International Agreements Made Simple

[Note: This entry will serve for both today (Wednesday) and tomorrow (Thursday) as I am flying later this afternoon back to Brunei and will only arrive in Brunei in the latter half of Thursday.]

I thought I will share this photograph of me and the other head of delegation after completing our negotiations. We had to turn around as the lady officers wanted to take a photograph of us away from another group on the other side.

Alhamdulillah, we have completed the negotiations and agreed on the final text after two days of negotiations. The agreement can now be signed after it has gone through the approval process by both countries. In the next few months, hopefully it will be signed by whoever is appointed by both countries to sign - usually the Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Finance depending on who is available.

How do two countries decide to sign an agreement and what are the processes? Someone asked me that and I thought this will be a good opportunity for me to reply.

Usually the two countries will contact each other through their diplomatic representatives and the countries' Ministries of Foreign Affairs that they want to complete an agreement. The two countries will send their own versions of what the agreement should look like. Even though the two countries had agreed on the agreement topic, the two draft agreement texts would vary taking into account the priority needs of each country. So a date would be set so that the two countries can take a look at both texts and try to hammer out a new text with common provisions that both countries can agree on. Depending on the complexity of the agreement, the mood of the negotiators and other factors, some agreements can take more than a few rounds. Each round takes about 2 to 3 days. If you take into account the flying time and other factors, it can be quite tiring to complete an agreement.

Once the two countries agree on the final text, the approval process for signing comes into place. For Brunei and similar to most countries, the agreed text would be sent to the Attorney General for legal clearance and translation to Malay (other countries translate to their own languages too). After legal clearance, it gets sent to the Cabinet for approval. Once approval is received, the document is now ready for it to be signed. Normally the Ministry of Foreign Affairs advised the best time for it to be signed. It could be signed during State Visits or Official Visits where a Minister will be designated to sign it or if there is an urgency, the Ambassador can be designated to sign.

After signing, the agreement is not yet in force. The agreement has to be ratified and goes through a ratification process. Most countries do it through the legislative assembly and a new law or legislation is prepared as that agreement will now supercede the country's legislations. So if there is an agreement on taxation and exemptions are given under the agreement, that agreement will override the country's tax laws even if that tax laws do not contain the exemption provisions.

The ratification process includes preparing a new law to be approved by the legislative assembly of that country. In Brunei's case since the legislative assembly is currently only approving appropriation bills (budget and spending laws), the ratification process goes back to the cabinet. After the agreement is ratified, then only it will enter into force. The agreement will now become a public document and can be accessed by anyone. In Brunei it will be gazetted in the Government Gazette which you can buy for $5 from either the Printing Department or the Legal Department.

So, there you go. Now you know what I do everytime I disappear for a few days from Brunei. It is not to have a holiday but to have an agreement that will benefit Brunei and its economy.


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