Update on the future of ISDS: latest Working Group III UNCITRAL discussions

The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law’s (“UNCITRAL“) Working Group III (Investor-State Dispute Settlement Reform) (“WGIII“)​ has published its report (the “Report“) on the work conducted between 14 and 18 October 2019 during its 38th session. The Report provides details about the discussions around three issues in particular: (i) the establishment of an advisory centre; (ii) a code of conduct for decision-makers; and (iii) third-party funding.

We discuss the content of that Report in our new blog piece, published on our Public International Law blog here.

For more information, please contact Christian Leathley, Partner, Andrew Cannon, Partner, Helin Laufer, Associate or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Christian Leathley
Christian Leathley
Partner
+1 917 542 7812

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+44 20 7466 2852

Helin Laufer
Helin Laufer
Associate
+44 20 7466 6425

Australian Joint Standing Committee on Treaties approves new investment treaties between Australia, Hong Kong and Indonesia

The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (“JSCOT“) of the Australian Parliament has just released Report No. 186 examining three treaties: the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and Hong Kong, China (“HK-FTA“), the Investment Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (“HK-Investment Agreement“) and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Indonesia (“IA-CEPA“).  We have previously discussed the Hong Kong treaties in detail here and the IA-CEPA here.

The JSCOT’s role is to carry out a review of treaties to determine whether they are in Australia’s national interest. The JSCOT has concluded that each of these treaties are in Australia’s national interest and has recommended that “binding treaty action be taken as soon as possible.”  The treaties will now go before parliament for ratification.

JSCOT’s review process

This is a comprehensive process.  The JSCOT considers the Australian Government’s own assessment of each treaty’s merit (this is called the Australian Government’s “National Interest Analysis”) and also takes into account submissions which concern all aspects of the treaties.  Five public hearings were held in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and Canberra.[1]  The JSCOT has heard from industry groups, academics, unions and other members of the public.

The ISDS ‘risk’?

There has been public concern in Australia (as elsewhere) about treaty mechanisms which enable arbitration proceedings to be commenced by investors against states (this is called “investor-state dispute settlement” or “ISDS”).  Some critics have argued that the ISDS system exposes the Australian government to an unjustified risk of costly and time-consuming arbitration proceedings being commenced against Australia by investors.

The JSCOT heard evidence for and against ISDS but was ultimately satisfied that the ISDS mechanisms in both the IA-CEPA and HK-Investment Agreement were not against the national interest.  The JSCOT observed that “it was repeatedly pointed out to the Committee that Australia has been a party to ISDS provisions for a considerable time and has not been subject to successful litigation.[2]  As one submission identified “neither of the claims against Australia was successful.  Philip Morris lost their case and costs were awarded against the company.[3]  The JSCOT also noted that “empirical evidence suggested that ISDS provisions increased bilateral investment flow.[4]

The short point is that the JSCOT appears to conclude that the risk of Australia being involved in and suffering loss as a result of meritless or frivolous claims by foreign investors is overstated.

Carefully crafted carve-outs

Both treaties contain a number of noteworthy carve-outs.  These carve-outs seek to limit the scope of claims that can be brought by investors against the states in respect of certain legislative or regulatory measures. They should therefore address concerns held by some about ISDS.

The IA-CEPA contains a carve-out which restricts investors from pursuing a claim relating to measures that are “designed and implemented to protect or promote public health.” A general exceptions clause further provides that claims cannot be made with respect to measures taken by the state parties to protect the public interest in sensitive sectors, such as education, indigenous rights, the promotion of essential security and certain taxation measures, provided that such measures are not arbitrary, discriminatory or a disguised restriction on investment.

The HK-Investment Agreement contains similar general carve-out provisions, but goes further by exempting specific measures including tobacco control measures and, in Australia’s case, measures relating to the Medicare Benefits Scheme, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Therapeutic Goods Administration and Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The impetus for the ‘tobacco carve-out’ in the IA-CEPA was Australia’s involvement as the Respondent state in an investment arbitration brought by Philip Morris in 2011 under the Australia-Hong Kong BIT, which challenged Australia’s introduction of plain packaging legislation.

It is interesting that the specific ‘tobacco carve-out’ has been included in the A-HKFTA but not in IA-CEPA.  Having considered expert evidence, the JSCOT concluded that it does not matter that the IA-CEPA has no tobacco carve-out on the basis that tobacco control measures would be covered under the general exceptions provision.[5]

Overlap with existing bilateral investment treaties

There are existing bilateral investment treaties between Australia and Hong Kong (the “Aus-HK BIT“) and between Australia and Indonesia (the “Aus-Indo BIT“).   The JSCOT noted: “the [Aus-HK BIT] will terminate with the introduction of the new investment treaty, while there is no proposal to terminate the [Aus-Indo BIT].  This has raised concerns over the overlap between the existing [Aus-Indo BIT] and the ISDS provisions in the [IA-CEPA].”

The JSCOT recommends that the Aus-Indo BIT should be terminated and that the ‘sunset clause’ (also known as a ‘survival clause’) in the Aus-Indo BIT should also be terminated.  The ‘sunset’ clause permits claims to be brought by investors for a period of 15 years following the termination of the Aus-Indo BIT.

As it stands, the termination of the Aus-Indo BIT seems to have bipartisan support.  The Australian Labor Party has indicated that it will push the coalition government to terminate the Aus-Indo BIT.  Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has indicated that he was not opposed to it and that the Australian Government “should be able to work through that issue.

What next?

The next stage is for the Australian Parliament to decide whether to pass legislation implementing the treaties in domestic law. This seems likely given that both major political parties have indicated that they support the treaties.

What should you do if you are an investor with a potential claim against Indonesia, Australia or Hong Kong?  The short point is that you need to carefully consider now whether that claim could be lost or affected due to the termination (and replacement) of the Aus-Indo BIT or the Aus-Hong Kong BIT.

 

[1] Para 1.10.

[2] Para 4.47.

[3] Para 4.48.

[4] Para 4.51.

[5] Paras 4.55-4.56.

 

Brenda Horrigan
Brenda Horrigan
Partner and Head of International Arbitration (Australia), Sydney
+61 2 9225 5536
Antony Crockett
Antony Crockett
Senior Consultant, Hong Kong
+852 2101 4111
Mitchell Dearness
Mitchell Dearness
Associate, Singapore
+65 6868 8061

APPLICATION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME TO BRING SECTION 67 CHALLENGE WHICH WAS 959 DAYS LATE REFUSED BY ENGLISH COURT

The English High Court’s decision in State A v Party B [2019] EWHC 799 (Comm), handed down in January 2019 but only recently published, concerned the court’s dismissal of an application to extend the time for bringing a jurisdictional challenge under section 67 of the Arbitration Act 1996 in circumstances where the challenge was 959 days late (available here).

The decision found that where the delay is lengthy and the application for an extension is based on fresh evidence, an extension will only be justified by fresh evidence that is “transformational” or “seismic“. The decision illustrates the importance that the English court places on the timeliness of challenges to awards and the high threshold that must be met in order to obtain an extension.

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Advocate General finds that CETA’s “Investment Court System” is compatible with EU law

One of the Advocates General to the Court of Justice of the European Union, Advocate General Bot, has issued an opinion confirming that the mechanism for the settlement of disputes between investors and states provided for in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement  between the EU and Canada (the CETA) is compatible with European Union law.

We discuss the content of the Advocate General’s opinion on our new blog piece, published on our Public International Law blog here.

For further information please contact Andrew Cannon, Partner, Hannah Ambrose, Senior Associate, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant, Rebecca Warder, Professional Support Lawyer, 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
Vanessa Naish
Vanessa Naish
Professional Support Consultant
+44 20 7466 2112
Rebecca Warder
Rebecca Warder
Professional Support Lawyer
+44 20 7466 3418

HSF team play key role in significant ICSID Award dealing with an Intra-EU BIT Case

Members of the HSF Paris disputes team have played a key role in obtaining a successful ICSID award for Chèque Déjeuner (“CD“), the French meal voucher issuer. The claim related to tax reforms introduced by the Orban government which effectively excluded CD (and other foreign voucher-issuers) from the Hungarian market. As a result, CD commenced ICSID proceedings under the France-Hungary bilateral investment treaty (“BIT“) in December 2013, alleging that Hungary had breached its obligations in respect of expropriation and fair and equitable treatment (“FET“).

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New Zealand signs side letters with five CPTPP members to exclude compulsory investor state dispute settlement

New Zealand has recently signed “side letters” to exclude compulsory Investor State Dispute Settlement (“ISDS“) with five members of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (“CPTPP“) – Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, Peru, Viet Nam and Australia. This demonstrates the evolving approach to ISDS in the Asia Pacific region and is of particular interest both in the context of the worldwide debate about the future of ISDS, and also due to the importance of CPTPP members within the global economy.

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Security for costs granted by English Court in investment treaty award challenge in which claimants are receiving third-party funding

In its recent judgment in Progas Energy Limited and ors v Pakistan [2018], the English High Court (the Court) granted Pakistan’s request for security for their costs in defending a challenge to an investment treaty award. The Court declined Pakistan’s application for security for its unpaid costs in the arbitration awarded to them by the tribunal. The case is of particular interest because the Court considered the relevance to the applications of the fact that the Claimants were funded by a third-party funder.

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Event – The future of investment arbitration: have we reached a high water mark?

Herbert Smith Freehills and BIICL Investment Treaty Forum warmly invite you to attend ‘The Future of Investment Arbitration: Have We Reached a High Water Mark?’.

Date Wednesday 1 November 2017
Time 17:00: Registration
17:30: Panel discussion followed by drinks and networking
Venue Exchange House, Primrose Street, London, EC2A 2EG
Please click here to view map
Registration  Click here to register with the BIICL events team directly.
Please note there are a limited number of complimentary spaces.

 

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Live audio webinar: Protecting your investments from political risk in a volatile world – 21 June 2017 – 1.00pm UK time

In this webinar, we will offer a disputes perspective on how to protect your investments from political risk in the current economic and political climate. Disputes lawyers are often brought on board when things have already gone wrong, tasked with limiting the fallout, managing a crisis or resolving a dispute formally or informally. However, we know what can go wrong and can therefore offer insight into what might have been done at the outset to reduce the chance of a dispute arising in the first place. We know what we need to build a solid claim and what would or could have made our client’s position in any dispute stronger.

In this webinar our panel will explore what we mean by “political risk” before looking at ways that risk can be mitigated. The topics our speakers will explore include:

  • Looking beyond the transaction: protecting your future position whilst negotiating
  • Contractual protections
  • Investment structuring to benefit from investment treaties
  • Political risk insurance: coverage, wordings and maximising policy response
  • Steps to protect yourself when an investment turns sour

Finally, we will talk through some practical points which can really aid a client’s position if and when a dispute does arise.

Speakers:

Andrew Cannon, Partner, International Arbitration, Paris

Sarah McNally,  Partner, Insurance Disputes, London

Iain Maxwell, Of Counsel, International Arbitration, London

To register for this event please click here.

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+33 1 53 57 65 52
Sarah McNally
Sarah McNally
Partner
+44 20 7466 2872
Iain Maxwell
Iain Maxwell
Of Counsel
+44 20 7466 2646

 

 

 

EU launches consultation on multilateral reform of the investor-state dispute resolution system

The EU Commission (the Commission) has launched a public consultation on the multilateral reform of the investment dispute settlement system.  The survey is found here and responses are due by 15 March 2017.  The consultation is the next step in furtherance of the Commission's objective to develop a multilateral system for the resolution of international investment disputes and, amongst other things, seeks to explore views on its proposal to develop a permanent multilateral investment court system.

The development of the Commission's position over the last couple of years and the Commission's introduction to the consultation both suggest a determination to pursue wholesale change to the system of resolution of investor-state disputes, rather than a more nuanced approach in evaluating the perceived flaws in the current system under which investor-state disputes are largely resolved by ad hoc arbitration (often under the auspices of ICSID, part of the World Bank).  However, notwithstanding its clearly stated objective, the Commission's survey also countenances in the alternative the establishment of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal which would consider appeals from the decisions of ad hoc investment arbitration tribunals established under the current system. 

The responses to the consultation will be significant in terms of the future of the Commission's objective to establish a Multilateral Investment Court. In particular, it will be crucial that a constructive and positive response is received from the third party states who are asked to partner with the Commission in developing the Multilateral Investment Court system.  However, it remains to be seen whether the survey will elucidate clear responses which will assist the Commission in considering further its proposals for the future of investor-state dispute settlement: the majority of the survey questions treat as interchangeable the two different approaches (the establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court system and the establishment of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal) and the survey does not seek responses on the development of a Multilateral Appeal Tribunal alongside reform of the current system of ad hoc arbitration.  It is not clear whether this option continues to be considered by the Commission.

The issues and controversies surrounding the resolution of investor-state disputes are complex and any changes to the system pursued by the Commission would ideally be based on clearly expressed views from a range of stakeholders.  It is to be hoped therefore that respondents to the survey take the opportunity offered by the Commission to clarify their responses by way of uploading a position paper. 

With unprecedented growth in foreign direct investment, issues concerning substantive investment protection and the way in which investor-state disputes are resolved both now and in the future are significant for both states and investors.  If you would like to discuss these issues or the Commission's consultation, please contact: Larry Shore, Partner, Dominic Roughton, Partner, Christian Leathley, Partner, Andrew Cannon, Partner, Iain Maxwell, Of Counsel, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant, Hannah Ambrose, Professional Support Consultant or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact. 

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