Tag Archives: BIT

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.

Transglobal Green Energy v. Panama

Panama2016This case summary is based on the publicly-available ICSID award in the case between the American company Transglobal Green Energy (”Transglobal”) and The Republic of Panama. In the award from June 2, 2016, the arbitral tribunal rejected the case early on and found that the investors attempted to abusively create jurisdiction under an investment treaty.

The case centered around a hydro-electric power plant in Panama. A company owned by Panamian national Julio Cesar Lisac had been awarded a concession to operate the plant for 50 years. After the first year, the Panamian authorities found that Mr. Lisac’s company did not meet the requirements of the concession and therefore terminated the agreement (and later awarded the concession to another company). Mr. Lisac challenged this termination in Panamanian courts.

Subsequent to the termination of the concession, Mr. Lisac transferred part of his company’s interests in the power plant project to Transglobal, a company incorporated in Texas. Using Transglobal’s American nationality, an arbitration was brought against Panama based on the bilateral investment treaty (”BIT”) between USA and Panama. The investors alleged that the termination of the 50-year concession was made in violation of the BIT.

The arbitrators found that they did not have jurisdiction over the case and thus rejected the claim early in the proceedings. Since Mr. Lisac and his comapny both had Panamanian nationality, the move to transfer the interests in the power plant to American-incorporated Transglobal was held to be made with the only purpose of obtaining protection under the BIT between USA and Panama. Therefore the tribunal stated that the investor attempted to create ”artificial jurisdiction over a pre-existing domestic dispute”, thereby abusing the system of investment treaty arbitration.

The tribunal’s reasoning was similar to that in Philip Morris v. Australia, where another tribunal refused to hear Philip Morris’ claims because they were found to constitute an abuse of the investment treaty system.

Both these recent cases demonstrate that there is no room to exploit ISDS to bring unjustified claims. One academic recently described this as a tendency by tribunals to ”police the gates to investment treaty claims against states”.

Philip Morris Asia Limited v. Australia  

Cigarette on the foreground and many cigarettes on a backgroundOur next case summary is Philip Morris Asia Limited v. the Commonwealth of Australia. This summary is prepared based on the publicly-available award rendered on 17 December 2015.

The claimant in this case was Philip Morris Asia Limited (PM Asia), a Hong Kong-registered company. As a result of a corporate restructuring within the Philip Morris group in 2011, PM Asia acquired indirect ownership in an Australian subsidiary, Philip Morris Limited (PML), which sells tobacco products in Australia under different brands.

The dispute arose from the introduction of the so-called plain packaging legislation for tobacco products sold in Australia which aims to reduce smoking. The legislation in essence prohibits use of trademarks, symbols, graphic or images on tobacco products and packaging. Tobacco packaging may only display the name of the tobacco company in standard font and size and this means that it may be difficult for consumers to distinguish one brand from another.

PM Asia initiated an arbitration proceeding under the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2011 on grounds that the plain packaging legislation had restricted the use of trademarks by PML on its tobacco packaging.  This restriction, according to PM Asia, constituted an expropriation under Australia –Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty (BIT).

Australia submitted jurisdictional objections, among others things, that PMA’s investment in PML was made only in order to be able to bring an arbitration claim under the BIT. PM Asia commenced the arbitration shortly after it acquired PML and therefore, according to Australia, this should be considered an abuse of rights.

In a recently-published jurisdictional award, the tribunal noted that, based on case law, an arbitration claim constitutes an abuse of rights when an investor has changed its corporate structure to gain the protection of an investment treaty at a point when a specific dispute was foreseeable.

In this particular case, the tribunal observed that PM Asia was aware that the Australian government would pursue the plain packaging policy when it acquired PML. The government had signalled its intention to introduce this policy as early as in 2008, and therefore the dispute was considered to be foreseeable to PM Asia. The tribunal further found that evidence showed that the main and determinative reason for the corporate restructuring was the intention to bring a claim under the BIT, using the Hong Kong entity as claimant.

Based on these facts, the tribunal dismissed the claim on grounds that the commencement of the arbitration by PM Asia constituted an abuse of rights.

IIA reform continues

IIAsBlogStates continue to sign new international investment agreements (IIAs) in recent years, where by the end of 2015, the IIA universe consisted of 3,286 agreements. Among these agreements, 2,928 are bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and 358 are other IIAs (for example, trade agreements with investment chapters).

At the same time, as many as at least sixty countries have developed or are developing new model IIAs.

Here we bring out some progress of the reform.

As noted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in its latest report, IIA reform is happening against the backdrop of the global trend to formulate a “new generation of investment policies” that place inclusive growth and sustainable development at the heart of efforts to attract and benefit from investment.

In general, most of the new models include provisions safeguarding the right to regulate, including for sustainable development objectives. It is also clear that states intend to move away from the “protection (only) model” to a more balanced “investment for sustainable development” model.

India’s new model BIT is particularly interesting because it includes some provisions not found in many other BITs. For instance, it promotes transparency by requiring states to ensure that all laws and regulations are published or available for those who are interested. This model also tries to provide more balance in the state-investor relationship by providing obligations to foreign investor, which consists of requirement to comply with host state’s laws, including environmental and human rights law. It further mandates foreign investors to voluntarily incorporate internationally-recognized standards of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their practices and internal policies.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands model BIT excludes “mailbox” companies from the scope of the BIT. Finally, the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership includes some clarification on expropriation provisions and a special denial of benefits clause for tobacco-related claims.

When States file claims against investors in ISDS

CounterclaimsMost ISDS disputes are based on agreement between states, usually bilateral investment treaties (BITs), which aim to provide protection under international law to foreign investors. Since only states are parties to the agreements, it is also only states that have obligations under these agreements. Obligations aimed to give rights to foreign investors. Therefore ISDS clauses are designed so that a proceeding can only be initiated by the foreign investor, not by the state. But there are exceptions.

A state that is being sued may respond by claiming that the investor also breached its obligation, through a counterclaim. This is possible under most investment agreements and arbitration rules as long as the state’s counterclaim is clearly connected with the main dispute. There are many examples of counterclaims, but a notable case is Ecuador’s successful counterclaim against Perenco.

This high-profile ISDS case was an ICSID proceeding in which Perenco initially brought a claim against Ecuador due to changes in Ecuadorian legislation, which, according to Perenco, violated its rights under the investment agreement. Ecuador launched a counterclaim against Perenco, claiming that Perenco violated Ecuadorian environmental legislation, including by not informing the state of several oil spills. According to Ecuador, the failure had led to several environmental disasters in the Amazon, and Ecuadorian environmental laws provide that the company must reimburse the state with USD 2.5 billion for cleaning up of the spills.

The tribunal in Perenco v. Ecuador issued a decision in which they indicated that Ecuador’s allegations at first sight seemed justified but that it was unlikely that the damages could be as large as USD 2.5 billion. Although the tribunal seemed to agree with Ecuador’s argument, it also viewed that it would require a long and expensive investigation to determine the damages, and encouraged the parties to reach a settlement. Negotiations are still ongoing. Meanwhile, Ecuador has launched counterclaims against another energy company with similar factual circumstances, and the case is also still pending.

States have also brought claims against investors directly, which is possible under the ICSID Arbitration Rules. There have been ICSID cases in which the state sued the foreign investor for alleged breach of contract, such as Gabon v. Société Serete S.A. and Tanzania Electric Supply Co. Ltd. v. IPTL (which was launched by Tanzania’s state owned power company, but where, in practice, the state stood behind the process). Another example is when East Kalimantan (a province of Indonesia) launched an ICSID case against several coal mining companies having operation in the province, arguing that these companies had a divestment obligation. The tribunal found that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the dispute. In these types of cases, it is common that the case is not based on agreements between states, but a direct agreement between the state and the investor.

Peter Allard vs. Barbados: Investor argues breach of environmental laws

KingfisherPeter Allard, a Canadian investor who owns a nature sanctuary in Barbados, has brought an ISDS claim against Barbados. In a nutshell, he grounds his claim on the failure of the government of Barbados to enforce its own environmental law which, as a result, has polluted his sanctuary. He is also accusing Barbados of refusing to abide by its international obligations under the Convention on Wetlands and Convention on Biological Diversity.

The actions and inactions by Barbados, according to the investor, have destroyed the value of his investment in the sanctuary. The claim is brought under Canada – Barbados Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT).

The sanctuary, which is an eco-tourism facility, consists of almost 35 acres of natural wetlands situated on the Graeme Hall wetlands, a site protected under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance in the south coast of Barbados. Mr Allard, as written in his notice of dispute, made investment in this sanctuary with the purpose to conserve the environmental heritage of Barbados.

The investor claims that Barbados has failed to accord him full protection and security under the BIT. Among other things, the investor points out that Barbados has failed to prevent the Barbados Water Authority, a state agency, from repeatedly discharging polluted substances from a sewage treatment facility into the Graeme Hall wetlands. The investor also asserts that Barbados has failed to operate drainage structures into the wetlands that regulate its biological health.

In addition, the investor argues that Barbados has violated fair and equitable treatment standard protection under the BIT due to a change of land use that allows run off of pollution into the sanctuary. The investor underlines that he made the investment in the sanctuary because of Barbados’ previous regulatory frameworks that he believed will protect the environment.

The case is still pending and administered by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. Barbados’ reply to this claim is not publicly available and therefore the response of the state is still unknown.

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.

New Report: ICSID Cases Relating to Asia

magnifying glass on a document with columns of figures

The ICSID Secretariat recently published a statistics report focusing on the South and East Asia and the Pactific (SEAP) region.

As of 1 October 2015, a total of 539 cases have been registered with the ICSID Secretariat since 1972. Of those 539 cases, 42 involved a state party from the SEAP region—including 8 cases against Pakistan, 7 against Indonesia, 5 against Bangladesh, 4 against the Philippines, and 3 each against Korea, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. In 13 of the 42 cases involving SEAP states, the investor bringing the claim was also from a SEAP country; in the remaining cases, the investor was from a country outside the SEAP region.

Of the 42 cases involving a SEAP state:

  • 62 percent were based on a bilateral investment treaty (BIT), and 29 percent were based on an investment contract between the investor and the host state.
  • 43 percent settled, and 57 percent were decided by an arbitral tribunal. Of the cases that were decided by an arbitral tribunal, 47 percent ended in an award declining jurisdiction, 24 percent resulted in an award dismissing all of the investors’ claims, and 29 percent ended in an award upholding the investor’s claims in part or in full.
  • 38 percent concerned the oil, gas and mining industry; 12 percent related to electric power or other energy; and the transportation, construction, and services/trade sectors accounted for 10 percent each.

A number of SEAP nationals have served as arbitrators in ICSID cases. In total, as of 1 October 2015, SEAP nationals accounted for about 11 percent of all appointments made in ICSID cases. Most of the SEAP appointees were from Australia and New Zealand, but Singapore, the Philippines and Bangladesh are also represented on the list of appointees.

ISDS CASE SUMMARY: Maffezini v. Spain

GaliciaBlogOur next case summary is Emilio Augustin Maffezini v. The Kingdom of Spain (ICSID Case No. ARB/97/7). The summary was prepared based on the award rendered on 9 November 2000.

The claimant was an Argentinian individual who established and invested in a corporation named EAMSA, for the purpose of building a production facility for chemical products in Galicia, Spain. The project was a joint venture with the Sociedad para el Desarrollo Industrial de Galicia(SODIGA), a public-private entity with a mandate to encourage industrial development in Galicia. SODIGA provided the investor with assistance in the form of advice and financing.

The project eventually failed due to surging costs, and the investor filed for arbitration under the Argentina-Spain BIT. The investor claimed (1) that the project failed because SODIGA had given flawed advice underestimating the costs of the project, and (2) that SODIGA was responsible for the additional costs resulting from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) because it had pressured EAMSA to begin construction before the EIA process was finalized. Spain contested the allegations, stating that SODIGA was a private company whose acts were not attributable to the state, and that the investor had assumed any risk relating to the feasibility and profitability of his investment.

On the issue of state attribution, the tribunal found that some of SODIGA’s functions were governmental in nature while others were commercial. Accordingly, the tribunal found that it was necessary to categorize the various acts or omissions giving rise to the dispute. On the investor’s main claim – that SODIGA’s bad advice was responsible for the project’s failure – the tribunal found that even though SODIGA officials had provided certain assistance relating to the project’s costs and returns, that assistance did not amount to a public function attributable to the state. Moreover, the investor was, simply put, responsible for his own investment. The tribunal explained:

“Bilateral Investment Treaties are not insurance policies against bad business judgments. While it is probably true that there were shortcomings in the policies and practices that SODIGA and its sister entities pursued in the here relevant period in Spain, they cannot be deemed to relieve investors of the business risks inherent in any investment.”

The claimant also contended that SODIGA was responsible for the additional costs resulting from the EIA, which lead to the investor’s decision to stop the construction work and call off the project. In this regard, the tribunal concluded that the investor should have known that the project – a chemical plant – would require an EIA. According to the tribunal, the investor had known about the EIA requirement from the beginning of the project, but had tried to minimize it so as to avoid additional costs or technical difficulties.

For these reasons, the tribunal found that Spain could not be held responsible for the investor’s losses.