NAVIGATING THE LOW OIL PRICE ENVIRONMENT PODCAST: HOW INVESTMENT TREATIES CAN PROTECT FOREIGN INVESTMENTS AGAINST STATE ACTION

Oil prices have recently reached historic lows and oil companies are faced with a number of potential legal issues as the prices impact their trading and operational agreements. In this podcast series, our energy disputes lawyers consider some of the key issues triggered by the current low oil price environment.

Even investments into relatively stable ‎jurisdictions may be affected by changes in the political and financial landscape. No investor can completely insulate their investment from such changes, but access to an investment treaty can be critical: Andrew Cannon, Laurence Franc-Menget and Hannah Ambrose discuss how investment treaties can protect foreign investments against state action in the second episode in the series.

The episode can be listened to here.

For more information, please contact Andrew Cannon, Partner, Laurence Franc-Menget, Partner, Hannah Ambrose, Senior Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+44 20 7466 2852

Laurence Franc-Menget
Laurence Franc-Menget
Partner
+33 1 53 57 73 70

Hannah Ambrose
Hannah Ambrose
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 7585

Update: The discontinuation of LIBOR: issues of substance and procedure for parties and arbitrators

The global financial markets are currently preparing for the phasing out of the London Inter-bank Offered Rate (or LIBOR) and other Inter-bank Offered Rates (or IBORs). LIBOR is the most widely used benchmark interest rate globally, employed in an estimated US$350 trillion worth of financial contracts worldwide. LIBOR may also be used in commercial contracts – for example, in price adjustment mechanisms in share purchase agreements, price escalation clauses or as a reference rate for contractual interest on late payments. LIBOR may also be specified in arbitration clauses as a benchmark rate for interest on the award.

The clock is now ticking towards the deadline of the end of 2021 for the market to be ready but there is concern that many contracts will not be amended voluntarily by that time. Recognising the impact on existing contracts of the transition, the Tough Legacy Taskforce, part of the industry-led Working Group on Sterling Risk-Free Reference Rates, was set up to provide market input regarding the ‘tough legacy’ of products that may prove unable to be converted or amended to include robust fallbacks to address the end of LIBOR. Last month the Tough Legacy Taskforce published its report (the Tough Legacy Paper). As discussed in detail in our blog post here, the Tough Legacy Paper serves to highlight the difficulties in amendment of contracts, and particularly the complex relationship between contracts in different asset classes in many transactions.

Many financial instruments affected by the discontinuation of LIBOR will include arbitration clauses. As discussed below, whilst the substantive disputes arising from the end of LIBOR will be the same whether they are resolved in a court or by an arbitral tribunal, there are some additional considerations particular to the arbitration process which are relevant in the context of LIBOR discontinuation disputes. Further, even when determining a dispute which does not arise from the end of LIBOR, arbitral tribunals may have to grapple with how to award interest where an arbitration clause uses LIBOR as a reference point. Read more in the E-bulletin here.

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ENGLISH COURT CONSIDERS CHALLENGES TO A FURTHER AWARD MADE AFTER REMISSION TO THE TRIBUNAL FOLLOWING AN EARLIER SUCCESSFUL CHALLENGE

In Reliance Industries Ltd and another company v The Union of India [2020] EWHC 263 (Comm), the English Commercial Court (the “Court”) considered a series of challenges under sections 67 and 68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the “Act”) to a further award (the “Further Award”) made on issues remitted to the Tribunal after earlier challenges to parts of an arbitration award (the “Final Partial Award” or “FPA”) brought under sections 67, 68 and 69 of the Act.

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A BALANCE OF OBLIGATIONS: THE RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND INVESTMENT TREATY PROTECTIONS

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about an unprecedented level of state action as governments around the world make difficult decisions in response to the spread of the virus. Over the past few months this has resulted in a variety of measures in different countries, including the suspension of contractual rights, social distancing regulations, the requisitioning or nationalisation of private property, the closure of borders, export and travel restrictions, and bail-outs of state carriers.

In such extraordinary times, a degree of interference with private rights is almost inevitable. Many states are balancing multiple concerns, looking to protect public health and absorbing expert evidence in a fast-moving environment, whilst trying to mitigate both economic and societal damage in the short and longer term. However, even in times of crisis, states nonetheless have domestic and international law obligations (including under investment treaties), which impose standards against which their conduct may be held to account. Depending on the circumstances, state action in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which fails to meet these standards could give rise to claims.

This article describes the potential international investment law protections which may be relevant in response to COVID-19. It also discusses the key considerations for states and foreign investors alike when assessing whether state action may infringe a state’s international law obligations.

Protections for foreign investors under investment treaties

A foreign investor may enjoy protections under an international investment agreement (an IIA), which if breached by state action can give rise to the right to make a claim. An IIA is an agreement between two or more states containing reciprocal undertakings for the promotion and protection of private investments made by nationals of the state signatories in each other’s territories. Such agreements have historically been entered into to provide confidence to foreign investors that their investment will not be negatively affected by certain types of irregular action by the state hosting the investment (the host state) and that if it is, to enable the investor to claim damages. Most commonly, these IIAs are bilateral arrangements (called bilateral investment treaties, or BITs), multilateral treaties or free trade agreements containing investment protections.

The definitions of investor and investment vary between different IIAs but the definition of investment often includes a broad and non-exhaustive list of categories of assets. Whilst IIAs are state-to-state agreements, they usually contain provisions allowing an investor from one state to enforce the guarantees as to the treatment of their investment in the host state through international arbitration before an independent tribunal.

Each treaty must be considered on its terms but IIAs commonly include the following investment protections:

  1. a protection against the unlawful expropriation of an investment without adequate compensation, whether directly or indirectly through a series of governmental acts which encroach on an investment and result in it being deprived of value;
  2. the guarantee of fair and equitable treatment (or FET). Claims under FET provisions typically fall into two broad categories: prohibitions against a denial of justice and claims based on administrative decision-making. Not all regulatory changes will constitute a violation of the FET standard, and the existence of such protections does not deprive a state of its ability to exercise its regulatory powers. However, where the state’s exercise of its regulatory power is arbitrary or based on procedural unfairness or lack of due process, bad faith, discrimination or a failure to protect an investor’s legitimate expectations as to how they will be treated, a FET claim may be warranted;
  3. a guarantee of full protection and security for the investment and for the investor. Whilst this is generally understood to concern physical protection, it may also encompass legal protection;
  4. guarantees of treatment no less favourable than that given either to nationals of the Host State of the investment or to nationals of third states, which prevent the host state discriminating against the foreign investor; and
  5. the right to repatriate profit and capital.

Some treaties specifically guarantee non-discriminatory treatment with respect to restitution, compensation or other valuable consideration for losses due to civil strife or state of emergency.

Treaty obligations in the context of COVID-19

On the one hand, states are undoubtedly facing significant challenges in balancing the need to protect public health with the prospect of short and long term economic damage.  On the other hand, many foreign investors are facing wide-ranging governmental interference in multiple aspects of their business (including, in many jurisdictions, restrictions on the use and movement of their employees, the use of their property and the enforcement of their contractual rights). Some investors have questioned whether the extent of the measures imposed is justified, or whether the measures are proportionate to the serious economic damage which they can inflict.

Based on the standard protections found in IIAs outlined above, key considerations as to whether a state’s response to COVID-19 is consistent with its international law obligations may include:

  • the evidential basis for state measures introduced to address the pandemic in different ways;
  • the length of time for which measures are imposed and the regularity with which they are reviewed;
  • whether measures restricting private rights and freedoms are proportionate based on the anticipated benefit in terms of fighting the virus and the possible negative impact of those actions on the affected investors;
  • whether steps have been taken to mitigate the damage caused by the measures;
  • whether the measures impact unequally or disproportionately on one sector, group or type of company or individual impacting the foreign investor;
  • whether the enforcement mechanisms used by states to implement COVID-19 regulations are consistent with domestic legislation;
  • whether, particularly in the context of any requisitioning or nationalisation, any provision has been made for compensation and, if so,
    • how such compensation is calculated; and
    • the availability (or otherwise) of compensation for all who are similarly affected (including whether nationals of the host State are placed in a better position than foreign investors);
  • whether the measures imposed are capable of, and are being used for, purposes beyond tackling COVID-19;
  • whether any assurances have been given to sectors, companies or individuals as to their treatment in the context of COVID-19 and whether those assurances were fulfilled; and
  • whether existing laws are being used to address COVID-19 in a manner which is inconsistent with their legislative intent.  

States may find it important, for a multitude of reasons, to retain comprehensive contemporaneous records of the reasons for decisions, as well as ensuring that communications with individual investors, as well as industry and sector groups, are clearly documented.

For investors, it will also be important to keep contemporaneous records of the impact on the investment(s) affected by state action. Any communications with states, particularly those seeking or receiving assurances as to treatment, should be carefully recorded and those records preserved.

Other relevant considerations

The fact that state action has negatively affected a foreign investment does not automatically lead to an actionable breach of an IIA. This will depend on the nature of the state action and the circumstances in which it has been taken, the wording and interpretation of the IIA, and whether the IIA contains exemptions or prudential carve outs which apply in certain circumstances (such as national security, public health or public order). In such extraordinary circumstances there may be defences available to a state, either based on the wording of the relevant treaty or on customary international law (including defences based on necessity, distress or force majeure).

In summary, notwithstanding the fact that COVID-19 presents an unprecedented and fast-developing challenge, the guarantees given to foreign investors under IIAs remain relevant to an assessment of state action in response to the pandemic. Whilst the question of whether an investor may be entitled to damages under an IIA is fact and treaty-specific, the prospect of such claims is therefore relevant to states and investors alike.

For more information about our investment treaty practice, and to find a key contact in a relevant jurisdiction, please click here.

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+44 20 7466 2852

Christian Leathley
Christian Leathley
Partner
+1 917 542 7812

Hannah Ambrose
Hannah Ambrose
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 7585

ETHIOPIA ACCEDES TO 1958 NEW YORK CONVENTION

On 13 February 2020, Ethiopia’s parliament approved accession to the 1958 Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (the “New York Convention” or the “Convention“). Ethiopia will become the 163rd state signatory and the 39th African state to accede following the recent accessions of the Seychelles, Cabo Verde and Sudan.

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DISPUTE RESOLUTION CHOICES FOR BANKS AND FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS IN A POST-BREXIT WORLD: OPTING FOR ARBITRATION?

Partner Andrew Cannon and Senior Associate Hannah Ambrose have authored an article for Butterworths Journal of International Banking and Financial Law, discussing the suitability of arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism for banks and other financial institutions post-Brexit.

The article explores the current uncertainty surrounding the enforcement of English court judgments post-Brexit, whilst comparing and contrasting arbitration as a means of resolving disputes with traditional litigation from the perspective of the banking and finance industry. The article goes on to highlight important considerations that industry players ought to take into account if they are considering arbitration as an alternative means of resolving their disputes.

The full article can be accessed by clicking this link.

This article first appeared in the October issue of Butterworths Journal of International Banking and Financial Law and is reproduced with the agreement of the publishers.

If you have any questions or would like discuss any aspect of this post, please contact Andrew Cannon, Partner, or Hannah Ambrose, Senior Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+44 20 7466 2852
Hannah Ambrose
Hannah Ambrose
Senior Associate
+44 20 7466 7585

 

INSIDE ARBITRATION: ISSUE #8 OF THE PUBLICATION FROM HERBERT SMITH FREEHILLS’ GLOBAL ARBITRATION PRACTICE

We are delighted to share with you the latest issue of the publication from the Herbert Smith Freehills Global Arbitration Practice. We once again take a regional focus, turning to our practitioners in Europe for their latest insights.

The full digital edition can be downloaded in PDF via the link below.

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In addition to sharing knowledge and insight about the markets and industries in which our clients operate, the publication offers personal perspectives of our international arbitration partners from across the globe.

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CONTRACTUAL DISPUTE ARISING OUT OF HACKING: ENGLISH COURT CONSIDERS CHALLENGE TO AWARD UNDER s68 AND s69 OF THE ARBITRATION ACT 1996

In a rare example of a successful challenge under s68 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the Act), in K v A [2019] EWHC 1118 (Comm), the English Court held that there was a serious irregularity when the GAFTA Board of Appeal (the Tribunal) found K liable based on an interpretation of a clause in the contract which had not been argued by A. The Court concluded that the Board may have reached a different view if K had had an opportunity to address the argument, and remitted the Award back to the Tribunal. The application for leave to appeal under s69 of the Act was rejected as the Court found that there was no error of law in the Tribunal’s finding that the payment obligation on K was to make payment into A’s account, not just to A’s bank.

The case arose following the hacking of the intermediary broker’s (V‘s) email accounts. Whilst A had provided the correct account details to V, the details provided to K (purportedly by V but actually by the fraudster), resulted in the payment of the contract price into the fraudster’s account. After discovery of the fraud, a payment shortfall arose out of complications in the eventual payment of the purchase price to A. A sought to recover the shortfall in the arbitration.

The case shows the importance of understanding where the risk passes under a contract for fraud or hacking of the type which can interfere with performance by the parties of their contractual obligations.

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FINAL DUTCH MODEL BIT PUBLISHED: POTENTIAL FOR CLAIMS AGAINST INVESTORS AND LINK BETWEEN GENDER EQUALITY AND INVESTMENT

The Dutch Government has recently published the final version of its model Bilateral Investment Treaty (the Model BIT). The key changes since the May 2018 Draft Model BIT (discussed in our blog post here) are addressed below.

The Model BIT includes some practical guidance for investors as to how the requirement of “substantive business interests” in a Contracting Party may be fulfilled. Among the innovative provisions, it includes a potential liability on investors in their home State for significant damage, personal injury or loss of life caused in the host State and a commitment to promote equal opportunities and participation for women and men in the economy.

The Model BIT reflects a change in emphasis in modern international investment agreements. The investor protections remain but there is an undoubted rebalancing of the operation of those provisions in the context of the treaty as a whole to address what is perceived by many to be a historic investor-bias in treaty drafting. Further, the Model BIT seeks to implement policy aims through a number of provisions which require recognition of, or aspirational behaviour towards, the achievement of certain development goals by the Contracting Parties.

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