Category Archives: International Arbitration

UNCTAD at the Stockholm Energy Charter Treaty Forum

summer meadow with high-voltage towers rowThe need to scale up energy investment was address by Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference of Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Joakim Reiter, at the recent Stockholm Energy Charter Treaty Forum, In his speech, Mr Reiter also remarked that international investment agreements (IIAs) can play a critical role in achieving this objective.

The Deputy Secretary General emphasized that energy poverty is the immense challenge of our time, when almost a fifth of the world’s population today have no access to electricity of any kind.  The amount of investment needed to address this problem is staggering, where for sustainable energy alone, the required amount reaches USD 800 billion. In this respect, he pointed out that the Energy Charter Treaty, as the only multilateral investment agreement in the field of energy, can play an important role in fostering sustainable energy future.

DSG Reiter remarked that international investment agreements (IIAs) have the potential to reinforce investor confidence by fostering predictability and transparency. It can also foster good governance and therefore improving the host country climate. However, he viewed that the new IIAs should strike a better balance between investment protection and the right to regulate of host government.

When it comes to ISDS, he noted the increasing number of ISDS has raised concerns. However, he asserted that the choice is not between having ISDS and not having ISDS. The choice is between having ISDS that works for sustainable development and ISDS that does not.

Read our previous posts about ISDS in support of climate change mitigation, about more environmental languages in IIAs and also about ISDS at COP 21.

Stockholm Energy Charter Treaty Forum was held on 8 February 2016 as a result of collaboration between the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), Energy Charter Secretariat, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The theme of this year’s forum was how to boost energy investment as well as to remove related barriers and risks. Among the speakers were high-level government officers from Asia, South America and Africa as well as energy investors, law practitioners and academics.

New Report on the Proposed EU Permanent Investment Court

EFILA_EUThe European Federation for Investment Law and Arbitration (EFILA) recently released a new report on the permanent investment court proposed by the European Commission within the context of the TTIP negotiations. The report is highly critical of the EU proposal, on two main grounds. First, under the proposed court system, states have the exclusive power to appoint judges, while investors lack any influence over who hears the disputes. This removes a significant benefit of arbitration as a method of dispute resolution, and creates an inherent imbalance between investors and states. Second, the proposed system has two tiers – the Tribunal of First Instance and the Appeals Tribunal – and allows parties to appeal an award on issues of law and fact. This undermines the finality of arbitral awards, and is likely to burden small and medium-size investors by increasing the length and cost of proceedings.

EFILA launched the report at its Annual Conference, held in Paris on 5 February 2016. The event, entitled “Investment Arbitration 2.0?”, brought together experienced arbitration experts, state officials, and representatives of investors to discuss current issues in investment arbitration. Panels discussed such topics as third party funding, the role of tribunal secretaries, and the relationship between investment arbitration and the rule of law.

One session of the conference was dedicated to discussing the EU court proposal. Most, but not all, panelists agreed with the criticisms advanced in the EFILA report. One speaker noted that investors are unlikely to trust the neutrality of judges that are appointed and paid by states. A U.S.-based academic retorted with examples from other permanent international courts showing that state-appointed judges are not necessarily pro-state in how they rule. Another panelist noted that the proposed investment court would not have a secretariat or its own set of arbitration rules, and that it would be impossible to apply a pre-existing set of arbitration rules to the proposed two-tier court structure populated by permanent judges.

Someone commented that the EU proposal “appears half-baked”. Nonetheless, as EFILA secretary-general Nikos Lavranos emphasized, the arbitration community must take it seriously.

The First ICSID Case of 2016: Al Jazeera v. Egypt

satellite dishAccording to the ICSID website, the first case registered in 2016 was an arbitration initiated by the global media company Al Jazeera against Egypt.

There have long been indications that Qatar-based Al Jazeera would seek compensation under the Qatar-Egypt bilateral investment treaty for injuries allegedly suffered since the Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown in 2013. In connection with the regime change, the new Egyptian government accused Al Jazeera of being a propaganda machine for the Brotherhood. The Financial Times reported on the dispute already in April 2014:

“The lawyers argue that by arresting and attacking Al Jazeera journalists, seizing the broadcaster’s property and jamming its signal, the Egyptian government has violated its rights as a foreign investor in the country and put the $90m it has invested in Egypt since 2001 at risk.”

It has been held that the arbitral tribunal to be appointed in the case will likely have to determine the extent to which media freedom is protected by the treaty. With this novel issue in the spotlight, the arbitration will likely be closely watched by the news media.

Philip Morris v. Australia dismissed

AustraliaBlogOn 17 December 2015, the tribunal in Philip Morris Asia Ltd. v. Australia issued the long-anticipated award on the case, declining jurisdiction, as known from a statement from Philip Morris.

The case concerns Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 which prohibits use of trademarks, symbols, graphic or images on tobacco products and packaging. The investor argued that the measure has expropriated its intellectual property rights because it cannot use its logo in the cigarette package.

The tribunal’s reasoning for declining jurisdiction remains unknown. However, it is known that Australia has submitted jurisdictional objection among others that the dispute had arisen before the investor obtained protection under the bilateral investment treaty between Hong Kong and Australia and that the commencement of the arbitration shortly after the investor’s restructuring is considered an abuse of rights.

As published by the Permanent Court of Arbitration website, the award will not become public until the parties agree on the redaction of any confidential information contained in the award.

The New York Convention – a success from 1958 serving ISDS

Central Park with Manhattan skyline in New York CityISDS 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.

ISDS AT COP21: ENFORCEMENT OF CLIMATE COMMITMENTS

Globe between two pairs of clasped handsIn a speech in Paris during the COP21 summit, the president of the International Bar Association David Rivkin expressed hope that ISDS could bridge the current enforcement gap in international environmental law.

Specifically, Rivkin highlighted the role of neutral and accessible dispute resolution mechanisms in enforcing commitments and underlying pledges made by state parties to the UNFCCC negotiations. He also noted that the existence of mechanisms for resolving disputes between investors and states is crucial to incentivizing foreign investment in renewable energy.

Noting that the fiercest critics of ISDS tend to focus on the system’s purported chilling effect on a state’s regulatory ambitions, Rivkin explained that this “regulatory chill” relates to the substantive terms of the treaties rather than to ISDS procedure.

Rivkin remarked that in the “new wave” of investment treaties and agreements, “environmental issues are being considered increasingly by states at the outset of drafting investment chapters”. Today, most BITs include some environmental language, and many contain a general reservation of policy space for environmental regulation. Rivkin emphasized that a number of recent BITs have included specific obligations to promote sustainable development, to encourage trade in environmental products, or to facilitate FDI in environmental technologies or eco-labeled goods.

Commenting on these developments, Rivkin noted:

It is clear that we are entering a new era of BITs/FTAs, in which states are delineating more specific obligations in the negotiation of these agreements, both as to standards of investor protection and regulatory autonomy. As we are seeing in the context of TTIP, CETA and TPP, ‘self-calibration’ of the ISDS system is already evident. In the future we may also see more movement in the areas of state counterclaims, which would be particularly relevant for environmental claims.

Rivkin also discussed the recent report by the IBA Task Force on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights, which provides a comprehensive coverage of pro-environment clauses included in investment chapters.

Read the full speech here.

ISDS at the Peace Palace

PeacePalaceFinalYear 1899 marks the beginning of the Philippines – American war. In the same year, the Spanish-American war ended. It also marks the first international peace conference in the Hague, which represents an important point of time for international arbitration.

The Hague Peace Conference was an initiative of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, the aim of which was to ensure a lasting peace and to limit armaments. One of the proposals that was put forward in this conference was to create an institution for international arbitration to settle international disputes in order to replace institution of wars.

One of the biggest achievements of this conference was the signing of the Convention for Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (“Convention”). The Convention created the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) which is housed in the Peace Palace in the Hague.

Since then, the PCA has administered a large number of high-profile arbitration between states. In Grisbådarna Case between Sweden and Norway, the dispute on the maritime boundary between the two countries was resolved. Another case concerned a bloody conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. The two countries submitted to the PCA to settle the delimitation of their borders and to settle claims arising out of violations of international law during the conflict.

Today, the roles of the PCA and international arbitration have moved beyond maintaining peace. It continues to contribute to rule of law by administering ISDS cases – which in the end plays a role in promoting economic development and international trade.

One of the high-profile cases is Chemtura v. Canada, in which a U.S investor brought a claim against Canada due to Canada’s decision to ban sale of a pesticide produced by the investor. The tribunal found that there was a legitimate public health reason behind this ban and therefore it rejected the claim of the investor in its entirety.

Further, the PCA is currently administering a case in which a Canadian investor brought a claim against the government of Barbados for, among others, failure to implement the environmental laws and to abide by its environmental treaties commitments. The investor claimed that this failure has damaged natural sanctuary owned by the investor. The case is still pending however it shows that environmental protection is an important question that may appear in ISDS.

Two centuries after the Hague Peace Conference, international arbitration is still highly relevant as a rule of law mechanism to solve international disputes. This is a value that should be appreciated, not undermined.

 

Arbitrators’ Independence and Impartiality

ArbitratorsBlogThe parties in an ISDS case select the arbitrators that resolve their dispute. Arbitration law and institutional rules provide layers of control mechanisms to ensure the impartiality and independence of these arbitrators.

The SCC Arbitration Rules require that every arbitrator must be impartial and independent. This requirement extends from the outset and throughout the proceeding. Prior to appointment, an arbitrator must disclose any circumstances which may give rise to justifiable doubts as to his or her impartiality or independence. Further, a party to a dispute may challenge an arbitrator during the course of the proceedings, if new circumstances arise or facts come to light that lead the party to doubt the arbitrator’s independence or impartiality.

Most institutions, including the SCC, evaluate challenges to arbitrators under an objective standard – that is, the arbitrator is disqualified if the circumstances, from the point of view of a reasonable third person, give rise to a conflict of interest. In other words, it is not necessary to show that the challenged arbitrator in fact lacks independence and impartiality, but rather that there is an appearance of partiality.

In arbitrations administered by the SCC, the SCC Board makes the final decision on arbitrator challenges. In evaluating challenges, the Board may refer to the International Bar Association Guidelines on Conflict of Interest in International Arbitration (“IBA Guidelines”). The IBA Guidelines list specific situations in which an arbitrator should decline an appointment, or step down if already appointed.

For example, the SCC Board sustained a respondent’s challenge to an arbitrator appointed by claimant because the arbitrator’s firm had been involved in matters both for and against the respondent. The arbitrator was released from the appointment. Read this article for more information on challenges in SCC cases.

The ICSID Convention, developed by States, provides that an arbitrator can be dismissed if he or she manifests a lack of the qualities required to sit as an arbitrator. A proposal to disqualify an arbitrator was upheld in Bluebank v. Venezuela, on the ground that the arbitrator appointed by claimant worked in a law firm that represented other claimants in unrelated ICSID cases against Venezuela.

Under the ICSID Convention, an ISDS award may be annulled if the tribunal was not properly constituted. This may include situations where an arbitrator failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest before or during the arbitration.

TPP is signed with ISDS provision

Two globes of EarthOn 4 October 2015, twelve countries representing 40% of the world’s economy signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. These countries consist of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

The text is yet to be released but official information about the agreement can be found among others on the U.S government website and the Canadian government website.

The signing of the TPP means that twelve countries with significant share in the world’s economy have been able to agree on one set of investment protection rules. As summarized on the U.S Trade Representatives website, the investment chapter will replicate the terms in the US 2012 Model Bilateral Investment Treaty. The rules require non-discriminatory investment policies and provide terms that assure basic rule of law protections. At the same time the rules ensure governments’ ability to achieve legitimate public policy objectives.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada, the investment chapter provides access to “an independent ISDS mechanism that is prompt, fair and transparent, and subject to appropriate grounds”.

This means that signing countries find ISDS to be relevant and necessary, not least between developed states. It may be noted that ISDS under the US 2012 Model Bilateral Investment Treaty includes a transparent proceeding and a possibility of a third party to participate in the proceeding. There is a good reason to guess the TPP will include these features too.

[ICSID GUEST POST] Appeal, Review, Annulment …. What’s it all about?

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This post is a guest contribution from Ms. Meg Kinnear, Secretary-General of ICSID.

 

The extent to which a legal decision should be reviewable is a question that all legal systems must address.  On the one hand, everyone can agree that decisions should be correct, and that getting the law, the facts and the procedure right are vital to the administration of justice. One of the ways legal systems try to ensure correct outcomes is by having a second body [and in some national systems, a third and even a fourth court!] review the first decision and correct any errors made by the original tribunal.

On the other hand, some argue that an equally important role of legal decision makers is to resolve disputes once and for all, so that the opposing parties have a final outcome, certainty, and the ability to get on with business without spending time and money on legal appeals. Balancing the goals of “correctness” and “finality” is difficult, and defining the right level of review can depend on factors such as cost, timing, the rights in question, and the goals of the legal system.

Discussion about how to balance correctness and finality has also taken place in the international investment context.  Indeed, the States drafting the ICSID Convention debated this question as early as the mid-1960s when they designed the Convention. States finally decided to provide a review called “annulment” which allowed a second look at ICSID awards, but on limited grounds.  These grounds were set out in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention and allowed a new panel [the ad hoc Committee] to annul an award if: [1] the tribunal was improperly constituted; [2] the tribunal manifestly exceeded its powers; [3] a tribunal member was corrupt; [4] there was a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedure; or [5] the tribunal failed to state reasons for its decision [paraphrased from Article 52 of the ICSID Convention].

In 2004, ICSID issued a public discussion paper outlining possible features of an international investment appeals system.  The paper suggested that an appeal mechanism could be designed to provide a broader range of review on the basis of clear error of law, serious error of fact, or any of the five grounds of review in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention. States decided not to pursue an appeals facility at that time, however ICSID undertook to further study the matter and to offer its assistance and expertise if treaty negotiators decided to pursue this course in the future.

On September 16, 2015, the European Commission [EC] released a draft text on investment under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP].  This draft included a proposal to create an Appeal Tribunal that could review an award issued by an investment tribunal.  The EC proposal builds on the ICSID Convention by suggesting that investment awards under the TTIP could be appealed based on the grounds in Article 52 of the ICSID Convention plus error of law or manifest error of fact [paraphrased from Article 29 of the EC text].

As investment cases grow in number and complexity, and increasingly arise out of an investment treaty, the discussion on the appropriate level of review for such awards will continue. Clearly the task of establishing the optimal level of review between correctness and finality is a difficult one, and it will be interesting to follow treaty negotiations as they grapple with this question.

Ms. Meg Kinnear, Secretary-General of ICSID