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Home Archive for category "International Economic Law"

Déjà vu? Investment Court Proposals from 1960 and Today

Published on May 15, 2018        Author:  and
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It is not business as usual in investment dispute resolution these days. In late April 2018 in New York, governments and experts met under the auspices of UNCITRAL Working Group IIIto continue vigorously debating how investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) should be reformed or replacedby an investment court. This is not the first investment court proposal, however.

In the 1950s and 1960s, eminent international lawyers from around the world — Martin Domke, George Haight, F A Mann, Gunnar Lagergren, Elihu Lauterpacht, Raisa Khalfina, and Ignaz Seidl-Hohenveldern, to name a few — discussed an international investment court, notably at International Law Association conferences in 1958, 1960, and 1962. In 1960, ILA participants compared a court and arbitration directly, discussing “Draft Statutes of the Arbitral Tribunal for Foreign Investment” and “Draft Statutes of the Foreign Investments Court.”

Views in 1960, like today, varied sharply. No expert consensus existed that arbitration was better than a court for resolving investor-state disputes. This lack of consensus echoed even earlier debates: in 1905, when ASIL was founded, it was directed “exclusively to the interests of international law as distinct from international arbitration” (as Mark Mazower notes, page 92) because arbitration involved a compromise between interests rather than fidelity to the law. For ASIL founder Elihu Root, arbitration was an advance toward peace, but “the next advance to be urged along this line is to pass on from an arbitral tribunal…to a permanent court composed of judges who devote their entire time to the performance of judicial duties.” (Root might smile if he could see European officials coming to ASIL to discuss why an investment court should replace arbitration.) Unlike ASIL’s founders, arbitration’s supporters in 1905 praised the modesty of its procedures and goals—it was imperfect but feasible.

Feasibility was emphasized again in the 1960s, by attendees at the 1960 ILA conference and at the ICSID Convention’s drafting a few years later. This perception of feasibility stemmed in large part from assumptions made about arbitration in the 1960s, including that arbitral tribunals would not be agents of legal development, that appointing arbitrators was simple, and that arbitration was low cost. One can no longer make these assumptions about investor-state arbitration.

Today, reforming arbitration and creating a court are not mutually exclusive, nor are they only options under consideration at UNCITRAL. They are “elephants in the room” at UNCITRAL, however, so it’s interesting to compare how these two dispute resolution mechanisms look to participants today with how they looked in 1960. In this post, we cover three issues: legal development, appointments, and costs. Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea Investment Disputes: are jurisdictional hurdles being overcome too easily?

Published on May 9, 2018        Author: 
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In February-March 2014, Crimea experienced what is here neutrally referred to as a ‘change of effective sovereign’ (as conceded by Ukraine itself). Subsequent events have given rise to at least nine investment claims by Ukrainian nationals against Russia in connection with their investments in Crimea made prior to the ‘change of effective sovereign’. Substantively, all cases pivot on alleged violations of the expropriation and FET (fair & equitable treatment) clauses of the 1998 Russia-Ukraine BIT. Before getting there, however, a series of jurisdictional hurdles need to be overcome. Firstly, whether the scope of the BIT covers also de facto (as opposed to de jure) territory. Thus, whether under the BIT, Crimea may be understood as Russian territory. Secondly, the BIT’s temporal and personal ambit of application. That is to say, whether Ukrainian nationals and their businesses existing in Crimea prior to the ‘change of effective sovereign’ may qualify, respectively, as foreign Ukrainian investors and investments in Russia. It is doubtful that these questions which, are inevitably intertwined with the public international issue of the legality of the ‘change of sovereign’, can be satisfactorily answered through ‘effective interpretations’ and/or drawing analogies from human rights law. The scope and rationale of investment law differs from that of the latter; the promotion and protection of bilateral business is pursued for the benefit of economic growth, while the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms of persons is undertaken for the good of human kind.  In fact, it is reflected in the standard dispute settlement mechanism envisaged i.e. private ad hoc arbitration v standing international court.

Jurisdictional decisions in five proceedings have recently been rendered. To date, none of these have been made public. Nevertheless, important passages of their reasoning have been uncovered by trusted sources. These allow for a preliminary review of the tribunals’ assessment of the key legal issues involved. Read the rest of this entry…

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China leans in on international adjudication: Why Beijing’s answer to defeat will be more forceful engagement

Published on May 2, 2018        Author: 
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This year China might suffer the third in a string of stinging defeats at international tribunals that would then cover trade, investment, and law of the sea matters. Contrary to persistent expectations in some policy circles, China’s leaders will not opt for withdrawal. They have resolved to make existing mechanisms work for China, and shape global governance by doubling down on engagement. In line with different degrees of Chinese integration into these systems, Beijing will respond by ratcheting up litigation (trade), upgrading bilateral treaties (investment), and pushing for favourable state practice through diplomacy (law of the sea). The international community will have to deal with a newly powerful legal actor who is very much on the offense.

Failure and Frustration

In two ways, trade law could this year deliver the third bombshell setback in China’s recent engagement with international adjudication. Firstly, there is China’s soon to be decided WTO complaint against the EU’s retention of a distinct (although modified) antidumping methodology for (states like) China. A similar case against the United States is in the consultation stage. Beijing had expected that its Accession Protocol would deliver automatic ‘market economy status’ including more favourable antidumping treatment 15 years after it joined the WTO.

Secondly, a major trade law standoff is unfolding between China and the US, involving the mutual adoption of tariffs and filing of WTO complaints, which could come to a head this year. The US filed a complaint on China’s protection of intellectual property (IP) rights alleging TRIPS Agreement violations. At the same time, the US Trade Representative (USTR) proposed tariffs following a Section 301 US Trade Act of 1974 investigation into Chinese IP practices. Beijing already responded with a WTO complaintalleging that such tariffs would violate the GATT, and its own list of proposed tariffs. Less crucially, China initiated another case alleging GATT and Safeguards Agreement violations through US tariffs on steel and aluminium products.

Previously, giant life insurer Ping An became the first Chinese company to lose an investment arbitration, when its $1 billion claim against Belgium over the Fortisbank nationalization was rejected in 2015. A year later, China suffered an almost total defeat against the Philippinesin an Annex VII UNCLOS law of the sea arbitration on South China Sea issues in July 2016.

Such setbacks trigger angry reactions in China against allegedly biased international institutions that might never give China a fair shake. Many commentators decried China’s supposed second-class membership in the WTO, when the EU decided against granting market economy status, while recent US trade actions are termed severe violations and ‘typical of unilateralism and trade protectionism’ by the Chinese government. Chinese officials were stunned when the investor in Ping Anlost over the ‘technicality’ of whether to rely on the older or the more recent bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between China and Belgium. Following the South China Sea case, it was mooted that Beijing could ‘denounce’ the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to be safe from other states’ attempts to ‘exploit’ the system ‘for political reasons’.

Doubling Down

Yet China is not going to withdraw, and Western governments, as guardians of the current system, will be surprised by how forcefully it will instead lean in to shape existing legal regimes. Tools will differ, but trade litigation, investment treaty making and law of the sea diplomacy to influence state practice serve the same purpose: align the rules further with China’s interests.

This effort is part of the more assertive foreign policy outlined by China’s president Xi Jinping, who just consolidated his power at the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress. In a major shift, Xi has declared that China will no longer just participate in the international system, but provide ‘guidance’ towards a ‘new international order’. A recent treatise in the People’s Daily confirmed the ambition to seize the ‘historic opportunity’ to shape a new order while US policies under President Trump leave a leadership vacuum.

An underestimated driver of such strategic decisions is a policy elite of Chinese international lawyers who overwhelmingly favour playing offense. Prominent academics and legal counsels to the Chinese leadership have argued that with WTO dispute resolution, just showing up is half the battle. They have called for China to develop the litigious ‘mind set’ and investment treaty framework to go with its new status as major global investor. Lastly, they want China to go around the South China Sea award and influence the law of the sea by shaping state practice through diplomacy.

Bespoke Strategies

After China was refused ‘market economy status’, its Ministry of Commerce immediately struck back at the EU with a complaint at the WTO. Should it now lose the case, its appeal will already be prepared, as will be fresh complaints tackling the broader issue from different angles. At the same time, Beijing encourages Chinese companies to more proactively ‘prove’ to regulatory agencies abroad that they operate under market conditions, and contest adverse decisions at local courts.

Similarly, the Chinese government very quickly responded to recent (partly only proposed) US tariffs, with two fresh complaints. The current overall dispute with Washington will see a Chinese leadership that is more open to negotiated solutions than on antidumping methodology. Should there be any adverse decisions, though, China would again immediately appeal and file further complaints.

Flanking its litigation strategy, China continues massive diplomatic lobbying. Firstly, this serves to gain recognition as a market economy. More than 80 countries have already complied by explicitly providing such recognition, and FTA negotiations in line with theBelt and Road Initiative are to increase that number. President Xi has called for hastened implementation of China’s free trade strategy to strengthen its position in writing global trade rules, after failed Western efforts with TPP and TTIP left the field open.

Secondly, Beijing is actively portraying itself as defender of the WTO trade regime against a protectionist Trump administration onslaught. While many governments share US concerns about IP rights in China, Beijing uses (potential) US tariff implementation without WTO decisions, especially where broadly targeted such as on steel and aluminium, to position itself as the better trade citizen. China’s aim is not only to offset pressure concerning domestic legal changes, but also to shape future coalitions of states in international trade law reform (or rather in blocking reform where existing frameworks suit China).

On investment law, the investor’s defeat in Ping An spurred the Chinese government to quickly improve its investment treaties and seek influence on global investment rules harmonization. Beijing wants to get new investor-friendly treaties in place that include improved transitional clauses, and grant broad access to international arbitration, as well as, quite unusually, appellate bodies. Chinese lawyers argue that such mechanisms may improve legal predictability, but perhaps more importantly they would give the Chinese side another chance in case of defeat.

Wanting to make use of the full arsenal of available measures, the Chinese leadership also acts on the multilateral level. On the path towards a common worldwide investment law system that looks more like the WTO in the trade area, Beijing seeks to set the agenda and touts the ‘Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking’, adopted at the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou, as a first step. The non-binding principles are infused with Chinese wording and interpretations of principles such as legal predictability, transparency, and effective dispute resolution.

Finally, in the third issue area of the law of the sea, after the stunning loss on South China Sea claims, Beijing decided to undermine the award’s authority with a diplomatic push to underline contradictory state practice. Chinese officials aim to prevent the arbitrators’ restrictive interpretations of ‘historic rights’ and ‘island’ status from becoming international customary law. They point out, for example, that the United States and Japan use tiny rocks to make extensive maritime claims, and lobby states worldwide to support China’s interpretation of its islands’ entitlements. Some scholars point out the potential for further UNCLOS implementation agreements(as on deep seabed mining), which could clear up ambiguity in terms favourable to China and override the tribunal’s decisions.

While China may strictly reject compliance with the South China Sea award, it needs UNCLOS to protect its interests and gain influence on maritime governance. Beijing aims to secure a large UNCLOS-sanctioned continental shelf in the East China Sea, based on favourable geography vis-à-vis Japan. It wants Chinese companies to be in a prime position for the coming International Seabed Authority-sanctioned mining bonanza under the high seas worldwide, and it intends to have a seat on the table regarding Arctic governance issues. Indicative of its strategic choice to shape the system from within, China now adopts more UNCLOS-like language for its South China Sea claims and backs away from the ‘Nine-dash Line’.

The Future of China and International Law

So, in a nutshell, what should we expect China to do? Its approach has already evolved considerably. The focus shifted from the international legal order’s ‘hardware’ – joining institutions and equipping them with Chinese judges and staff – to its ‘software’. Now the Chinese leadership wants more influence on the treaties and customary law behind the system. In a parallel process, once it feels confident enough in a particular field, China gradually but inevitably boots up participation at court.

Prominent voices in China, including Prof. Yi Xianhe, member of the Foreign Ministry Consultative Committee on International Law, have argued that China must be a ‘leader country’ on international law, if it is to consolidate economic and political gains. That includes actively engaging with international tribunals. Such statements represent an emerging consensus among Chinese international lawyers that forward-leaning engagement will on balance be a positive for China, and the best protection of its national interests.

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Protean ‘National Security’ in Global Trade Wars, Investment Walls, and Regulatory Controls: Can ‘National Security’ Ever Be Unreviewable in International Economic Law?

Published on April 2, 2018        Author: 
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National security seems to be the protean norm du jour in international economic law these days.  On 23 March 2018, the United States’ Trump Administration imposed a 25% tariff against around US$60 billion of imports from China, 15 days after the United States imposed tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum (25% on steel imports, and 10% on aluminum imports) from around the world.  US President Trump accused China of “economic aggression”, and is leaving the door open for negotiations with all States to force them to take measures to eliminate the United States’ “$800 billion trade deficit with the world”.  Chinese President (for life) Xi Jinping’s administration subsequently announced preliminary retaliatory tariffs against over $3 Billion in American products such as apples, steel, and pork, even as US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that the tariff wars are part of the United States’ negotiation strategy with China. (Both sides are reported to be quietly negotiating, even amid the climate of mutually announced tariffs. China has started making concessions, such as relaxing its foreign investment rules and expanding imports of US semiconductors.)  Even as World Trade Organization (WTO) Director General Roberto Azevedo cautioned against the impact of such a trade war on the global economy, the WTO did not deny that under GATT Article XXI(b)(iii) (Security Exceptions), the United States could take “any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests…taken in time of war or other emergency in international relations.”  President Trump’s two presidential proclamations declaring tariffs against aluminum imports and steel imports heavily refer to the impairment of the United States’ national security interests as the basis for imposing tariffs.  The United States provisionally exempted NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico from the steel and aluminum tariffs, using the bludgeoning effect of threatened tariffs in the pending NAFTA renegotiations.  Last weekend, South Korea acceded to the United States’ demands to revise their KORUS Free Trade Agreement, which US President Trump is now tying to the outcome of its forthcoming summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea. Trade is now more deliberately leveraged as a national security issue.

Significantly, no State in the international community seriously challenges that the security exception in GATT Article XXI is a self-judged matter that takes a governmental measure out of the ambit of WTO law. (Qatar’s pending complaint against the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the World Trade Organization – previously featured here – seeks review of any Member’s assertion of national security under GATT Article XXI, but it appears other Members such as the United States have taken the opposing view that “national security issues are political and not appropriate for the WTO dispute system.”)  Even the European Union, which threatened tariffs against the United States if it was not exempted from the US tariffs on steel and aluminum (it eventually got the exemption for all EU Members), did not challenge the factual basis behind the United States’ use of the national security justification in its presidential proclamations on tariffs against steel and aluminum imports.  The United States had invoked, as its factual basis for invoking national security, the supposed “weakening of (its) internal economy, leaving the United States almost totally reliant on foreign producers…that is essential for key military and commercial systems”.  Considering that President Trump had just boasted about the tremendous strength and independence of the United States economy at the World Economic Forum in January 2018, it was baffling that the United States made this seeming volte face to invoke GATT Article XXI.  The Trump administration has also invoked the President’s self-judged discretion to decide when national security is impaired in the case of foreign investment into the United States, most recently to block Singaporean company Broadcom’s US$117 billion takeover of Qualcomm, thereby increasing the number of blocked proposed acquisitions of United States businesses (by countries such as Germany, China, and Singapore) on national security grounds. 

And yet, it is not only the United States that has resorted to national security reasons in the past year for retaliatory trade measures, investment restrictions, and other international economic measures.  The European Commission anchors its new proposal to tax digital business activities; the forthcoming implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) (ensuring data privacy and protection rules applicable to all companies processing data of EU nationals, whether located in the EU or elsewhere); as well as the recently opened investigation of the massive data leak from Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, ultimately on the Commission’s many concerns about EU Members’ regional, national, and economic security.  China has set up its own national security review of foreign investments into China, mirrored by Australia’s recently strengthened national security review of foreign investments (China-sourced or otherwise) into critical infrastructure.  India and Sri Lanka have also raised national security concerns over China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) program.  Nigeria demurred from joining the recently-launched 44-member African Continental Free Trade Area, citing economic and security implications of the agreement.

Such muscular and frequent assertions of ‘national security’ as justifications for international economic measures does bring to the forefront the timeless debate on whether international courts and tribunals can review a State’s assertion of ‘national security’.  In this post, I maintain my key argument in 2012 that modern international law still does not subscribe to the classical view of ‘national security’ as a Schmittian exception – e.g. one that takes a measure justified by national security outside of the purview of any law – but instead continues to regulate the safety-valve functions of national security or national emergency clauses as exceptions, to the point that the mere assertion of national security cannot completely take out an economic measure from the purview of international economic regulations either.  Whether a State invokes ‘national security’ to impose or threaten measures for bargaining leverage in negotiations or to force reductions of trade deficits; or to impose new economic regulations, review, or restrictions against foreign businesses – the current framework of international law and international economic law has at least developed to the point that there will be some review of a State’s asserted national security justification, even if it is only for international tribunals to preliminarily decide whether they have jurisdiction over the disputes before them.  I refer to dispute settlement under the WTO, foreign investment arbitral tribunals, international investment court proposals such as China’s investment court for OBOR projects and the EU’s multilateral investment court, as well as traditional court adjudication under the International Court of Justice.

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Achmea: The principle of autonomy and its implications for intra and extra-EU BITs

Published on March 27, 2018        Author: 
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On 6 March 2018, the CJEU issued its judgment in Case C-284/16 Achmea, where it opined that intra-EU BITs and in particular their ISDS provisions are incompatible with the principle of autonomy of EU law. In a rather brief judgment, the Court found the ISDS provision under the Netherlands-Slovakia BIT has an adverse effect on the autonomy of EU law, as the latter in enshrined in Articles 344 and 267 TFEU. With this judgment the Court gave a definitive answer to a long-awaited controversial issue as to whether international investment treaties between EU Member States are compatible with EU law. Yet, Achmea does not provide conclusive answers as to the interaction between EU law and international investment law, neither with regard to intra-EU BITs, nor for extra-EU BITs. Considering that the compatibility of ISDS under CETA with EU law is challenged by Belgium and is the subject matter of a pending Opinion, Achmea adds a, admittedly important, piece to the puzzle.

In finding an incompatibility between an intra-EU BIT with EU law, the Court focused exclusively on the ISDS mechanism and its effects on the autonomy of EU law. Although the parties to the dispute and in particular the Commission argued about the existence of incompatibilities on other grounds as well, the most important being non-discrimination, the Court chose to address only the autonomy concerns. Referring to its landmark judgment on autonomy, Opinion 2/13, the Court confirmed the key role that autonomy plays for identifying the compatibility of international dispute settlement with EU law. The argument used is easy follow: the principle of autonomy protects the full effectiveness and consistency of EU law, which entails the uniform interpretation of EU law. Article 19 TEU guarantees autonomy by providing exclusive jurisdiction to the CJEU to offer authoritative interpretations of EU law and enabling a judicial dialogue with national courts via Article 267 TFEU. Investment arbitration under intra-EU BITs can have an adverse effect on autonomy, as investment tribunals a) can decide matters of EU law and b) are not subject to the CJEU’s control.

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A New Legal Framework for the Enforcement of Settlement Agreements Reached through International Mediation: UNCITRAL Concludes Negotiations on Convention and Draft Model Law

Published on March 26, 2018        Author:  and
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Introduction

On February 9, 2018, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s (“UNCITRAL”) Working Group II concluded negotiations on a convention and model law on the enforcement of settlement agreements reached through international commercial conciliation or mediation. Although the instruments still need to be finalized by UNCITRAL and then ratified by States, the completion of the drafting stage marks an important development in international commercial dispute resolution.

Given the debate regarding the increasing costs and time involved in international arbitration, greater attention has been paid to mediation as a method of dispute resolution. The flexibility involved in mediation eliminates many of the hurdles of arbitration, including bypassing disclosure. However, once a mediated agreement is reached, there is no comprehensive legal framework for the enforcement of international settlement agreements. The result is that parties are forced to attempt to enforce such agreements in domestic courts, typically as an ordinary breach of contract claim.

As a result, when a party to a mediated settlement agreement reneges on its obligations or otherwise refuses to uphold the terms of the agreement, the other party has had to commence separate proceedings in court or through arbitration to enforce the agreement. This has essentially meant initiating a new dispute after resolving the underlying one, adding increased costs and delay.

Through the creation of clear and uniform framework for the recognition of settlement agreements resulting from mediation – akin to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (1958) (“New York Convention”) – the new draft convention and the draft amended model will increase the predictability of settlements achieved through international mediation.

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United in Mixity? The Future of the EU Common Commercial Policy in light of the CJEU’s recent case law

Published on February 2, 2018        Author:  and
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The post-Lisbon Common Commercial Policy in the field of foreign investment policy

The Lisbon Treaty for the first time expressly attributed exclusive competence to the EU in the area of foreign investment by adding foreign direct investment (FDI) to the scope of the Common Commercial Policy (CCP). The European Commission took not long to put these newly-won competences into use by designing its new European international investment policy. This new investment policy revealed the Commission’s broad interpretation of the competences conferred by the Lisbon Treaty. According to the Commission, the EU’s new common international investment policy should address both direct investment – i.e. investment made “with a view to establishing or maintaining lasting economic links” – and indirect investment, namely all those transactions involving debt or equity securities that do not establish a lasting economic link. Moreover, the common investment policy, as envisaged by the Commission, should cover both the pre-establishment and post-establishment phase.

The EU-Singapore FTA (EUSFTA) was the first trade agreement to rely on the EU’s competence in the field of common commercial policy as expanded post-Lisbon. This agreement embraces a wide range of fields, including trade in goods and services, government procurement, intellectual property rights, and investment liberalization and protection. All too predictably, the composite content of the agreement and, particularly, the inclusion of a chapter specifically dealing with investment protection and investment dispute settlement soon prompted the question of whether the EU’s new exclusive competence could be interpreted as encompassing both direct and indirect investment as well as investor-State dispute settlement mechanism (ISDS). Needless to say, the answer to this question has important practical implications. If the above policy fields and all other matters contained in the FTA were to fall within the scope of exclusive competence of the EU, then such agreements can be concluded as “EU-only” agreements. If these competences are shared, the agreement can be concluded either by the EU alone or as a mixed agreement, namely a treaty to which both the Member States and the Union are parties. Commentators usually distinguish this type of mixity (facultative mixity) from compulsory mixity, which applies when the agreement in question covers both matters falling within the exclusive competence of the European Union and matters falling within the exclusive competence of the Member States.

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Qatar under Siege: Chances for an Article XXI Case?

Published on January 9, 2018        Author: 
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For more than six months now, the richest country of the world has been under an embargo imposed by its Arab neighbours, apparently motivated by their discontent over Qatar’s increasingly independent course in international affairs. The embargo raises controversial questions under international law, for example in light of the principle of non-intervention and the human rights of the people affected. For now, Qatar has chosen to contest the embargo’s legality at the World Trade Organization (WTO), requesting consultations with the UAE (DS526), Bahrain (DS527), and Saudi Arabia (DS528). The dispute could, for the first time, require a WTO panel to interpret Article XXI GATT, the security provision that has been described as ‘an unreviewable trump card, an exception to all WTO rules that can be exercised at the sole discretion of a Member State’ (Roger Alford 2011; see also the blog by Diane Desierto here).

While the cases against Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have not moved past the consultations phase, Qatar has requested the establishment of a panel in the case against the UAE, and the Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has approved this request on 22 November. Qatar’s claim concerns a long list of complaints under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), and the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement). In response, the UAE has explicitly referred to the security exceptions of the relevant agreements, arguing that the measures were a response to Qatar’s funding of terrorist organizations and therefore justified in the interest of national security.

Article XXI GATT stipulates, amongst other things, that nothing in the GATT ‘shall be construed’ … ‘to prevent any contracting party from taking any action which it considers necessary for the protection of its essential security interests’, in three different contexts, including those of ‘war or other emergency in international relations’. The language of Article XXI suggests it is a so-called ‘self-judging clause’, justifying measures which are considered necessary by the State that adopts them. The crucial legal question is to what extent the Article allows for review. According to the UAE, the WTO dispute settlement system is neither empowered nor equipped to hear disputes concerning national security. Qatar, however, argues that while Members have the right to adopt bona fide security measures, such measures remain subject to WTO oversight.

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Brexit and the Transatlantic Trouble of Counting Treaties

Published on December 6, 2017        Author: 
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As pointed out by the Financial Times (FT), the UK’s withdrawal from the EU will require the renegotiation of more than 700 international agreements from which the UK currently benefits by virtue of its EU membership. Given the political and economic importance of transatlantic relations for both the UK and EU, the United States is arguably a good place to start when it comes to gaining a deeper understanding of the challenge at hand. As this post argues, before reaching the substantive questions surrounding the new agreements, even determining the number of treaties that may need to be replaced with new U.S.-UK ones is not a straightforward task.

In an address of November 28, 2017, Secretary of State Tillerson urged both sides to move the withdrawal process “forward swiftly and without unnecessary acrimony” and offered “an impartial hand of friendship to both parties”. Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations are nearing a crucial point in mid-December, when it will be determined whether “sufficient progress” has been achieved for the two sides to start looking to the future—with each other and with strategic partners such as the U.S.

In determining the UK’s post-Brexit “special relationship” with the U.S., some preliminary discussions are already underway. However, the UK will be free to conduct fully-fledged negotiations only once it ceases to be an EU member. In anticipation of the many legal and political questions that these negotiations will raise, a preliminary—seemingly simple—matter would be to establish what the actual treaty relations between the U.S. and EU are. Three comprehensive and authoritative sources can be drawn upon to this end: The U.S. State Department’s Treaties in Force 2017, the EU’s Treaty Office Database, and the FT’s Brexit treaty renegotiation checklist. The only problem is, they do not match up. According to the State Department, there are 31 bilateral treaties in force between the EU and U.S., according to the EU’s Treaty Office, the number is 52, and according to the FT, it is 37. Hence, establishing the extent and content of legal relations affected by Brexit amounts in the first place to an empirical challenge.

In an effort to better understand this challenge, this post will first explain the reasons for (most of) these discrepancies, and subsequently offer its own assessment of the number of treaties. Before doing so, it should be stressed that this analysis focusses on bilateral international agreements only, i.e., agreements between the U.S. and the EU, either with or without the EU’s Members States alongside it. Agreements including additional parties would be categorized as multilateral agreements, of which there is also a significant number involving both the EU and U.S. and which raise additional difficulties, as illustrated recently in the dispute over the post-Brexit splitting of tariff rate quotas at the WTO. Moreover, the analysis focusses on treaties in force, thus excluding treaties pending ratification or those which are being provisionally applied (such as the 2007 Open Skies Agreement). As a final caveat, this post does not delve into any of the many administrative agreements concluded directly between U.S. and EU agencies (see for a useful overview the table compiled by Peter Chase in Daniel Hamilton and Jacques Pelkmans (eds.), Rule-Makers or Rule-Takers: Exploring the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (2015), pp. 55-60). What this post seeks to show is that even a single bilateral treaty relationship is challenging enough to grasp.

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Remaking the World towards ‘Fair and Reciprocal Trade’? The Case for (More) Interdisciplinarity in International Economic Law

Published on November 17, 2017        Author: 
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Geopolitical changes were on full display last week at multiple economic summits in Asia, where red carpet pageantry converged with the dramatic publicity of States brokering new deals at the regional meetings for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in Viet Nam, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Heads of State Summit and the 12th East Asia Summit (EAS) in the Philippines, the side meetings of the China-led 16-country bloc drafting the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the Japan-led Trans-Pacific Partnership-11 (recently renamed into the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership), with considerable focus on United States President Donald Trump’s 12 day tour in Asia for these meetings as well as for bilateral trade talks with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines.  In Viet Nam, US President Trump suddenly renamed the Asia-Pacific into the “Indo-Pacific”, a deliberate policy strategy to define Asia beyond China’s growing hegemony into a sphere of alliances built with India, Japan, and other Southeast Asian countries.  

The Asia economic summits conveyed the implicit assumption that international trade and investment treaties had to be revised or rewritten towards “fair trade”, even if there were differing understandings of what that fairness meant.  US President Trump’s address at APEC demanded “fair and reciprocal trade” as part of his ‘America First’ policy, blaming trade agreements for serious US trade deficits with China and other countries. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delayed agreeing to renew the TPP partnership under the aegis of the CPTPP, pushing for Canadian interests in ensuring strict environmental and labour standards in the agreement, and succeeding in suspending the problematic provisions in the intellectual property chapter which the US had originated in the TPP draft.  Newly-minted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern claimed victory with the suspension of investor-State dispute settlement clauses from the CPTPP, in favour of compulsory domestic court adjudication for any investment disputes.  In contrast, China took up the cudgels for globalisation and the established institutions and processes of the multilateral system, with Chinese President Xi Jinping firmly declaring at APEC that “economic globalisation is an irreversible historical trend…in pursuing economic globalisation, we should make it more open and inclusive, more balanced, more equitable and beneficial to all.”

The recent pronouncements by world leaders should be of considerable interest to international lawyers, given the heightened political and economic expectations placed on international economic agreements (trade and investment treaties), and what social outcomes they should (or should not) produce beyond the traditionally narrow objectives of liberalising foreign market access.  The international economic system is moving towards a multi-speed configuration of States oscillating between competing economic ideologies (e.g. resurgent new forms of “mercantilist protectionism”, revised ‘mainstream’ neoclassical economics, ‘new’ behavioural economics, among others); changing philosophies of government (e.g. the revival of authoritarianism and ‘illiberal’ democracies, leaning away from liberal democracies); evolving theories on the regulation of property, competition, and information given rapidly-developing technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence and the explosion of automation in supply chains, the domestic and transnational social impacts of the digital ‘sharing’ economy, climate change-driven restructuring to consumption patterns and production processes); and expanding understandings of domestic and transnational challenges to global public goods (e.g. environment, health, peace and security, among others).  Accordingly, there is an even greater burden for international lawyers (especially those that assist or advise States drawing up their respective visions for a new global economic architecture), to clarify and be transparent about how the political, economic, and social ends sought will be effectively met through the current and future mechanisms of international economic law and its institutions for governance and coordination.  Beyond the fog of press publicity, are we candidly and accurately communicating to the politicians the actual limits of international economic treaties, along with their potentials?  

In this post, I argue that international lawyers – especially international economic lawyers tasked with drafting, revising, critiquing, and building the new bilateral, regional, and global constellation of economic treaties – increasingly have to deepen interdisciplinarity, and not just in the sense persuasively observed by Tom Ginsburg and Gregory Shaffer as the “empirical turn in international legal scholarship” (106 American Journal of International Law (2012), pp. 1-46. Perhaps more fundamentally, international lawyers need even more interdisciplinarity, because we are at present hard-pressed to approximate, if not achieve, an idea of “fairness” in the international economic system’s treaties and institutions (no matter how contested that sense of “fairness” is, to begin with).  If we accept that the “fairness of international law” is legitimately our concern as international lawyers and scholars (as Thomas Franck famously argued), we should be more open to readily engaging the interdisciplinary assumptions marshalled in the reform and remaking of international economic treaties and institutions today.  

While we may not of course be the experts in these other disciplines, and we should, indeed, preserve the “relative autonomy” of international law (as Jan Klabbers cautions), some sharpening of our interdisciplinary sensibilities can nevertheless be useful in helping us to test the “good faith” nature of any postulation or assertion on the desired weight, form, content, and structure of our international economic treaties and institutions.  I use three examples of unstated assumptions in the debate over international economic treaties today that illustrate where interdisciplinarity is sorely lacking: 1) that international economic treaties can somehow erase trade deficits and permanently prevent trade imbalances; 2) that international economic treaties can anticipate and provide the most appropriate and suitable dispute resolution mechanism for the particular States parties to these treaties – for the entire life of these treaties – which is problematic with the growing depiction of a supposed ‘binary’ choice between investor-State dispute settlement mechanisms (ISDS) and local court adjudication (and/or political risk insurance); and 3) that international economic treaties can be designed to fully create desired social, environmental, labor, health, education, and all public interest outcomes.  I posit that while interdisciplinarity may show us that international economic treaties could be a correlative, if not possibly one of the causal, factors for desired outcomes, and that we can probably design them with sensitivity and vigilance towards controlling the negative externalities they cause and encouraging positive distributive consequences, the international economic treaty-writing (and rewriting) exercise is complex. We cannot – as politicians do – simplistically oversell or lionise these treaties as somehow the definitive “one size-fits all” solution to remake the world towards “fair and reciprocal trade”.

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