 12,004 commercial arbitration filings in 2023 (second only to BAC), worth RMB 138.3 billion (USD 19.2 billion) in total.  Year-on-year comparisons are not possible due to the change in calculation methodology mentioned above, but the caseload and amount in dispute suggest that SCIA experienced a notably busy year.

To place these figures in a regional perspective (with the qualification that comparisons between institutions in different markets and with different characteristics should generally be drawn with caution), in 2023 the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC) received 500 new cases and the total amount in dispute in all arbitration cases was USD 12.5 billion, while the Singapore International Arbitration Centre (SIAC) received 663 new cases and the total sum in dispute was USD 11.9 billion.

The following tables set out the number of new cases and the total amount in dispute for each of the five institutions, ranked from highest to lowest and with a comparison (where possible) between the 2022 and 2023 figures.

Number of new cases

Institution 2023 2022 % change
1 BAC 12,222 8,421 +45%
2 SCIA (headquarters) 12,004 N/A N/A
3 SHAC 7,348 5,671 +30%
4 CIETAC 5,237 4,086 +28%
5 SHIAC 4,879 2,576 +89%
  Total 36,453 N/A N/A

Total amount in dispute (rounded to nearest 0.1 billion)

Institution 2023 2022 % change
1 CIETAC RMB 151.0 billion
(USD 21.0 billion)
RMB 126.9 billion
(USD17.6 billion)
+19%
2 SCIA (headquarters) RMB 138.3 billion
(USD19.2 billion)
N/A N/A
3 BAC RMB 124.8 billion
(USD 17.4 billion)
RMB 97.0 billion
(USD 13.5 billion)
+29%
4 SHIAC RMB 70.8 billion
(USD 9.8 billion)
RMB 62.9 billion
(USD 8.7 billion)
+13%
5 SHAC RMB 44.3 billion
(USD 6.2 billion)
RMB 42.4 billion
(USD 5.9 billion)
+4%
Total  RMB 529.2 billion
(USD 73.6 billion)
N/A N/A

More foreign-related cases

There was also an increase in the number and value of "foreign-related" or "international" cases in 2023 (meaning cases with at least one factor, such as a party or subject matter, involving a non-Mainland PRC jurisdiction).

The rise in foreign-related cases was less pronounced than the increase in the number of new cases and total amount in dispute as a whole.

Nevertheless, and although foreign-related cases represented only 3% of the total number of new cases filed in 2023, they accounted for 25% of the total value in dispute.

The headline points for each institution are again set out below, followed by a tabular breakdown:

  • CIETAC reported 645 new foreign-related cases (12% of all new cases filed with the institution in 2023), with a small increase of 0.5% on the figure of 642 cases for 2022.  The total value of foreign-related cases increased to RMB 52.8 billion (USD 7.3 billion), an increase of 41% on the 2022 figure of RMB 37.4 billion (USD 5.2 billion).  Foreign-related cases therefore represented more than one third (35%) of CIETAC’s total caseload by value in 2023.
  • BAC received 251 foreign-related arbitration cases (2% of all new cases filed in 2023), representing a year-on-year increase of 14% against the 2022 figure of 221 cases.  The total amount in dispute in foreign-related cases reached RMB 11.5 billion (USD 1.6 billion), marking a 20% increase from the amount of RMB 9.6 billion (USD 1.3 billion) in 2022.  Foreign-related cases accounted for 9% of BAC’s total caseload by value in 2023.
  • SHIAC received 215 foreign-related cases in 2023 (4% of all new cases filed in 2023), an increase of 10% on the 2022 figure of 196 cases.  The total amount in dispute in foreign-related cases was RMB 10.2 billion (USD 1.4 billion), representing a 49% increase from RMB 6.8 billion (USD 1 billion) in the previous year.  Foreign-related cases represented 14% of SHIAC’s total caseload by value in 2023.
  • SHAC handled 77 foreign-related cases (1% of all new cases filed in 2023), totalling RMB 426 million (USD 59.2 million) in 2023.  The figures for 2022 are unavailable.  Foreign-related cases represented approximately 1% of SHAC’s total caseload by value in 2023.
  • SCIA (headquarters) handled 414 foreign-related commercial arbitration cases (3% of all new cases filed in 2023).  The total amount in dispute in foreign-related disputes was RMB 59.3 billion (USD 8.3 billion), and foreign-related disputes represented 43% of the total amount in dispute in 2023 (in each case, the highest of any of the five institutions).

Summarising the overall picture, it can be seen that:

  • CIETAC (which has the longest history and most established track-record in this area) had the highest number of foreign-related cases by a significant margin (more than 1.5 times the number of SCIA (headquarters), the institution with the second-highest number, and more than 2.5 times the number of BAC, the institution with the third-highest number).
  • SCIA (headquarters) had the highest total amount in dispute in foreign-related cases, followed closely by CIETAC.  The total value of foreign-related disputes at each of SCIA (headquarters) and CIETAC was approximately 5 times that of the next ranked institution by value of foreign-related cases (BAC).
  • As a proportion of the total amount in dispute in cases filed with them, SCIA (headquarters) and CIETAC had (by a significant margin) the highest levels of foreign-related cases (namely, 43% and 35% respectively).

The following tables set out the number of new foreign-related cases and the total amount in dispute in foreign-related cases for each of the five institutions, ranked from highest to lowest and with a comparison (where possible) between the 2022 and 2023 figures.

Number of foreign-related / international cases

Institution 2023 2022 % change
1 CIETAC 645 642 +0.5%
2 SCIA (headquarters) 414 N/A N/A
3 BAC 251 221 +14%
4 SHIAC 215 196 +10%
5 SHAC 77 N/A N/A
Total   957 N/A N/A

Total amount in the foreign-related / international disputes (rounded to nearest 0.1 billion)

Institution 2023 2022 % change
1 SCIA (headquarters) RMB 59.3 billion
(USD 8.3 billion)
N/A N/A
2 CIETAC RMB 52.8 billion
(USD 7.3 billion)
RMB 37.4 billion
(USD 5.2 billion)
+41%
3 BAC RMB 11.5 billion
(USD 1.6 billion)
RMB 9.6 billion
(USD 1.3 billion)
+20%
4 SHIAC RMB 10.2 billion
(USD 1.4 billion)
RMB 6.8 billion
(USD 1.0 billion)
+49%
5 SHAC RMB 0.4 billion
(USD 0.06 billion)
N/A N/A
Total  RMB 134.2 billion
(USD 18.7 billion)
N/A N/A

Other international elements

The statistics on the geographical origins of parties, languages used, governing laws, appointment of foreign arbitrators and cross-border enforcement of awards are summarised below.

Geographical origin of parties

There was significant geographical diversity in the parties using all five institutions in 2023:

  • CIETAC administered cases involving parties from 71 countries and regions.
  • SCIA handled new cases involving 44 countries and regions.
  • SHIAC served parties from 33 countries and regions, including 18 "Belt and Road"
  • BAC and SHAC arbitrations involved parties from 19 and 14 countries and regions respectively.

Language of arbitration

There was a slight reduction in the number of arbitrations conducted bilingually or in a language other than Chinese:

  • CIETAC reported 93 cases (2% of the total caseload and equivalent to 14% of foreign-related cases) using English or both English and Chinese as the language(s) of the arbitration, compared with 115 cases of the same category in 2022.
  • SHIAC reported 12 cases using English and 11 cases using both English and Chinese (together, 0.5% of the total caseload and equivalent to 11% of foreign-related cases), compared with 20 cases using English in 2022.
  • BAC reported 7 cases using English and 1 case using Chinese and Russian (together, 0.1% of the total caseload and equivalent to 3% of foreign-related cases), compared with 7 cases using languages other than Chinese (including 2 English cases and 1 Chinese-Russian bilingual case) in 2022.
  • The data of SCIA and SHAC for 2023 is unavailable.

Governing laws

A range of treaties and laws were applied as the governing law of the disputes administered by the five institutions, including the laws of the PRC, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, England and Wales, Australia, and the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods.

Foreign arbitrators

There was an increase in the number of foreign (i.e. non-Mainland PRC) arbitrators appointed by CIETAC, BAC and SHIAC (although such appointments remained broadly flat as a percentage of total appointments).  Notably, 90 CIETAC cases were heard by tribunals exclusively consisting of foreign arbitrators.  SCIA appointed the highest number (203) of foreign-arbitrators, although a year-on-year comparison is not possible.  SHAC did not disclose statistics regarding appointments of foreign arbitrators.

The relevant statistics are summarised in the table below:

  Appointment of Foreign Arbitrators Percentage of total appointments
  2023 2022 2023 2022
SCIA 203 appointments N/A N/A N/A
CIETAC 136 appointments 87 appointments 1.7% 1.5%
BAC 121 appointments 76 appointments N/A 0.85%
SHIAC 79 appointments 37 appointments 1.4% 1.4%

BAC and SCIA also stated in their annual reports that the percentages of foreign arbitrators on their institutional lists were 24.78% and 36.84% respectively.

Cross-border enforcement of awards

CIETAC indicated that its arbitral awards were recognised and enforced by courts in various countries and regions, including the United States, Argentina, Russia, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

BAC indicated that awards in two of its administered cases were enforced in Singapore and Chile.

Types of disputes

Each of the five major institutions published statistics regarding the types of cases registered in 2023.  The top 5 sectors for each institution are set out in the table below.

  Ranking 1 Ranking 2 Ranking 3 Ranking 4 Ranking 5
CIETAC Sales of Goods Construction Corporate Governance Service Contract Finance
BAC Construction Finance Service Contract Sales of Goods Real Estate
SHIAC International Trade and Sales of Goods Construction and Real Estate Finance Leasing Manufacturing
SHAC Sales of Goods Construction Intellectual Property Finance Real Estate
SCIA Finance and Capital Market International and Domestic Trade Real Estate Equity Investment and Corporate Governance Infrastructure and Construction

In addition, CIETAC and SHIAC shared observations on emerging categories of disputes in 2023:

  • CIETAC observed that the number of disputes in the finance, intellectual property and new energy sectors are growing, and that new types of disputes in relation to carbon emissions trading and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues have emerged.
  • SHIAC highlighted emerging disputes in relation to air transportation, new energy, e-commerce, high-tech industries, the digital economy, biomedicine and sport.

Virtual arbitration services

The statistics for online case filings and virtual hearings for each of CIETAC, SHIAC, SHAC and SCIA are summarised below.  BAC upgraded its online case system on 1 March 2024 and no specific statistics for virtual hearings were disclosed in its 2023 annual report.

Online case filings

There was an increase in online case filings in 2023, both in absolute terms and as a percentage of total cases registered:

ONLINE CASE FILING Numbers Percentage of total case registration
  2023 2022 2023 2022
SCIA 8,727 (+61%) 5,417 72.70% 65%
SHIAC 5,460* (+617%) 762 110%* 30%
SHAC 4,465 (+44%) 3,097 60.76% 55%
CIETAC 1,804 (+35%) 1,340 34.63% 33%

* The figure for the number of online case filings given in SHIAC's 2023 annual report represents a year-on-year increase of more than 600% and amounts to 110% of the total number of new cases.  The reasons are unclear.

Virtual hearings

The statistics in relation to virtual hearings were more mixed.  CIETAC, SCIA and SHA all reported falls in the number of virtual hearings.  In the case of CIETAC (the only institution for which a year-on-year comparison is possible), virtual hearings fell from 50% to 33% of all hearings.  SHIAC was the only institution to see an increase in the total number of virtual hearings.

These statistics are perhaps unsurprising in a post-pandemic environment and are consistent with international trends.  HKIAC, for example, experienced a substantial drop in the proportion of virtual hearings between 2022 and 2023 (as reported here).  At the same time, the proportion of virtual hearings is still significant (for example, 33% in the case of CIETAC and 43% in the case of HKIAC).  Although it may be too early to assess whether the downward trend will continue, the fact that a substantial proportion of hearings continue to be virtual after the lifting of pandemic-era restrictions may suggest that parties and tribunals increasingly recognise the convenience and efficiency offered by virtual hearings in appropriate circumstances.

The number of virtual hearings for SCIA, SHAC, CIETAC and SHIAC in 2022 and 2023 is set out below.  Where the necessary data is available, the percentage of total hearings which were virtual is also indicated (some institutions did not provide data on total hearing numbers in 2022 and/or 2023).

VIRTUAL HEARINGS Numbers Percentage of total hearings
  2023 2022 2023 2022
SCIA 2,895 (-2%) 2,949 N/A 46%
SHAC 1,784 (-59%) 4,318 26.71% N/A
CIETAC 1,631 (-14%) 1,906 33% 50%
SHIAC 1,176 (+117%) 541 N/A N/A

Looking ahead

A number of institutions shared their experience of handling ad hoc arbitrations in 2023.  SCIA Hong Kong handled two ad hoc arbitrations, SHIAC reported one case in which it was requested to provide assistance services under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, and BAC handled one case under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules.  Although these numbers are currently small, it is notable that leading Mainland PRC institutions are building their experience of ad hoc arbitration, which remains prohibited for arbitrations with a Mainland PRC seat.  This experience will be helpful in the event that ad hoc arbitration with a Mainland PRC seat is permitted pursuant to the revisions of the PRC Arbitration Law which are currently under consideration by PRC lawmakers.

Significant revisions to the rules of CIETAC (reported here) and SHIAC (reported here) were introduced with effect from 1 January 2024.

Finally, SHIAC is planning to complete the establishment of the Shanghai International Arbitration (Hong Kong) Center as its sub-branch, joining the CIETAC Hong Kong Arbitration Center (which was established in September 2012) and SCIA Hong Kong (established in September 2019).  An inauguration event is scheduled to take place on 5 May 2024.


This article has been co-authored by Herbert Smith Freehills (in relation to non-PRC law matters only) and Herbert Smith Freehills Kewei, a joint operation between Herbert Smith Freehills LLP and Kewei Law Firm based in the Shanghai Free Trade Zone (which is exclusively responsible for any statements or commentary in relation to PRC law).

 

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Helen Tang

Senior Consultant, Hong Kong

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Weina Ye

International Partner, Kewei, Shanghai

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Martin Wallace

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Helen Tang

Senior Consultant, Hong Kong

Helen Tang
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Weina Ye

International Partner, Kewei, Shanghai

Weina Ye
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Martin Wallace

Professional Support Consultant, Hong Kong

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Angela Zhao

Senior Consultant, Mainland China

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