Video post in “Observations on Arbitration” series: “An introduction to the Fair & Equitable Treatment Standard”

In this video post in the “Observations on Arbitration” series, Christian Leathley provides an Introduction to the Fair and Equitable Treatment (FET) Standard in investment arbitration. Christian discusses the circumstances in which the FET standard has been applied, and the key elements of the FET standard, as developed by tribunals in investment arbitrations.

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Video post in “Observations on Arbitration” series: “Introduction to Investment Arbitration”

In this video post in the “Observations on Arbitration” series, Christian Leathley provides an Introduction to Investment Arbitration, discussing the ways in which an investment arbitration can arise, explaining what bilateral investment treaties (BITs) are and outlining the nature of the obligations owed by a state to an investor under such agreements. Continue reading

Repaving the Southeast Asian Silk Road: EU-Singapore Free Trade Agreement negotiations concluded

In the wake of the recent agreement of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (EU-Canada CETA) and after just over a year of negotiations, the EU and Singapore have released their free trade Agreement (EUSFTA) to the public.  (See our recent blog post on CETA here). According to a statement released by the European Commission, the EUSFTA aims to ensure a high level of investment protection, whilst preserving the EU and Singapore’s right to regulate.  It will replace the 12 existing Bilateral Investment Agreements (BITs) between Singapore and European Member States.  The text of the EUSFTA can be found here.

Whilst the conclusion of this agreement is highly significant, the reference to the European Court of Justice to which it has given rise could perhaps be even more so.  Please see our recent blog post here, explaining the European Commission’s request for an ECJ Opinion on the EU’s competence to enter into EUSFTA.

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Exxon Mobil is awarded US$1.6 billion in ICSID claim against Venezuela – to be set off against award in parallel contractual arbitration

On 9 October 2014, a tribunal of H.E. Judge Gilbert Guillaume (President), Professor Kaufmann-Kohler and Dr. Ahmed Sadek El-Kosheri rendered a final Award on the case Venezuela Holdings and others v. the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ICSID Case NO. ARB/07/27.

Five subsidiaries of Mobil Corporation (the “Claimants”) initiated the arbitration in 2007 claiming compensation for Venezuela’s alleged breaches of the Netherlands-Venezuela BIT in relation to a series of state actions which affected the Claimants’ investments in the Cerro Negro Project in the Orinoco Belt and the La Ceiba Project adjacent to Lake Maracaibo.

After 7 years of proceedings the Tribunal ordered Venezuela to pay to the Claimants: (i) US$9,042,482 in compensation for the production and export curtailments imposed on the Cerro Negro Project; (ii) US$1,411.7 million in compensation for the expropriation of their investments in the Cerro Negro Project; and (iii) US$179.3 million in compensation for the expropriation of their investments in the La Ceiba Project. The compensation amount is much closer to the valuations put forward by Venezuela in the arbitration, than the US$ 16.6 billion requested by the Claimants.

Of particular note in the Award is the Tribunal’s finding that Venezuela’s expropriation of Claimants’ assets was lawful. Even when no compensation was paid, the Tribunal concluded that: the expropriation was conducted in accordance with due process; it was not carried out contrary to undertakings given to the Claimants; and the Claimants did not establish that the offers made by Venezuela were incompatible with the “just” compensation requirement of Article 6(c) of the BIT.

This approach contrasts with the decision of the majority of the tribunal hearing a similar claim against Venezuela brought by ConocoPhillips (ConocoPhillips Petrozuata B.V., ConocoPhillips Hamaca B.V. and ConocoPhillips Gulf of Paria B.V. v. Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/30). In that case, the majority found that the expropriation was unlawful because Venezuela did not approach negotiations with ConocoPhillips in good faith and it only offered book-value, rather than fair market value compensation for the assets (Decision on Jurisdiction and Merits dated 3 September 2013).

There are a number of open questions about the level of compensation payable following an illegal expropriation as compared to a legal expropriation. In this case the Claimants submitted that the expropriation was unlawful and that, as a consequence, Venezuela was under the obligation to make full reparation for the damages caused, in conformity with international law. By contrast, Venezuela contended that even if the expropriation were deemed to be unlawful the indemnity to be paid to the Claimants must represent the market value of the investment at the date of the expropriation. The Tribunal decided that since it had found that the expropriation was lawful it did not need to consider the standard for compensation in case of unlawful expropriation or whether it would differ from the standard for compensation to be paid in case of lawful expropriation. It held that the compensation must be calculated in conformity with the requirements of the BIT which required “just compensation” and that “just compensation” should represent the market value of the investments affected immediately before the measures were taken. Therefore, it employed the date of the expropriation of Claimants’ assets (June 2007) as the valuation date, which had considerable significance in the amount of compensation since the market price of oil increased in the years that followed the expropriations.

The Tribunal also grappled with the parties’ respective cases on whether a risk of confiscation is part of the country risk that is taken into account in determining the discount rate for the purposes of valuing the assets using the Discounted Cash Flow Method. The Tribunal concluded that a confiscation risk remains part of the country risk and must be taken into account in the determination of the discount rate.

To avoid double-recovery, the Tribunal held that the amount already received by the Claimants under a parallel ICC Award should be discounted to the total compensation payable to the Claimants.

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Long-awaited EU-Canada trade agreement agreed – a blueprint to set the standard for future investment protection?

On Friday 26 September, after five years of negotiations, the EU and Canada agreed in principle to a text for the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). It is certainly comprehensive, running to 1,500 pages. It is the first such agreement signed by the EU as part of its policy (since the Lisbon Treaty) of assuming competence for trade and investment from the individual Member States. Its contents have therefore been keenly anticipated as an indication of the tone of future agreements, particularly as regards investment protection and investor-state dispute resolution (ISDS) contained in Chapter X.

CETA’s provisions are comprehensive as regards both of these areas, but with significant caveats, largely mirroring the drafts that have so far been made public in the EU-US forthcoming agreement in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) (see our earlier post on the TTIP consultation here).

As its Preamble sets out, the agreement expressly recognizes “that the protection of investments… stimulates mutually beneficial business activity“. At the same time, it stresses principles of governmental autonomy (including enforcement of labour and environmental laws) which can in some circumstances limit the rights of the investor. It also points out the responsibility of businesses to respect “internationally recognized standards of corporate social responsibility“, bringing these soft law norms into the ambit of the agreement.

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No jurisdiction over BIT claims if investor fails to state a prima facie case

In Achmea BV v The Slovak Republic (PCA Case No. 2013-12), the tribunal considered the respondent’s objection that it lacked jurisdiction on the ground that the claimant had failed to establish a prima facie cause of action under the Netherlands – Slovak Republic bilateral investment treaty (BIT).

A tribunal constituted under the BIT has dismissed claims brought by Achmea BV relating to possible future changes in the Slovak private health insurance market including the threatened expropriation of Achmea’s Slovak subsidiary. The tribunal determined that it had no jurisdiction to hear the case because Achmea had failed to make out a prima facie case that the Slovak Republic had breached the expropriation and fair and equitable treatment provisions of the BIT by indicating an intention to expropriate Achmea’s subsidiary.

The case is of interest for its discussion of the prima facie case requirement and also the tribunal’s ruling that it was impossible and impermissible, in circumstances where no expropriation had yet taken place, for the tribunal to attempt to assess the legality of the Slovak Republic’s hypothetical future conduct. (Achmea BV v The Slovak Republic (PCA Case No. 2013-12).

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Europe consults on investment protection and ISDS in the TTIP

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on its proposed approach to investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (the TTIP).  The TTIP is a free trade agreement currently in negotiation between the United States and the European Union. Negotiations for the TTIP began in July 2013.

The Commission has described its approach as containing “a series of innovative elements that the EU proposes using as the basis for the TTIP negotiations” and stated that the key issue on which it is consulting is “whether the EU’s proposed approach for TTIP achieves the right balance between protecting investors and safeguarding the EU’s right and ability to regulate in the public interest”.

Whilst the EU is not consulting on a draft text of the TTIP, it has included as a reference text the investment protection and ISDS provisions in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (the CETA), between the EU and Canada. 

Whilst we are currently a long way from a signed agreement including investment protection and ISDS provisions, stakeholders may nonetheless want to take this opportunity to consider the ways in which the EU’s approach and the negotiations could impact upon them.  The European Commission’s Consultation can be found here and closes on 6 July 2014.

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The US Supreme Court decides BG v Argentina – right place, wrong road?

In a 7-2 majority decision on 5 March 2014, the United States Supreme Court has reinstated BG Group (BG)’s US$185 million arbitral award against Argentina.[1] The Supreme Court sought to clarify the delineation between “procedural” and “substantive” arbitrability issues in relation to pre-conditions to arbitrate. The Supreme Court found that a litigation pre-condition to arbitrate was procedural in nature, and that issues of arbitrability arising out of such a pre-condition were, therefore, for the arbitrators, not the courts, to decide. Although Article 8 of the Argentina-UK bilateral investment treaty (BIT) was a dispute resolution provision in a treaty between two sovereign nations, both the majority and the dissenters on the Supreme Court limited their analyses to principles of US commercial contracts law. All justices appeared to have found a common ground in their deliberate disregard of the rules of treaty interpretation under international law. In this respect, the decision of the District Court of Columbia that originally confirmed the award remains the only instance in the BG v Argentina US court saga that recognised the relevance of international law, and of its rules of interpretation under the Vienna Convention, in the context of treaty arbitration.

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Breach of fair and equitable treatment standard (ICSID)

In Ioan Micula and others v Romania (ICSID Case No. ARB/05/20), an ICSID tribunal considered whether Romania was in breach of the Sweden-Romania bilateral investment treaty.

The majority of an ICSID tribunal (Laurent Lévy and Stanimir Alexandrov) held that Romania breached the fair and equitable treatment standard in the Sweden-Romania bilateral investment treaty by repealing incentives offered regarding investments made in some of the country’s deprived regions. A different majority (Laurent Lévy and Georges Abi-Saab) dismissed the claimants’ allegation that Romania had breached the umbrella clause in the BIT due to lack of evidence. The tribunal also discussed the role of EU law within the context of investment treaty disputes.

The award is of interest as it discusses in detail the FET standard and even proffers a test in respect of the stability aspect often considered to fall within the scope of FET. The award also concludes (departing from other cases) that unilateral declarations made by a state would fall within the scope of an umbrella clause. Finally, the discussion in the award of EU issues is topical, given the number of ongoing disputes where the inter-relation between EU law and investment treaty arbitration is in issue.

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Dawn of a new era for investment protection in South Africa – draft investment law to replace protections offered under investment treaties published for public comment

On 1 November 2013, the South African Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) has released its new “Promotion and Protection of Investment” bill (PPI Bill) for public comment (for a copy of the PPI Bill, see here).

The PPI Bill follows South Africa’s publicised plans to review its bilateral investment treaties (BITs), in particular those entered into right after the end of the apartheid era. The majority of those BITs have been, or are in the process of being, terminated by the South African government. As part of the DTI review, the South African Government has already issued cancellation notices to various European countries, in respect of its BITs with, amongst others, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain (to see our previous blog post on this, see here), and most recently, Germany and Switzerland. Existing investors are still entitled to rely on the protections found in those BITs that have been terminated and remain able to do so for a period between 10 to 20 years after the BITs termination, depending on the relevant BITs sunset clause.

The PPI Bill, when passed as law, is intended to regulate the protection of all investments in South Africa in place of BITs.

The following key provisions in the PPI Bill and their implications are discussed further below.

  • Definition of an “investment”.
  • Absence of a fair and equitable treatment (FET) provision.
  • Definition of “expropriation” and new principles of compensation for expropriation.
  • Dispute resolution mechanism.

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