Tag Archives: ICSID Convention

ICSID asks the public for input

Blogg_v07ICSID is the World Bank body which administers investor-state arbitrations. In October 2016 the ICSID Secretariat initiated the work with updating the ICSID Arbitration Rules (the last time this was done was in 2006). As part of that work, a public invitation has been circulated in order to compile views from a wide spectrum of the public, including, of course, the contracting states.

The changes that will be made to the rules depend largely on the proposals coming from the public but one stated objective is to make ICSID proceedings more time and cost effective, while still ensuring due process and equal treatment of the parties.

ICSID arbitrations are in fact governed by two sets of rules. The 1965 ICSID Convention sets the outer frames of the proceedings, while the ICSID Arbitration Rules govern the more detailed procedural issues. The Convention acts as the “constitution” of ICSID and has 161 contracting states. Since every state needs to consent to any change, the ICSID Convention is not likely to be changed anytime soon. The Arbitration Rules, however, do not need the consent of every contracting state and are therefore more flexible.

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.

 

Ensuring ISDS rule-of-law outcome

AnullmentBlogAs a matter of principle, the outcome of ISDS proceeding, which is the arbitral award, is final and binding. This very feature has made international arbitration a success since it provides a speedy and efficient outcome for both states and foreign investors. International rules such as the ICSID Convention and the New York Convention provide mechanisms to ensure respect for the rule of law outcome in the proceedings. Where a breach of the conventions has occurred, this could result in an annulment or refusal of enforcement of the award.

The ICSID Convention has 153 state parties and most ISDS proceedings are conducted under this convention. The convention provides that both the state and foreign investor can request the award to be annulled for limited procedural reasons. Annulment is fundamentally different from appeal, as it only targets the legitimacy of the decision-making by the tribunal, and not the substantive correctness of the award.

Under the ICSID Convention, an award can be annulled for reasons of flaws on the part of the tribunal, among others, if it has manifestly exceeded its powers or if there was corruption by a member of the tribunal. Further, a serious departure from a fundamental rule of procedures is also a ground for annulment. The Chairman of the ICSID Administrative Council will assign an annulment committee to decide on a particular annulment proceeding.

In Enron v. Argentina, the committee found that the tribunal erred by too simply and quickly drawing legal conclusions from economists’ expert reports. By evaluating Argentina‘s defences in a manner that was so incomplete, according to the committee, it amounted to a failure to apply the applicable law. The award was therefore annulled.

The annulment committee also sided with the state in Klöckner v. Cameroon, where it held that the tribunal assumed that certain principles applied to the case, such as principles of loyalty and openness, rather than actually demonstrated that these principles existed. Therefore, the annulment committee found that the tribunal had manifestly exceeded its powers.

Outside the scope of the ICSID system, the New York Convention serves as an enforcement and recognition tool for arbitral awards. It provides that a domestic court may refuse to enforce an arbitral award on grounds, among others, that a party to the dispute was not given opportunity to present its case or if the award contains matters on issues beyond the scope of the arbitration agreement.

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 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 and the Rule of Law

Wooden judge's gavel and calculator over some financial documentsISDS is governed by international rules, established by states. The governing rules can either be the Convention on Settlement of International Investment Disputes (the ICSID Convention) or other sets of arbitration rules, to name one is the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules. These rules ensure the proper and fair functioning of the mechanism. Let’s take a look at these rules.

The ICSID Convention has been signed by 159 states and it has governed most ISDS cases. It provides, among others, that an arbitrator in an ISDS case can be disqualified if he or she shows lack of the qualities required to sit as an arbitrator. Awards rendered under this convention may be annulled, among others if arbitrators manifestly exceeded their authority.

The UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules is a result of the work of the United Nations Commissions on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) which commenced in 1973. The General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the first version of UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules in 1976. The rules provide, among other things, that arbitrators can be challenged if there is any doubt about their impartiality and independence.

On the enforcement front, ISDS is safeguarded by the New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. The Convention demands that all state parties enforce decision rendered in the other state parties. This means that ISDS decision is enforceable in 154 states, who are parties to this Convention.

Finally, domestic law is also one of the pillars which safeguards the functioning of ISDS. Domestic law may provide grounds for a domestic court to refuse enforcement of ISDS award, for example if a party to the dispute was unable to present its case in an arbitration proceeding.

ISDS supports and governed by rule of law. It is not a “private justice system” outside the legal system, as is sometimes incorrectly referred to. As explained above, states have always had strong involvement in establishing the rules governing the mechanism.

Why ICSID was established

national flags of the different states against the blue skyIt is challenging to reach an agreement on a global level on key issues, as shown in the global efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The investment law regime has long had the same problem. Many attempts to agree on a global standard for the protection of foreign investments have failed because of the countries’ different ideas about which rights to be provided for foreign investors.

It was this failure that motivated the World Bank to establish ICSID (International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes). Instead of regulating the level of protection that foreign investors can rely on – and therefore had proved to be very difficult – the solution was to establish a purely procedural framework for settling disputes by way of the ICSID Convention, which was signed in 1965. The Convention does not provide substantive investment protection. This matter has instead been left to countries to agree among themselves, often at a bilateral level.

By focusing on the procedural aspects rather than on substantial, ICSID has gained great support from countries. In addition, a big problem in the mid-twentieth century could be fixed: State’s intervention in economic matters. Previously, disputes between governments and foreign investors could only be solved by government intervention. In a world where major former colonial powers often faced the newly independent countries, the country with the power often won. In addition, some part of world trade took place with countries with a negative view on market economy, such as those who belonged to Soviet’s sphere of interest. By the establishment of ICSID, the playing field could be evened out and independent dispute resolution was first introduced in world trade. Instead of political power, rule of law would decide the disputes.

In hindsight, this has proven to be a recipe for success for ICSID. The Convention has now been signed by 159 countries and the centre in Washington has administered hundreds of disputes. Furthermore, while global attempts to regulate investment protection have failed, ICSID remains strong. The reason was largely because the majority of the thousands of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) refers to the center to solve disputes. Even in modern times new investment agreement continuously refer to ICSID for the settlement of investment disputes.

Today, there have been ideas to create a global system for settling investment disputes. It may be worthwhile to remember that there is already such a system, which for decades has been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the countries, and that this system was established with the aim of creating a neutral playing field for dispute resolution that otherwise tend to be politicized.

Who are the arbitrators?

One of the salient features of ISDS is the use of independent arbitrators. This begs the question, who they are and how they are appointed.

As the main function of ISDS is to have investment disputes resolved in a neutral international forum, neutrality should underpin the whole arbitration proceeding, starting from the appointment of arbitrators by both investors and States.

The first and most important consideration in the arbitrators’ appointment is that parties have to choose an arbitrator whose independency and impartiality cannot be second-guessed. Second, they are free to appoint individuals whom they trust to have the expertise in the area of the dispute.

In the event parties or arbitrators appointed by parties failed to appoint the chairperson of a tribunal, a third party can make the appointment. For instance, in SCC arbitration, the SCC Board, which consists of arbitration experts, makes the appointment.

Arbitrators are not beyond the law and there are strict consequences if they fail to maintain their independency and impartiality. An arbitrator may be challenged if there is a reasonable doubt about their competence or impartiality and when this is proven, he or she can be dismissed. Further, an arbitral award may be annulled for reasons of, among others; the Tribunal has exceeded its powers or has committed corruption.

ISDS has a greater transparency compared to commercial arbitration. Transparency allows parties and arbitration institute to access and peruse the awards rendered by potential arbitrators, which will guide them in assessing their independency and impartiality.

To prevent bias, the ICSID Convention provides that the majority of arbitrators should not be the nationals of the parties having dispute. According to a recent article, while mostly lawyers act as arbitrators in ICSID arbitration, non-lawyers, including architects, maritime experts and an economist have been appointed in some instances. ICSID’s appointed arbitrators come from more than seventy different nationalities.

The SCC does not maintain a panel of arbitrator and this allows the SCC to choose arbitrators from different geographic areas, from younger generation as well as to provide more gender balance. The SCC has appointed not only lawyers but also law professors. For more information on the SCC arbitration procedure, see this link.

Case Summary No. 1

In a series of blog posts, we will provide summaries of ISDS cases. The summaries are based on the facts as described in the award.

Our first case is Wena Hotels Ltd v. Arab Republic of Egypt and the final award was rendered in 2000.

The dispute arose out of two long-term agreements between Wena Hotels Limited (“Wena”), a British investor to lease, operate and manage two hotels in Egypt, and the Egyptian Hotels Company (“EHC”). EHC was wholly-owned by the Egyptian government. Shortly after the signing of the agreement, Wena alleged the condition of the hotels to be far below that agreed in the lease. Wena therefore withheld part of the rent under the terms of the lease.

Due to this non-payment, EHC threatened to repossess the hotels through force. Wena informed the Egyptian Minister of Tourism about this situation however there was no solution. One night witnesses reported that more than one hundred EHC personnel stormed the two hotels, threatened and physically attacked the hotels’ employees and guests. They were also reported to having removed a number of belongings of the hotels.

The Chief Prosecutor of Egypt ruled that seizures of the hotels were illegal and that Wena was entitled to repossess the hotels. The hotels were subsequently returned but in a vandalized condition.

Wena brought an ISDS claim against Egypt under the ICSID Convention, claiming violation of investment protection in the UK-Egypt investment treaty.

The tribunal found a breach of the investment treaty since, according to the tribunal, there was substantial evidence that Egyptian authorities were aware of EHC’s intentions to seize the hotels but took no action to prevent the seizures. After the seizures, Egypt took no action to immediately restore Wena’s control over the hotels.

The tribunal also found that an expropriation had taken place since Egypt allowed EHC to seize the hotels, to possess them illegally for nearly a year and to return the hotels stripped much of their furniture and fixtures. In the opinion of the tribunal, Egypt did not provide a fair, prompt and adequate compensation to Wena for the expropriation.