Swedish National Board of Trade investigates Most Favored Nation treatment

Night view of Gamla Stan, the old part of Stockholm, SwedenMany investment treaties contain a clause providing for ”most favored nation” treatment (MFN). Such clauses have been part of trade treaties for centuries and their basic principle is that the treaty states guarantee that if they enter into other more favorable treaties with third states, then the states to the original treaty are entitled to the protection contained in the treaty with third states. The original purpose is to level the international playing field: state A should not be able to give state B (or investors from state B) treatment that is less favorable than the treatment given to state C (or investors from state C).

Sweden’s investment treaties contain MFN clauses. Therefore, the Swedish National Board of Trade, an expert agency within the Swedish government, has published an analysis of these clauses and their meaning for Sweden.

The review shows that all of Sweden’s 66 bilateral investment treaties contain MFN but that the exact scope of the clauses varies significantly. It is thus difficult to say with clarity what the clauses mean for Sweden: what kind of protection an investor could ”import” into Swedish BITs would have to be determined on a case by case basis. The report also analyzes how MFN clauses have been interpreted in arbitration jurisprudence and uses that to explain how the limits of the clauses could be understood more generally, depending on the language of the individual clause.

Several of the more recent treaties – including the non-ratified CETA and TTIP – have clarified the scope of MFN, in order to avoid the very uncertainty that the National Board of Trade points out with respect to the older Swedish BITs.

One concluding recommendation from the National Board of Trade is that Sweden revisits its BITs, in order to clarify the scope of MFN. This, of course, faces certain practical problems since the treaties are bilateral and thus would have to be discussed one by one with Sweden’s counterparts.