How investment protection affects the “right to regulate”

Green paragraph between black paragraphsIn discussions of investment protection provisions in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), issues have been raised regarding the risk of such investment provisions affecting the signatory states’ “right to regulate”.

A report from the Swedish National Board of Trade seeks to bring clarity to these issues by examining how two of the most commonly used investment protection provisions affect states’ “right to regulate”. At the outset, the report explains that the term itself is misleading, for an investment protection agreement never entails a waiver of the states’  right to regulate. Rather, the “right to regulate” in this context refers to the state’s ability to legislate and adopt administrative acts without running the risk of having to pay damages to investors.

Using the concluded trade agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA) and the US model bilateral investment treaty, the report analyzes two investment protection articles that frequently occur in investment disputes, and which also have the greatest potential impact on the state’s “right to regulate”. These two articles relate to (1) fair and equitable treatment and (2) expropriation without compensation.

The “fair and equitable treatment” article protects investors against, inter alia, fundamental breach of due process in judicial and administrative proceedings, manifest arbitrariness, and targeted discrimination. The article is often interpreted to include protection of investors’ “legitimate expectations”, based on the laws, regulations and government commitments that attracted the investment. According to the Swedish National Board of Trade, foreign investors in Sweden already enjoy this type of protection under Swedish law. The article on “fair and equitable treatment” in an investment protection agreement will thus not affect Sweden’s “right to regulate”.

The article regarding “expropriation without compensation” prevents states from nationalizing private property (direct expropriation), or by legislation or other means causing the investor to lose control of the investment or rendering the investment worthless (indirect expropriation). The provision again direct expropriation is broadly consistent with Swedish law; while the provision against indirect expropriation provides investors with some additional protection beyond that offered by Swedish law. According to the National Board of Trade, the expropriation article on the whole has only a slight, if any, impact on Sweden’s “right to regulate”.

The report concludes that, because the protection that these articles provide foreign investors in Sweden is already largely covered by Swedish law, they have a very small impact on Sweden’s “right to regulate”.