Category Archives: International Arbitration

Transparency convention enters into force

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On April 18, 2017 Switzerland ratified the Mauritius Convention on transparency in ISDS. This means that the convention will enter into force six months later, October 18, 2017.

The Mauritius Convention is an instrument intended to extend the applicability of the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules. The Rules address many perceived problems with transparency in ISDS and essentially make the disputes more transparent than national courts. However, the Rules only apply to treaties entered into from April 1, 2014. By ratifying the Convention, states extend the applicability of the Rules to older treaties.

Sweden has signed the convention but not yet ratified it.

Frequent standards of protection: full protection and security (FPS)

Old and very used wooden Rubber StampOur first text about standards of protection in investment treaties is about the frequently occurring provision giving investors “full protection and security” (FPS). Most investment treaties contain this language, or wording similar to it.
In older treaties, the language is usually relatively short. These clauses have historically been interpreted to provide physical protection against interference with foreign investments, particularly during conflicts and/or in regions where the police power might interfere with foreign property.

The very first ISDS case, AAPL v. Sri Lanka, is an example of this interpretation. AAPL won its case against Sri Lanka, after the state was found to have neglected its duty to take precautionary measures in connection with a security force operation against the rebel group Tigers of Tamil. The operation, and the ensuing battle, destroyed AAPL’s shrimp farm, which the tribunal found could have been avoided if the state had acted differently.

A number of other FPS clauses have been interpreted more broadly, and even been found to encompass legal protection and legal security. Such interpretations of FPS overlap to the aspects of fair and equitable treatment (FET) which protects investors against denial of justice.

How broadly a tribunal interprets full protection and security is largely dependent on the language of the individual clause. Many new treaties therefore clarify the scope of the provision, most commonly by making clear that it only applies to physical protection.

Bridging the Climate Change Policy Gap

BLoggIt is clear that to fight climate change, we need to scale up green investment both in terms of amount and geographical reach. However, climate change law, in this case the United Nations Conference Framework on Climate Change and the recently-signed Paris Agreement, do not specifically include terms to promote and protect investment. This is a policy gap.

The SCC, together with the International Bar Association, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, took an initiative to discuss this gap by organising a conference, Bridging the Climate Change Policy Gap: The Role of International Law and Arbitration, in Stockholm on 21 November.

It is noted during the conference that around USD 100 billion in investment over the next fifteen years is needed to combat climate change – a target that is considered achievable. Another speaker emphasised that there is no shortage of capital to address climate change. The challenge is how to get investors to actually invest and how to match the capital with the green investments.

It appeared to be a consensus among the speakers that good policy is key to attracting sustainable investments. Policy needs to be long-term and stable. Short-term policies, often associated with government’s turnover, caused bad impacts, from high transaction costs to the fact that the industry had to fire and re-hire employees depending on how policy is.

A panel of lawyers discussed how litigation has been used to fight climate change, directly and indirectly. Among other things, renewable energy investors have resorted to international arbitration to bring a claim against government for unstable policies and revocation of incentives. Another case being discussed in depth was Urgenda Foundation v. the Netherlands where a Dutch district court ruled that the government has breached its duty of care to its citizens by not doing enough to address climate change.

It may be foreseen that these types of cases, both in domestic and international fora, will propel the right type of government actions.

A report from the conference with more details will be published soon.

 

Case Summary: Pac Rim Cayman LLC v El Salvador

Inside of salt mine shoot on corridorOur next case summary is Pac Rim Cayman LLC v. El Salvador and the summary is prepared based on the award rendered in October 2016.

The claim was brought based on the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and El Salvadoran Investment Law.

The investor held an exploration permit for a largely-underground gold mining site in Eldorado and further applied for an exploitation permit.  The dispute arose from the government’s refusal to grant exploitation license, which, according to the investor, amounted to several breaches of El Salvadoran Investment Law.

Meanwhile, the state based its refusal on the failure of the investor to obtain either ownership rights to all of the surface land in the concession area, or authorisations from all relevant landowners, as required under the Mining Law.

The tribunal decided to hear the claims under El Salvadoran law, which was allowed under the ICSID Convention, after it ruled that it did not have jurisdiction under the CAFTA.

The tribunal sided with the state and disagreed with the investor’s interpretation of the Mining Law which would not require authorisations from surface-level landowners if the activity does not involve surface-level land. According to the tribunal, the mining might pose environmental risks to surface landowners. Therefore, the investor’s interpretation was disproportionate to the risks.

In conclusion, the tribunal found that the investor did not comply with the requirement under the Mining Law to be granted an exploitation permit and therefore the government did not have any obligation to grant such permit to the investor.

The investor was also ordered to pay the majority of the state’s costs in the proceedings.

See other case summaries involving the mining industry here.

 

Just published: Peter Allard v. Canada

Blogg_v41A much-anticipated award is now released for public, Peter A. Allard v Barbados.

As we have written before, a Canadian investor, Peter Allard, brought a claim against Barbados in Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2010. The case concerned Mr Allard’s environmental sanctuary in coastal Barbados. He grounded his claim on the failure of the government of Barbados to enforce its own environmental law which, as a result, has polluted his sanctuary.

The investor claimed that the government’s failure amounted to violation of Canada – Barbados Bilateral Investment Treaty.

In an award rendered in June 2016, the tribunal rejected the investor’s claim on all grounds.

The tribunal disagreed with the investor that Barbados has failed to accord him full protection and security by failing to prevent pollution from coming to the sanctuary. As a departing point, the tribunal asserted that the obligation of the State to provide the investment with full protection and security standard is of ”due diligence” and ”reasonable care” – not of strict liability.

In this case, the tribunal found that Barbadian officials have taken reasonable steps to protect the sanctuary. Among others, the tribunal pointed out that the officials established a committee tasked with developing plans for preservation of the sanctuary.

The claim of expropriation was also dismissed. The tribunal concluded that there was no substantial deprivation of the investment since the investor remains the owner of the sanctuary and operates a cafe there. The tribunal further referred to the investor’s statement during the hearing that ”there is some kind of business remaining there”.

Meanwhile, Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst for Cato Institute, argues that the case sends an important signal for environmental protection. According to him, the legal standard in BIT may pave the way for future cases that environmentalists could help investors bring against governments who may do too little to protect the environment. An example mentioned is if the impact of climate change, for instance rising sea level, caused damage to an investor’s property.

Examples of national courts acting in ISDS

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National courts play important roles in safeguarding the rule-of-law outcome of ISDS proceedings. Under the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards, a party to an ISDS proceeding may request a national court to set aside an arbitral award. This can be done however on limited grounds, among others, if one of the parties was unable to present its case and if the arbitral procedure was not in accordance with the agreement of the parties. In addition, arbitration laws of a country also may provide grounds for setting aside an award.

Let’s take a look when this actually happened in practice.

In CME Czech Republic v Czech Republic, the tribunal found that the country’s media authority had destroyed the investor’s exclusive position as services provider for a private Czech TV channel, which left the company with assets but without business. In this case, the tribunal sided with the investor that the actions constituted an expropriation under the Netherlands – the Czech Republic Bilateral Investment Treaty.

The Czech Republic further requested the Svea Court of Appeal in Sweden to set aside the award under the Swedish Arbitration Act, on the grounds that, among others, one of the arbitrators had been excluded from the deliberations and that the award violated Swedish public policy. The Court of Appeal rejected this claim and found that the tribunal had given the arbitrators reasonable time to submit comments. Further, the Court viewed that the Czech Republic had failed to show that the award violated public policy. The Court therefore rejected the request on all grounds.

Meanwhile, in Metalclad v. Mexico, the tribunal found a violation of Chapter 11 of the North American Free Trade Agreement since the investor was denied fair and equitable treatment by the government due to the absence of clear rules about a certain permit. According to the tribunal, this amounted to a failure by the government to ensure transparency for the investor.

Mexico submitted a request to the British Columbia Supreme Court in Canada to set aside the award, on the grounds that the tribunal had incorrectly considered that transparency requirement formed part of minimum standard of treatment and expropriation provisions of Chapter 11 of the NAFTA. The Court agreed with Mexico and ruled that the tribunal had decided a matter beyond its jurisdiction. The award was therefore partly set aside the award.

Philip Morris v. Uruguay

Blogg_v34Our 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.

Arbitration throughout history

Close-up of open book and penThe Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce will turn 100 years in 2017. As part of the celebrations in January, a book about the history of arbitration will be published, where lawyers and diplomats from all over the world each write about one particular dispute.

One of the contributions is written by the winner of a large competition initiated by the SCC and aimed at young lawyers. The competition inspired many highly qualified contributions and several were so well-written that they will now be published in a separate edition of Transnational Dispute Management Journal (TDM).

The four texts deal with four different arbitrations that affected international relations: from a border dispute between the United States and Great Britain in what is now Canada, via an early ISDS case from the year 1900 over a Portuguese railway project and a relatively recent arbitration between Singapore and Malaysia, which was concluded at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014.

You can read more about the publication, including the foreword by SCC Secretary-General Annette Magnusson, here.

ISDS not used to change legislation

law concept. studio shotsIt has been perceived that States who entered into international investment agreements (IIAs) with arbitration clause risk being sued by foreign investors when they change legislation which causes negative impact on certain investments. However, a study by German and Dutch researchers have shown that foreign investors have very rarely used ISDS to seek damages due to legislative changes. Neither has ISDS been used to hamper introduction of a new law.

The study shows that most ISDS cases have targeted contracts between a State and foreign investors, or the rejection or modification of licenses. Another study by the Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, quoted in the German and Dutch study, shows that among all ICSID cases up to 2014, only 9% of cases dealt with legislation. Only half of the cases concerned government actions, and the rest dealt with decision-making by local governments and state-owned companies.

Previous claims under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for damages caused by legislative changes have all failed, according to the study. In a well-known case where investors brought a claim for damages allegedly caused by legislative changes, the recently-decided Philip Morris v. Australia, the investor’s claims were dismissed at an early stage.

In conclusion, studies have shown that it is very rare that foreign investors used ISDS to challenge States’ legislative powers in areas such as for example environment protection and public health. Instead, the study found that in the vast majority of cases, investors claim compensation on grounds that the State violated its concrete commitments in the form of contracts or licenses.

Mesa Power Group LLC v. Canada

Array of wind power station at the sunsetOur next case summary is Mesa Power Group LLC v. Government of Canada, an arbitration under Chapter 11 of NAFTA. This summary is prepared based on the publicly available award rendered on 31 March 2016.

The claimant in this case was Mesa Power Group LLC (“Mesa”), a U.S. corporation that oversees and develops renewable energy projects, notably in the wind sector. Mesa’s claims centered on the Government of Ontario’s Feed-in Tariff program (the “FIT Program”), enacted to promote the generation and consumption of renewable energy in the province. Under this program, generators of renewable energy could apply for a 20 or 40-year power purchase agreement (a “FIT Contract”) that would guarantee a certain price per kWh for electricity delivered into the Ontario electricity system. Participants in the FIT Program had to satisfy a certain domestic-content requirement, meaning that the 25-50% of the equipment used must be made in Canada. Mesa filed six applications under the FIT Program, but was not awarded any FIT contracts.

Mesa filed for arbitration under NAFTA Chapter 11, claiming that the government had acted in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner in awarding FIT contracts. Specifically, Mesa argued that the program’s domestic-content requirement was impermissible under NAFTA, that the awarding of FIT contracts was irregular and resulted in discrimination against Mesa, and that the government’s changes to the FIT program after applications had been received amounted to arbitrary and unfair treatment. Mesa sought more than CAD 650 million in damages.

Responding to Mesa’s claims, Canada argued the acts of the Ontario Power Authority were not covered by the obligations in Chapter 11 of NAFTA; and that even if the acts were covered, Article 1108 excludes procurement programs from protection under the principles of National Treatment and Most-Favored-Nation (“MFN”) Treatment. Finally, Canada maintained that Mesa had not been treated less favorably than other Canadian or U.S. investors.

In its award, rendered on 31 March 2016, the arbitral found that the claims did properly fall within Chapter 11 of NAFTA, but that the FIT program had not constituted a breach of Canada’s obligations under that treaty. Specifically, the tribunal agreed with the respondent state that, under Article 1108, procurement programs are excluded from Chapter 11’s National Treatment and MFN clauses. The tribunal further concluded that Canada’s conduct in implementing the FIT Program had not breached the “fair and equitable treatment” standard of Article 1105.

The tribunal noted that “at least some criticism” could be levelled at the government’s policy choices and actions with respect to its renewable energy programs. The tribunal concluded, however, that “judged in all the circumstances, this is not criticism that reaches the threshold of a violation of Canada’s international obligations.” Mesa’s claims were thus dismissed in their entirety, and Mesa was ordered to bear the costs of the arbitration, including a portion of Canada’s cost of legal representation.