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Home International Economic Law Archive for category "Bilateral Investment Treaties"

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

Published on November 17, 2017        Author: 

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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The MERCOSUR Protocol on Investment Cooperation and Facilitation: regionalizing an innovative approach to investment agreements

Published on September 12, 2017        Author:  and

The States Parties of the MERCOSUR (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) signed in April 2017 the Protocol on Investment Cooperation and Facilitation (“MERCOSUR Protocol”).

As discussed in this post, the Protocol draws significantly on the Brazilian model investment agreement (the Agreement on Cooperation and Facilitation of Investments – ACFI), which stands out for departing from the traditional design of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), particularly – but not only – by excluding the possibility of investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS).

The emergence of the MERCOSUR Protocol has implications at the level of investment policy, as it represents a step towards the regionalization of the Brazilian model. It reflects the attempt to include in a single document the realities of four countries with important political, economic and investment policy differences, as expressed by the varying trajectories of Argentina and Brazil in the investment area.

It also raises interesting questions from an international law perspective. It highlights the legal challenges faced by Brazil, which not only joined the network of international investment agreements (IIAs) as a late-comer but also opted for embracing a particular approach to investment treaties. Accordingly, aside from provisions that innovate in investment law-making, the MERCOSUR Protocol incorporates provisions whose intention seems to be to insulate Brazil from applying protection standards often found in the over 3,000 treaties that now comprise the network of BITs, but which have been deliberately absent in the ACFI.

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Is International Investment Law moving the ball forward on IHRL obligations for business enterprises?

Published on May 15, 2017        Author: 

The question of whether businesses are subjects of international law in the absence of express treaty provisions to that effect, and thus can have IHRL obligations, receives mixed answers from legal scholars. Rights granted to businesses under international investment law and under human rights law, and obligations imposed on them under some environmental protection treaties (e.g. the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage) show that businesses can be right or duty bearers under international law. The UNGPs also recognise that businesses have a responsibility to respect human rights and remedy violations, but since they are non-binding, they do not introduce a legally enforceable obligation. Since 2014, discussions for a global treaty regulating business impact on human rights have been taking place at the UN level. There is yet little clarity on the form (regional, sectoral, global) and content of such a treaty. Among the key disagreements as to the content of the treaty is whether it should introduce direct human rights obligations for businesses under international law. Some argue that imposing direct IHRL obligations on businesses would not add much to the already existing IHRL framework that requires states to already protect against human rights abuses by business, and that it should not be a “substitute for the states’ duties to fulfil their human rights obligations”. Others argue that effective legal protection requires legal responsibilities of businesses to respect human rights to be recognised in an internationally binding instrument.

While the debate on the BHR treaty is likely to continue for a while longer, some recent developments in international investment law (IIL) seem to be moving the ball forward, albeit slowly, on IHRL obligations for businesses. IIL has been viewed by some of its critics as a force undermining IHRL and this is rightly so in some circumstances. But IIL can also act as a conduit to improve IHRL protection. I will discuss here some of the progress made in this area by the ICSID award in Urbaser v Argentina and some “next generation” investment agreements, most notably, the Morocco-Nigeria BIT and the Indian Model BIT.

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Nigeria and Morocco Move Towards a “New Generation” of Bilateral Investment Treaties

Published on May 8, 2017        Author: 

Introduction

On 3 December 2016, the Governments of Morocco and Nigeria signed a bilateral investment treaty (BIT) that deserves close scrutiny. The treaty is an important attempt by two developing countries to move toward a new generation of BITs fully aligned with the evolution of international law. Indeed, it contains several largely innovative provisions susceptible to address the criticism raised in the last few years against investment treaties.

From popularity to hostility

Investment treaties, and especially BITs, were popular in the 1990s and 2000s. Their number grew quite spectacularly as did the participation of developing countries. In the last few years, however, BITs have been increasingly perceived by States as inconvenient for several reasons, including unbalanced content, restrictions on regulatory powers, and inadequacies of investment arbitration.

Dissatisfaction with traditional BITs has generated four main types of reaction: (a) reluctance to ratify BITs. Since 2012, only 25 BITs have entered into force (see here); (b) conclusion of facilitation agreements, which radically downgrade the substantive protection of foreign investment and do not provide for arbitration (see, eg, Treaty between Brazil and Mozambique); (c) termination of BITs and adoption of investment legislation (see South Africa Protection of Investment Act, 2015); and (d) upgrading of BITs with a view to striking a better balance between the private and public interests at stake. The BIT concluded – but not in force yet – between Morocco and Nigeria is a fine example of the last typology. Read the rest of this entry…

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Stability vs. Flexibility: Can the European Union find the Balance?

Published on April 25, 2017        Author: 

To what extent can a State forego its contractual commitments, in particular those arising from a stabilization clause for human rights and environmental protection? (“under a stabilization clause, the host State commits itself either not to enact changes of the domestic law in the future, or at least, not to apply such changes to the investor”, Ohler, Concessions, Max Planck Encyclopedia, 2009.) Our assumption is that stabilization clauses and states’ rights to regulate should be integrated and not be taken as opposite obligations, considered as incompatible. In other words, if framed correctly, stabilization clauses can balance the two conflicting needs at stake: the sanctity of contract and a state’s right to regulate to protect its public interest (Leben, L’évolution de la Notion de Contrat d’État, Revue de l’arbitrage, 2003; Carbone, Luzzatto, Il Contratto internazionale, 1996; Giardina, State Contracts, national versus international law, The Italian Yearbook of international law, 1980; Fatours, International Law and International Contract, 1980; Mann, State Contracts in International Arbitration, 1967).

This post examines whether the (fairly) new European exclusive competence on foreign direct investment changes the way stabilization clauses should be framed in EU State contracts to avoid potential conflicts. There are two different kinds of possible conflicts that could arise: first involving either provisions among themselves, or second, the two different legal regimes at stake (the international and the European).

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The Constitutional Frontiers of International Economic Law

Published on March 9, 2017        Author: 

The End of Mega-Regionalism?

The future of ‘mega-regionals’, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), has become doubtful since President Trump took office. Through decisions, such as the withdrawal from TPP, he is putting his rhetoric to ‘Make America Great Again’ in action. Yet, the idea to put national values first is not, I argue in a recent issue of the Journal of World Investment and Trade, so different from opposition to mega-regionals elsewhere. Both the ‘new America’ and opponents to mega-regionals in Europe speak in favor of disengaging from mega-regionals and replacing them with action by the nation state. At the same time, rejecting mega-regionals will result in sticking with the existing international institutional infrastructure that is widely regarded as insufficient to effectively regulate globalization for the better.

Despite similarities in their effects, there are important differences across the Atlantic. In the European Union, opposition most vocally comes from the left, not from the right. It also does not come from an elected executive, but from large numbers of citizens and opposition parties, as well as a smaller number of Member States, or even sub-divisions of Member States – think of Wallonia. And it is couched in entirely different vocabulary: Rather than speaking the language of nationalism and protectionism, opposition in the EU invokes constitutional values and rights – namely democracy, the rule of law, and fundamental rights – which are leveraged against mega-regionals and the institutions they come with, notably investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) and regulatory cooperation.

Increasing Involvement of Constitutional Courts

Couching opposition to mega-regionals in constitutional language has important consequences: It brings in a different set of actors, namely constitutional courts. Following earlier examples in Latin America, the 13 October 2016 ruling of the German Constitutional Court on an application for an injunction against the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) brought by some 120,000 individuals is likely just the first of many court rulings in which international economic law encounters its constitutional frontiers head-on. Read the rest of this entry…

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Unpacking the Complexities of Backlash and Identifying its Unintended Consequences

Published on August 25, 2016        Author: 

References to “backlash” are becoming increasingly ubiquitous in international law scholarship (see for example this recent EJIL article and accompanying EJIL:Talk! Discussion). Few have, however, sought to define or unpack the complexities of backlash. In this post, we draw upon our chapter in a forthcoming book titled The Judicialization of International Law – A Mixed Blessing? (Oxford University Press, 2017). We seek to develop a notion of “backlash”, identify what underlies it, and illuminate its potential unintended consequences. While we focus upon investment treaty arbitration as a case study, we endeavor to illuminate the complexities of evaluating opposition to international regimes. These issues hold particular relevance to investor-State arbitration given current State negotiations of major bi‑ and multi‑ lateral treaties with investor-State protections. They are also likely to gain in relevance with many investment treaties shortly coming up for renewal or termination.

Defining Backlash

The notion of backlash has seldom been defined, instead being used as an umbrella term to capture a range of forms of critique and contestation. These include State decisions to review, not renew, terminate, or withdraw from existing treaties; refusals to negotiate or sign investment treaties; and changes in the approaches of States to the negotiation of new treaties. There are also forms of “backlash” arising from civil society, non-governmental organizations, and academia in the form of protests, comments in public consultation processes, increased reporting, and academic discussion. Such acts, along with others, are increasingly cited as evidence of “a rising backlash” against the regime of investor-State arbitration generally.

The term “backlash” indicates the presence of something more than scrutiny, critique or even crisis. Read the rest of this entry…

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Philip Morris v Uruguay: an affirmation of ‘Police Powers’ and ‘Regulatory Power in the Public Interest’ in International Investment Law

Published on July 28, 2016        Author: 

In recent years there has been criticism that international investment treaties and investor-State arbitration conducted under those treaties increasingly, and unacceptably, have encroached upon the legitimate uses of States’ regulatory power. These concerns have not only been expressed in scholarship, but have also been at the forefront of State negotiations in recent multilateral and bilateral trade and investment agreements (see, for example, the recent discussion by Anthea Roberts and Richard Braddock here on the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement). The concerns have led to policy proposals from States and international organisations for greater safeguards for States to be able to enact measures in the public interest without attracting liability under investment treaties.

Investor-State arbitration tribunals appear to be alive to these concerns. On 8 July 2016, a tribunal (constituted by Professor Piero Bernardini, Mr Gary Born and Judge James Crawford) convened pursuant to the Switzerland-Uruguay Bilateral Investment Treaty (‘BIT’) delivered an award which, by majority, upheld the legality of two tobacco-control measures enacted by the Uruguayan government for the purpose of protecting public health. The award contains an extensive analysis of the interaction between States’ regulatory powers to enact laws in the public interest and States’ obligations to protect and promote foreign investment within their territory. This post will focus on two aspects of the award that considered this interaction: the claim pursuant to Article 5 of the BIT (expropriation) and the claim pursuant to Article 3(2) (fair and equitable treatment or FET).

The challenged measures

The claim, brought by the Philip Morris group of tobacco companies against Uruguay, challenged two legislative measures. First, the claimants challenged a law that mandated a ‘single presentation requirement’ on cigarette packaging, such that different packaging or variants of cigarettes were prohibited.

Secondly, the claimants challenged a law that mandated an increase in the size of health warnings on cigarette packaging from 50 to 80% of the lower part of each of the main sides of a cigarette package (‘the 80/80 requirement’). As the the amicus brief submitted by the WHO and Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (‘FCTC’) Secretariat noted, large graphic and text health warnings are increasingly common on tobacco packaging globally and a number of States have enacted (or are considering enacting) laws with the aim of preventing misleading tobacco packaging, as is required of States parties to the FCTC (including Uruguay). Read the rest of this entry…

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