In two separate recent developments, South Korea and its trade partners under international free trade agreements have agreed panels of default arbitrators available to hear disputes arising under the agreements.

The South Korean Government has announced a list of default arbitrators (to be appointed in circumstances where the parties to the dispute are unable to agree on the makeup of the tribunal) available to hear disputes under KORUS, the free trade agreement between South Korea and the United States which came into effect in 2012. The appointees consist of a list of third-country nationality chairpersons from policy backgrounds, including ambassadors, economists and policy advisors, and a list of US and Korean appointees primarily from private practice and academic legal backgrounds.

In 2011, the use of investor state dispute resolution in KORUS became the subject of national media attention and sparked Korean public opposition to the agreement. Pointing to examples of cases brought under NAFTA, Korean critics of the deal protested that the use of international arbitration would allow American companies to avoid the application of environmental and health and safety protections established under Korean law and regulations.

Independently of the KORUS appointments, the European Council has revealed that the EU and South Korea have agreed a special panel of 15 default arbitrators available to hear disputes relating to a cultural cooperation protocol in the Korea-EU free trade agreement, which came into effect in 2011. This list is distinct from the previously appointed panel of default arbitrators who are available to hear disputes under the main body of the agreement. The newly-announced panel is composed of five chairpersons from states outside EU and Korea, five EU appointees and five Korean appointees.