Tag Archives: OECD

ISDS costs – how much and who pays?

Ukrainian small coins on black tableHow much does ISDS dispute cost? Firstly, we have to be clear which costs are being referred to.

ISDS costs typically consist of three elements: the arbitrators’ fee, the administrative fee of the arbitral institution administering the case (not in every case) and the cost of legal representation. In some cases, there can also be additional costs relating to legal experts and an administrative secretary.

Arbitral institutions, such as the SCC, usually have rules on arbitrators’ fees and the administrative fee. The SCC sets these fees based on the amount in dispute.

Legal fees of counsel who represent the party depends on the complexity of the case and time spent. It may not necessarily reflect the amount in dispute, but rather whether facts and other matters in dispute have been complex or not.  In this context it deserves pointing out that the first generation of international investment agreement typically contained relatively broad and vague provisions, which may in itself create complexity in the adjudication of the claims.

A study by the OECD concludes that legal counsel fees and experts are the largest cost component in ISDS, estimated to average 82% of the total cost of a case. Arbitrator fees average about 16% of costs. Administration costs of arbitral institutions are relatively low, generally amounting to about 2% of costs.

The above numbers are interesting for the assessment of an appeal mechanism in ISDS. If the purpose of an appeal is to have the case reheard on its merits, effectively have a re-trial of the case, there is strong reason to believe that the cost of legal fees will double, as the case moves through the procedure for appeal.

Now, who pays? The SCC Rules provides that the tribunal may apportion the administrative fee and the arbitrators’ fee between parties, depending to the outcome of the case. The Rules further mention that the tribunal may order a party to pay reasonable legal representation of another party.  Under UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules, the costs of the arbitration shall in principle be borne by the unsuccessful party, even though the tribunal may allocate the cost between parties should it finds it reasonable.

In Glamis Gold v. USA, the tribunal dismissed all claims by the investor and ordered the investor to pay two-third of the arbitration costs. In Methanex v. USA, the tribunal also dismissed all claims by the investor and went further by ordering the investor to pay all the costs of the arbitration.

This practice has further been incorporated into recent free trade agreement. The TPP specifically provides that tribunal may award the state reasonable costs and attorney’s fees if it determines the investor’s claims to be frivolous.

Who are the investors?

Investors from a wide range of industries and company sizes have resorted to ISDS to enforce States’ obligations under international investment agreement.

As a recent study concluded that in general ISDS cases are concentrated in sectors like electricity and mining.

ISDS however have not only been used by investors from those sectors. From sustainable development perspective, ISDS has shown the potential to protect investment in climate change mitigation efforts. In the past three years, renewable energy investors such as wind power and solar power investors have brought claims to ISDS alleging, among others, breach of host government’s specific commitment regarding incentives for their investments.

Further, an investor who owns an environmental sanctuary have also recently brought a claim to ISDS, arguing that the host government has failed to enforce its own environmental law which harms the sanctuary.

In addition, many other investors are represented in ISDS, from producers of biscuit, ice cream and paper to eco-tourism businesses. For example, the investor in paper business brought a case arising from government’s ban to import a certain raw material, contrary to a previous authorization that the investor was allowed to do so.

The above has shown that ISDS as an efficient dispute resolution is important not only for rule of law but also for the functioning of the global economy. Foreign investors who have obtained specific promises from a government with regards to their investment, typically in the form of government contracts or permit for certain period, may enforce this promise through ISDS, as an international neutral venue.

Small and medium size enterprises benefit from ISDS procedural efficiency; it is usually faster and less costly compared to proceedings in domestic court.The importance of ISDS for SMEs is also confirmed by an OECD survey according to which 22% of ISDS claimants are either individuals or very small corporations with limited foreign operations. Extremely large multinationals only account for 8% of the claimants in the survey.