Our next case summary is Philip Morris v. Uruguay. This summary is prepared based on the publicly-available award rendered in July 2016.
The case reminds us of the one between Philip Morris and Australia. In both cases, Philip Morris claimed that their investment had lost value due to a new tobacco legislation and therefore the company is entitled to compensation.
The case against Australia was dismissed at an early stage, when the tribunal held that Philip Morris unlawfully took advantage of a subsidiary in order to get access to ISDS. Therefore, the tribunal did not examine the main issue of the case, which was the tobacco legislation itself. Meanwhile, the dispute with Uruguay went all the way to the assessment of the measure in dispute, and the majority of the tribunal found that the Uruguayan tobacco legislation did not violate the bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay (BIT).
Philip Morris based its arguments on two main parts of the Uruguayan legislation: first was the decision by the country’s Ministry of Health that bans selling different types of presentations of the same brand of cigarettes (it is not allowed to sell a product that is ”light”, ”menthol” or ”gold”). The second is a presidential decision which requires that the images of health warning on cigarette package increase from 50% to 80%.
The company argued that these measures violated several provisions in the BIT, including a violation of its intellectual property rights.
In the 300-page award, the tribunal asserted that intellectual property rights are indeed protected by the BIT – however it did not find that the state violated the agreement as the company failed to prove that it had suffered a level of damage required to find violation. Further, according to the tribunal, the state has a large policy space to implement reforms aiming to protect legitimate interest – and therefore this type of measure cannot be considered an expropriation or a breach of the fair and equitable treatment standard of protection as long as they are made on rational grounds and in good faith. It found that Uruguay had a genuine interest in protecting public health – and that the government adopted the reforms in a serious and well-motivated manner.
Another argument by Philip Morris was that it was denied a fair trial in the Uruguayan courts, where the company had first tried to appeal the tobacco measures. The company claimed that two different instances of court system in the country had ruled contrary to each other. In this case, even though the Supreme Court sided with the company, an administrative court chose ignore the Supreme Court and rejected the company’s appeal. The tribunal agreed that this was strange but at the same time viewed that this fact was not enough to consider that Philip Morris had been denied a fair trial.
Because Philip Morris’ claims were dismissed on its entirety, the company was ordered to pay the entire cost of the dispute, as well as 70% of Uruguay’s legal fees.