Tag Archives: NAFTA

Case Summary: Windstream Energy LLC v. Canada

River Skyline Overlooking Detroit, Michigan as seen from Windsor, OntarioThis case summary is based on the award, which was rendered on September 27, 2016 and published a few months later.

Windstream is an American company, which invested in one of the world’s largest offshore wind power parks, to be located in Lake Ontario. The park has not yet been built, however, and according to Windstream this is due to the Ontario province’s illegitimate cancellation of the project.

In 2010 Windstream received a 20-year contract with Ontario to build the park and initiated the preparatory investments. Shortly thereafter, the province launched a public consultation. In February 2011, the result of that consultation prompted the energy authority in Ontario to halt the project, in order to conduct more scientific studies into the park’s effect on its surroundings.

That paus is still in force and the park has not been built. When Windstream initiated arbitration in 2014, the company argued that Ontario de facto had cancelled the project, since Windstream no longer could meet the deadlines needed to make the project commercially viable. According to Windstream, the conduct violated NAFTA and the company therefore sued Canada, as responsible under international law for the conduct of public bodies in the provinces.

In the award, the arbitral tribunal did not find that the Windstream’s investment had been expropriated, since the company had not been deprived of its assets: the 20-year contract is still in force and could be re-negotiatied.

The tribunal did find, however, that the “fair and equitable treatment” clause of NAFTA had been violated. Although the tribunal stated that the province’s original purpose with the temporary paus seemed genuine, it found that the purpose had not been followed up over time: for example, very little scientific study seems to have taken place. In those circumstances, it was not reasonable to leave Windstream in a “limbo” for such a long time.

Canada was therefore found to be in breach of NAFTA and ordered to compensate Windstream for its losses amounting to some €21 million. This sum was significantly lower than what Windstream had asked for, but the tribunal emphasized that the investor’s contract was still in force and could be re-negotiatied, a fact which limited the losses sustained by the investor.

We have earlier published a summary of a similar dispute, which also arose out of the production of wind power in Ontario. In that case, Mesa v. Canada, the state was successful on all points.

 

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.

NGO voices in ISDS

Conference table, microphones and office chairs close-up

Beginning in 2001, a number of different NGOs have been active in ISDS proceedings, most commonly in cases with public interest aspects. This includes cases referring to measures related to for example environmental protection and public health.

NGOs may apply to be “a friend of the court”, or commonly referred to as amicus curiae. This means that the organisation contributes with a written submission to assist the tribunal in the assessment of the claims.

Participation of NGOs was initially found only in ISDS cases brought under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The NAFTA parties have issued a joint statement which essentially says that the NAFTA does not prohibit submission of a non-party, in this case may include NGOs.

Methanex Corp v USA was the first case where the tribunal opened up for NGOs to make written submission, which included environmental organizations and research institutes. In addition, these NGOs also attended the hearing. It was followed by Glamis Gold v. USA, where the tribunal received written submission by, among others, a locally-based Quechan Indian Tribe, whose sacred sites and traditions were affected by the investor’s mining project.

Since then the ICSID Arbitration Rules have been amended to clarify that tribunals have the general authority to allow submissions by an organisation which is not a party in the dispute.

NGOs have participated not only in NAFTA cases. In Biwater Gauff v. Tanzania, the tribunal accepted written submission from NGOs with an expertise in human rights, environmental and good governance issues.

A recent development is the participation of international organization in ISDS proceeding, as shown in Phillip Morris v. Uruguay. In this case, not yet decided, the opinions of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control Secretariat will also be heard, based on the ICSID Arbitration Rules.

In a recent development, the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules, in force as of 1 April 2014, provide that tribunal may allow submission from non-disputing parties for matters within the dispute. Read our previous post on this.

 

 

Case Summary No. 7

Blue chemical cans all over. Outdoors on chemical plant.We continue our series of case summaries with SD Myers v. Canada, a NAFTA dispute decided under the UNCITRAL arbitration rules. The summary is based on the facts as described in the three separate awards rendered by the arbitral tribunal between November 2000 and December 2002.

S.D. Myers, Inc. (“SDMI”) is a United States corporation that processes and disposes of polychlorinated biphenyl (“PCB”), an environmentally hazardous chemical compound used in electronics manufacturing. SDMI created a Canadian affiliate with the aim of soliciting orders for the destruction of Canadian PCBs at its U.S. facility. The U.S. had banned the import of PCB from Canada in 1980, but granted SDMI an exception in 1995. Promptly after SDMI had been granted permission from the U.S. government to import PCB waste from Canada, Canada issued an order prohibiting the export of PCB waste to the U.S. The prohibition was in effect for approximately 16 months.

SDMI filed claims against Canada under the UNCITRAL Rules in October 1998, alleging that Canada’s ban on the export of PCB waste had violated several provisions of Chapter 11 of NAFTA. SDMI claimed that it had suffered economic harm to its investment through interference with its operations, lost contracts and opportunities in Canada. Canada maintained that the ban had been motivated by environmental concerns.

In its first partial award, on liability only, the tribunal found for the investor with respect to its Article 1102 and 1105 claims, holding that Canada had violated NAFTA’s national treatment and minimum standard of treatment provisions. According to the tribunal, the evidence showed that Canada’s ban on PCB export was not driven by environmental concerns, as asserted by Canada, but intended primarily to protect the Canadian PCB disposal industry from U.S. competition. The investor’s claims regarding expropriation and performance requirements were dismissed. Canada challenged the award in its own federal court, on the grounds that the tribunal had exceeded its jurisdiction and that the award was against Canadian public policy. The court dismissed the challenge.

The tribunal issued two subsequent awards, on damages and costs, respectively. On damages, the tribunal reasoned that the investor may only be compensated for harm proximately caused by the breach of the specific NAFTA provision. According to this principle, indirect harm such as loss of opportunity or a damaged reputation are too remote to warrant compensation. The tribunal thus awarded SDMI damages of CAN$ 6 million, a fraction of the US$ 70 million claimed by the investor.