Category Archives: ISDS

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.

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.

Just published: UNCTAD report on ISDS development  

?????????????????????The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has recently published a report on developments of ISDS in 2015. The report addresses ISDS cases initiated in 2015 as well as the statistics on overall ISDS cases from 1987 to 2015.

The report finds that there were 70 ISDS cases initiated in 2015, which brings an overall number of publicly known ISDS cases to 696. Most of the cases initiated in 2015 arose from old bilateral investment treaties dating back in the 1990s.

Investors from developed countries made the most frequent claimants in cases initiated in 2015, with the top three home states of investors being the United Kingdom, Germany and Luxembourg. This is also true when it comes to the home states of claimants in total since 1987, where investors from the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom top the list.

On the state side, Spain was the most frequent respondent state in cases initiated in 2015, followed by Russia, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Overall since 1987, most frequent respondent states in ISDS cases are still developing countries, with Argentina and Venezuela top the list.

As for the matters being disputed, a number of cases initiated in 2015 concerned sustainable development sectors such as infrastructure and climate change mitigation. Approximately 30% of cases were triggered by the regulation of renewable energy producers, all of which were brought against EU member States (Bulgaria, Italy, and Spain).

ISDS tribunals rendered at least 51 decisions in 2015, 31 of which were in the public domain at the time of the writing of the report. This brings the number of concluded cases to 444 by the end of 2015, with 36% of the cases decided in favour of the State, 26% in favour of investors and 26% cases were settled.