ISDS is established and ruled by international agreements. 159 states have submitted to the World Bank’s ICSID system, which is designed specifically for disputes between foreign investors and states. Many ISDS proceedings are conducted outside the ICSID system and for those proceedings, other instruments are in control. The most important of these is the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1958.
The New York Convention began to be discussed in the mid-50s because it was necessary to support the emerging international trade. The system at that time simply lacked an effective way to enforce arbitral awards across borders. A judgment of a national court was then, as now, difficult to enforce outside the court’s home jurisdiction, which meant that it was fairly easy for the losing parties to international disputes to avoid paying (it has become somewhat easier since the 1950s particularly in the EU, but it is still difficult to get, for example, a Swedish court judgment executed abroad and vice versa).
Arbitration is an important piece of the puzzle for international trade to function, it is by far the most common way to resolve international disputes. The New York Convention guarantees that whoever wins the dispute has not only the right but also gets the right in practice. By signing the Convention, states agree to enforce arbitral awards rendered in another state that is party of the Convention. The Convention has provisions to ensure the rule of law, for example, enforcement of an arbitration award can be rejected if it was rendered with a procedural deficiency.
Most of the states in the world have signed the New York Convention. It is the UN Commission of International Trade Law secretariat in Vienna (UNCITRAL), which takes care of the practical issues when new states accede. According to the UNCITRAL, Andorra is the latest country to ratify the Convention, and this means that the Convention is an applicable law in 156 countries.
The Convention is widely considered to be the most successful international convention ever. Although there are international agreements that have been signed by more states, they rarely contain any direct commitments. The New York Convention requires courts of the state parties to effectively apply the provisions of the Convention, and such strong support from the world’s countries is a major success story for international law and international trade.