Tag Archives: Trade

Host states’ legitimate expectation

Scenic landscapes of Northern ArgentinaThe investor’s legitimate expectations are often a key question in ISDS cases. Such expectations can be based on, for example, the host state’s laws, policies, or contractual commitments – such as when a host state granted the investor mining rights for a certain number of years. A violation of these expectations can be a ground for the investor to bring an ISDS claim against the host government. Several tribunals have ruled that a host country cannot act contrary to the investor’s legistimate expectations.

Karl P. Sauvant and GüneşÜnüvar have written an article published by Columbia Center for Sustainable Investment, introducing the question of whether or not states can also have legitimate expectations towards the foreign investor. According to the article, such expectations may arise from, for instance, the investor’s statements of its contribution to the host country.

As an example, the article points to Sempra v Argentina, where Argentina argued that it “had many expectations in respect of the investment that were not met or otherwise frustrated … (such as)… work diligently and in good faith…”. The article also notes, however, that since governments currently cannot initiate ISDS proceedings against foreign investors, their reliance on legitimate expectations is limited to counterclaims brought in response to investors’ claims. See our previous post about counterclaims here.

Finally, the article proposes that future international investment agreements (IIAs) could explicitly stipulate that host states’ legitimate expectations are protected, thereby establishing a right for host states to bring a claim on this basis.

Case Summary: Adel A Hamadi Al Tamami v. Sultanate of Oman

?????????????????????????????????This summary is prepared based on facts described in the award rendered in October 2015.

The investor made an investment in the development and operation of a limestone quarry in Oman through two lease agreements between his corporations and an Omani state-owned enterprise. The dispute arose mainly because of the termination of the lease agreement by the Omani SOE. In addition, the investor based his claim on his arrest and prosecution by the Omani authorities relating to unlawful operation of the quarry.

The investor brought the claim under the U.S – Oman Free Trade Agreement, arguing that the measures by the Omani authorities constituted violation of fair and equitable standard treatment and that it amounted to expropriation.

The tribunal found that it had no jurisdiction to decide on termination of the first lease agreement because it had ceased to exist before the U.S – Oman FTA came into force. Further, the tribunal rejected the expropriation claim due to the termination of the second lease agreement by the Omani SOE, asserting that this action was not attributable to the Omani State.  According to the tribunal, the SOE did not exercise the necessary governmental authority for its actions to be considered those of the Omani State.

The arrest and prosecution of the investor, according to the tribunal, did not amount to a violation of fair and equitable treatment standard protection. The tribunal took note of the fact that the investor was prosecuted and later acquitted for, among others, alleged violation of environmental law by operating quarries without necessary permits. However, in the view of the tribunal, a state must be able to take a legal position when it comes to alleged violation of its laws, even if that position turns out to be wrong, provided it does so in good faith and with appropriate due process.

The Tribunal agreed that in this case, Oman had to defend itself against claims that had been “entirely unmeritorious”. Accordingly it ordered that the investor pay to the Omani State as respondent 75% share of its total litigation costs.

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.

TPP is signed with ISDS provision

Two globes of EarthOn 4 October 2015, twelve countries representing 40% of the world’s economy signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. These countries consist of the United States, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Peru, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand.

The text is yet to be released but official information about the agreement can be found among others on the U.S government website and the Canadian government website.

The signing of the TPP means that twelve countries with significant share in the world’s economy have been able to agree on one set of investment protection rules. As summarized on the U.S Trade Representatives website, the investment chapter will replicate the terms in the US 2012 Model Bilateral Investment Treaty. The rules require non-discriminatory investment policies and provide terms that assure basic rule of law protections. At the same time the rules ensure governments’ ability to achieve legitimate public policy objectives.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development of Canada, the investment chapter provides access to “an independent ISDS mechanism that is prompt, fair and transparent, and subject to appropriate grounds”.

This means that signing countries find ISDS to be relevant and necessary, not least between developed states. It may be noted that ISDS under the US 2012 Model Bilateral Investment Treaty includes a transparent proceeding and a possibility of a third party to participate in the proceeding. There is a good reason to guess the TPP will include these features too.

How investment protection affects the “right to regulate”

Green paragraph between black paragraphsIn discussions of investment protection provisions in the context of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), issues have been raised regarding the risk of such investment provisions affecting the signatory states’ “right to regulate”.

A report from the Swedish National Board of Trade seeks to bring clarity to these issues by examining how two of the most commonly used investment protection provisions affect states’ “right to regulate”. At the outset, the report explains that the term itself is misleading, for an investment protection agreement never entails a waiver of the states’  right to regulate. Rather, the “right to regulate” in this context refers to the state’s ability to legislate and adopt administrative acts without running the risk of having to pay damages to investors.

Using the concluded trade agreement between the EU and Canada (CETA) and the US model bilateral investment treaty, the report analyzes two investment protection articles that frequently occur in investment disputes, and which also have the greatest potential impact on the state’s “right to regulate”. These two articles relate to (1) fair and equitable treatment and (2) expropriation without compensation.

The “fair and equitable treatment” article protects investors against, inter alia, fundamental breach of due process in judicial and administrative proceedings, manifest arbitrariness, and targeted discrimination. The article is often interpreted to include protection of investors’ “legitimate expectations”, based on the laws, regulations and government commitments that attracted the investment. According to the Swedish National Board of Trade, foreign investors in Sweden already enjoy this type of protection under Swedish law. The article on “fair and equitable treatment” in an investment protection agreement will thus not affect Sweden’s “right to regulate”.

The article regarding “expropriation without compensation” prevents states from nationalizing private property (direct expropriation), or by legislation or other means causing the investor to lose control of the investment or rendering the investment worthless (indirect expropriation). The provision again direct expropriation is broadly consistent with Swedish law; while the provision against indirect expropriation provides investors with some additional protection beyond that offered by Swedish law. According to the National Board of Trade, the expropriation article on the whole has only a slight, if any, impact on Sweden’s “right to regulate”.

The report concludes that, because the protection that these articles provide foreign investors in Sweden is already largely covered by Swedish law, they have a very small impact on Sweden’s “right to regulate”.

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.

ISDS key figures and findings

worldisdsA report by Notre Europe Jacques Delors Institute, a think-tank working on European Union issues, summarizes important numbers related to bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and ISDS.

The report puts numbers into perspective – with some of its findings as follows:

  1. The number of BITs increased five-fold between the late 1980s and the end of 1990s.
  2. In parallel, the external stock of FDI demonstrates a ten-fold increase over 20 years with a growth from USD 2,400 billion in 1992 to USD 23,600 billion in 2012.
  3. There is now a total of 3,200 investment agreements worldwide, 93% of them provides an ISDS clause.
  4. Out of the 98 countries who have been a respondent in an ISDS proceeding, about three-quarters were developing countries or economy in transition. Less than one-third of claims were brought against developed countries.
  5. The average compensation claimed was USD 343.5 million, however the average amount awarded was USD 10.4 million.

The European Union member states have signed a total of 1,356 BITs with non-EU member states, in addition to around 190 BITs between themselves.

With regards to the EU – United States relationship, the report notes that nine member states have signed investment agreements with the U.S – all include ISDS as dispute resolution mechanism. These member states consist of Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. There have been so far 9 known ISDS claims between the U.S and the EU, all submitted by US investors (4 against Poland, 3 against Romania, 1 against the Czech Republic and 1 against Estonia).

ISDS is included in the EU’s upcoming agreements, including free trade agreements with Canada and Singapore – the negotiations of which have been concluded. According to the report, ISDS is also mentioned in agreements currently negotiated between the EU and China, Myanmar, Morocco, Thailand and Vietnam.

UNCTAD’s Review of ISDS Developments in 2014

Row of european flags against blue sky backgroundThe United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) recently released a report on ISDS developments in 2014.

Below are some interesting points:

  • In 2014, 60% of the ISDS cases were brought against developing and transition economies.  A quarter of the cases are intra-EU cases.
  • The two types of State conduct most commonly challenged by investors in 2014 were cancellations or alleged violations of contracts and revocations or denials of licenses.
  • The most frequent home States of investors in 2014 were the Netherlands (seven cases), followed by the United States and the United Kingdom (five cases each).
  • As of the end of 2014, the total number of concluded cases become 356, with 37% decided in favour of the State, 25% in favour of investor and 28% of cases settled.
  • Five decisions were rendered in 2014 on applications for annulment of ISDS cases under the ICSID Convention, all of them unanimously rejected the applications.
  • The U.S Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that has set aside an ISDS award in favour of BG Group Plc. against Argentina. This means that the original award stands.

ISDS reform is already happening

Governments of both sides of the Atlantic have made significant policy revisions of ISDS mechanism over the past few years, as concluded in this recent article.

A decade ago, the U.S introduced transparency and third-party participation in ISDS as provided in its 2004 Model BIT. The current US BIT model, the 2012 model, contains these provisions as well. The 2012 model further provides an opportunity for the investors to discuss the effects of change of regulations with the host government, which may prevent the initiation of ISDS by investors. This model serves as the template for US’ position in the negotiation of future investment agreements.

The European Union has also introduced new elements to the ISDS regime, most notably in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada (“CETA”). The ISDS provision under this agreement contains among others:

  1. Prohibition of parallel proceedings in domestic court or other international tribunals;
  2. Introduction of a fast-track system for rejecting frivolous claims; and
  3. Full transparency in ISDS proceedings.

In addition, the CETA is the first trade and investment agreement which contains a binding code of conduct for arbitrators. The code of conduct obliges arbitrators to continuously disclose any possible conflict of interest as well as to maintain their independency and impartiality. This code of conduct is also included in the draft free trade agreement between the EU and Singapore.

The negotiations of the CETA have been completed and the text will now undergo a legal review followed translation into all official languages of the EU. The agreement will, at the later stage, need to be approved by the Council and the European Parliament.