On June 28, 2019, the European Union and the Common Market of the South (“Mercosur”), announced they had reached a trade deal after twenty years of negotiations (the “EU-Mercosur Agreement”). While the agreement in principle is still subject to ratification by the national parliaments of the member states of both blocs, the European Parliament and the European Union Council – a process that could take between one and two years – it lays the ground for an “ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement”, said to be the largest the European Union has ever concluded.
The historic deal creates a market covering a population of 800 million people that represents nearly a fourth of the world’s GDP. In addition to removing tariffs, the new agreement aims to enhance the economic and political integration of both regions by creating employment and developing a more transparent and predictable regulatory framework.
On 16 May, 2017 the European Court of Justice (the Court) rendered its Opinion on the competence of the European Union to conclude the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Singapore. The Opinion recognises exclusive EU competence over most of the agreement and largely settles a long-standing dispute between the Commission and the Member States on the division of competences under the Lisbon Treaty.
Importantly, in the context of investor-state dispute resolution, the Court's Opinion is likely to render any agreement including protection for non-direct foreign investments or investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions a so-called "mixed agreement" which requires each of the Member States as well as the EU itself to become party, unless certain aspects commonly found in such agreements are removed or the Member States otherwise agree (discussed further below).
The Opinion will have a major impact on the negotiation of future EU trade agreements, whether pending or anticipated (including the potential FTA between the UK and the EU following Brexit).
The Brexit White Paper
The much-anticipated Brexit White Paper, ‘The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union’, was published on 2 February 2017. This post focuses on a subject that has to date received relatively little attention—what it has to say about the future of dispute resolution. In its Chapter 2 (‘Taking control of our own laws’), and Annex A, the White Paper contains perhaps a surprising amount on dispute resolution, in comparison to the text devoted to the other eleven of the UK government’s 12 stated principles.
In this blog post we review the White Paper with the aim of discerning so far as possible the potential future of dispute resolution for the UK. In particular, we consider how the UK government envisages, at this relatively early stage, that disputes will be resolved under new post-Brexit UK-EU agreements, and if and how UK businesses will be able to enforce their provisions. We also consider certain implications of the end to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)’s jurisdiction in the UK and the adoption of the acquis under the Great Repeal Bill.
International arbitration partner Christian Leathley spoke on a panel at an event organized by transatlantic business organization BritishAmerican Business yesterday discussing how important investor-state dispute settlement is to the success of the TTIP and whether it is feasible or desirable for the TTIP to be concluded in the absence of ISDS provisions. The TTIP is discussed in our blog post here. The keynote speech at the event was delivered by European Commissioner for Trade Karel de Gucht, who is negotiating the TTIP on behalf of the EU.
Mr de Gucht described the need for the EU Commission to get the right balance between protecting the rights of investors and preserving the right of states to regulate in the public interest. He also explained how the investment protection provisions in the TTIP were of fundamental importance in setting the standards which would be relevant in the negotiation of future investment agreements and FTAs between the EU and other states. Other speakers also referred to the global signal which would be sent by the inclusion of ISDS and the content of the substantive protections in the TTIP.
Christian noted that there was a need to identify what was the fundamental problem with ISDS; namely, that it was not the arbitral institutions (in particular ICSID) which were the issue and, whilst access to arbitration is fundamentally important, the core of the criticism of ISDS addressed the substantive rights granted to investors. He commended the EU Commission for launching the public consultation on the investment protection provisions in the TTIP as an attempt to bring together the perspectives of states and investors on substantive protection in a meaningful way. In terms of the EU Commission’s approach to the negotiation of the investment protection chapter with the US, Christian highlighted some points for further consideration, including: (i) questioning the need to amend or add to the UNCITRAL Transparency Rules, which themselves were the product of very detailed consideration; (ii) noting that the “closed list” of grounds for breach of the Fair and Equitable Treatment Standard was in places inconsistent and incomplete, particularly with regard to the treatment of an investor’s legitimate expectations; and (iii) criticising an approach which was premised on an assumption that use of shell companies was per se abusive.
Following a further round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (the TPP) held in Singapore at the start of December 2013, it is expected that the agreement will be signed in early 2014 after more than three years of highly secretive negotiations. The TPP is a regional free trade agreement which, if the negotiations are successfully concluded, could create a trade bloc second only to the European Union in the size of its total trade value. The conclusion of this agreement is expected to have enormous significance for the dynamics of global trade and the outcome is keenly anticipated.
Although the negotiations have taken place behind closed doors, which is itself a source of great concern for many observers, speculation has centred on the public commentary by the participating states around issues central to the agreement. This has been augmented by the leak of several draft chapters of the agreement over the past three years. While the negotiations are likely to have moved on significantly since they were disclosed, the leaked chapters continue to shape the discussion around the content of the TPP and its highly contentious provisions.
With the twelve state parties – including the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and Singapore – having set the ambitious goal of reaching agreement by the end of last year, this twenty-first round of negotiations was anticipated as the potential turning point for issues believed to be the source of significant rifts in the partnership. However, reports indicate that while a resolution has not yet been reached, the agreement is likely to be concluded early in 2014.