UNCITRAL Working Group III met in Vienna last week to continue its discussions about how to reform investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). In April 2019, the Working Group agreed that the ISDS system suffered from significant problems and required reform. In colloquial terms, the system was causing a variety of illnesses; states needed to diagnose the underlying causes and prescribe cures. This blog traces the debate dynamics as states considered different treatment plans to restore the system to health. In tomorrow’s blog, we provide a first conceptualisation of how these different treatments might be weaved together in a flexible framework.
Sickness: Causes and Cures
During Phases 1 and 2 of this process, it sometimes felt like states were complaining about having suffered from various illnesses arising from the system. These illnesses included very large awards, inconsistent decisions, frivolous cases, arbitrator conflicts and excessive fees. Different states at UNCITRAL had succumbed to different illnesses, but the general sentiment expressed was that the existing system had created unhealthy pathologies that needed treatment.
In Phase 3, states are recognising that that they are not only patients, they are also doctors. Some (powerful) states have long seen themselves as doctors, able to treat problems with available tools, while other states have either not seen themselves as doctors or not had access to the same tools. At UNCITRAL, there has been a clear shift: all states now recognise that they have individual and collective agency to reform the system. But they disagree on the best course of treatment.
Should the Working Group just treat specific illnesses? States adopting this approach favour non-structural reforms and coalesce around a multilateral instrument on procedural reforms, which they argue would provide significant and speedy fixes to the existing system. Read the rest of this entry…