Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2012


This article investigates whether and to what extent a party must produce an “agreement in writing” when seeking to enforce an international arbitration agreement or award in a U.S. federal court. This issue has recently given rise to both a circuit split and a petition for certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, and involves matters of formal validity as well as federal subject matter jurisdiction. The problem arises out of subtle differences in the way an “agreement in writing” is defined in the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the 1958 United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (New York Convention). This is not just a U.S. problem, however. Questions relating to form requirements under the New York Convention have also been much discussed at the international level, with UNCITRAL recently issuing a formal recommendation on how to deal with the problem.This article describes the scope of the current problems associated with form requirements, including how inconsistencies in domestic practice affect international commercial arbitration and global trade. After discussing the difficulties in both the U.S. and the international sphere, the Article makes a number of suggestions for legislative and judicial reform. This is the first article to discuss the circuit split and associated issues in the context of the FAA and to take a serious comparative look at the implementation of the UNCITRAL recommendation at the international level.



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