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 (“CJEU“), 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 (“EU“) law.

If the opinion is adhered to by the CJEU, it confirms the viability of the EU’s mooted Investment Court System (“ICS“) in terms of its co-existence with the EU legal order, and permits the EU to continue to pursue adoption of the ICS on a wider scale across all of the EU’s trade agreements. Continue reading

EU Council publishes Negotiating Directives for Convention establishing a Multilateral Investment Court: no real surprises but a couple of gaps

On 20 March, 2018 the Council of the European Union published negotiating directives dated 1 March 2018 authorizing the European Commission to negotiate a convention establishing a multilateral court for the settlement of investment disputes between investors and states. Whilst the detailed characteristics of the proposed multilateral investment court (the MIC) will be developed during the course of the negotiations, the Negotiating Directives give considerable indication of the EU’s intentions as to the MIC’s features.

The Negotiating Directives have their origin in the Commission’s Recommendation for a Council Decision authorising the opening of negotiations for a Convention establishing a multilateral investment court, published in September 2017.  This included a recommendation that negotiating directives be drawn up and made public immediately after their adoption.  The Commission has since commented that “the EU’s new policy on investment is fundamentally based on transparency” and that publication of the Negotiating Directives allows the EU “to continue to work with like-minded partners around the globe” towards creating a MIC, “knowing that EU citizens are fully informed of [its] negotiating instructions”.

Whilst the EU introduced its intention to move towards a multilateral system in a Concept Paper in 2015 (see our blog post here), the Commission’s Recommendation itself came shortly after UNCITRAL indicated in its 50th Session in July 2017 that UNCITRAL Working Group III would consider possible reform of investor-state dispute settlement.  This work began in the Working Group’s 34th session in November 2017, with its next session due to take place on 23 to 27 April 2018.  It will therefore be seen as no coincidence that the EU has chosen to publish these negotiating directives at this stage, and they will set the framework for the participation of the EU and its Member States, as further considered below.  The EU has also submitted a paper to the Working Group in advance of its next session highlighting its concerns over the current system of ISDS.

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Enforcement and dispute resolution under the Withdrawal Agreement and any future relationship agreement: no role for the CJEU….or is there?

On its face, the thrust of the UK Government’s Future Partnership Paper on Enforcement and Dispute Resolution (the Paper), published on 23 August, is to rule out the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to determine the enforcement of rights and obligations by individuals and businesses derived under the Withdrawal Agreement (and any future relationship agreement) and disputes between the EU and the UK.  Since the Paper was published, the Prime Minister has again reiterated the Government’s position that “the UK will be able to make its own laws – Parliament will make our laws – it is British judges that will interpret those laws, and it will be the British Supreme Court that will be the ultimate arbiter of those laws.”

However, as discussed below, whilst perhaps consistent with the stage of negotiations, the Paper is drafted to leave considerable room for manoeuvre, and it leaves many questions unanswered regarding enforcement of rights and obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement and any future relationship agreements and dispute resolution between the UK and the EU after Brexit.

The Paper follows the publication on 22 August of the UK Government’s Future Partnership Paper on Providing a Cross-border Civil Judicial Cooperation Framework, considered in our blog post here, which presented the UK’s position on the extent to which current EU rules on choice of law, jurisdiction and enforcement of judgments should continue to apply as between the UK and the EU Member States post-Brexit. Continue reading

UK Government Publishes Technical Notes, including relating to “Privileges and Immunities”

On 28 August, in advance of the next round of EU-UK talks, the UK Government published three Technical Notes, one of which “provides further information to support the UK’s position published on 13 July in the UK’s position paper on Privileges and Immunities” (the Technical Note). The 13 July Position Paper is discussed in our blog post here. The Technical Note requests clarification from the EU on a number of issues, in particular as regards the EU’s position on the implications of the UK’s withdrawal from Protocol (No 7) on the privileges and immunities of the European Union of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU (Protocol 7).

As a general premise, the Government asks whether the EU’s position on the extent of the privileges and immunities to be granted under the Withdrawal Agreement (the Agreement) should differ depending upon whether or not the Agreement confers, or continues to confer, upon the EU functions in, or in respect of, the UK.

In particular, the Technical Note seeks confirmation from the EU that it agrees that the privileges and immunities granted to EU institutions, agencies and officials in the UK should reduce after exit so as to be linked solely to any function that may be conferred, or continue to be conferred, by the Withdrawal Agreement. To the extent that any wider application of privileges and immunities of the EU in the UK is envisaged, the EU is asked to clarify why this is necessary.  Specifically, the Government requests an indication from the EU as to the rationale for any continued protections in the UK for MEPs, and how such protections would operate.

The Technical Note foresees the continued presence of an EU delegation to the UK after the UK’s exit, and asks for clarification regarding how provision could be made to allow for this. It also asks for confirmation and assurances that the UK’s representation to the EU should continue to enjoy the same diplomatic privileges and immunities as a permanent mission of a Member State after Brexit. A reciprocal recognition is also acknowledged of ongoing privileges and immunities for representatives of Member States taking part in the work of institutions, agencies or bodies based in the UK, and of the UK taking part in the work of the EU within Member States’ territory, where such continued work is envisaged in the Agreement.

COMMENT

The questions posed in the Technical Note provide an interesting indication of the nature of the discussions taking place between the EU and the UK on the issue of ongoing privileges and immunities. This issue is fundamentally bound into the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU under the Agreement (and any further relationship agreements). As such, the Technical Note centres its requests on the continuing functions to be carried out by each side, and seeks clarification in respect of privileges and immunities that may be sought outside such functions. Central to these questions, therefore, will be the continuing role of the EU in the UK, and vice versa, under the Agreement.

For more information, please contact Andrew Cannon, Partner, Hannah Ambrose, Professional Support Consultant, Vanessa Naish, Professional Support Consultant or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Andrew Cannon
Andrew Cannon
Partner
+33 15 3576 552
Hannah Ambrose
Hannah Ambrose
Professional Support Consultant
+44 20 7466 7585
Vanessa Naish
Vanessa Naish
Professional Support Consultant
+44 20 7466 2112

New sanctions reporting requirements for non-financial sector businesses

With effect from 8 August, the Government has introduced significant new reporting requirements in relation to EU asset freeze regimes. Previously, only businesses in the financial sector were subject to the obligations, found in UK financial sanctions instruments, to report specified information to the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (“OFSI“) in Her Majesty’s Treasury (“HMT“). From 8 August, further sectors, including auditors, external accountants, tax advisers and lawyers, have been brought within the scope of these obligations and may commit a criminal offence if they fail to comply with the relevant reporting requirements.

The European Union Financial Sanctions (Amendment of Information Provisions) Regulations 2017 (the “Regulation“) implements this change, and applies in respect of information received on or after 8 August.

OFSI has updated its guidance (the “Guidance“) on financial sanctions to take account of this change. A number of other amendments have also been made to the Guidance, and we will report on these in a separate briefing. Continue reading

EU – Japan Economic Partnership Agreement announced

On 6 July 2017 the EU and Japan announced an agreement in principle on their Economic Partnership Agreement (“EPA“).  The scale of this agreement is eye-popping: once in effect the EPA will cover nearly 40 percent of all goods exports, 10 percent of the Earth’s population, and about 30 percent of global GDP.  The breadth of goods covered by the EPA will be similarly substantial and includes agricultural and food products, the forestry sector, industrial products, the automotive sector, electronics, and services.  While some tariffs, such as those on wine, will disappear from the moment the EPA enters into force, other tariffs – including those on imports of Japanese automobiles to Europe and imports of European chocolates to Japan – will disappear over a number of years.  The net effect will be to remove tariffs from 99 per cent of all goods traded between the EU and Japan with one study suggesting consequent increases in EU exports to Japan of 34% and Japanese exports to the EU of 29%. Continue reading

The European Court of Justice renders its opinion on the EU-Singapore free trade agreement: investment chapter is not within EU’s exclusive competence

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).

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CETA UPDATE: CETA is signed; Provisional application of CETA and Brexit; First government-to-government meeting to discuss establishing the multi-lateral investment court system

On 30 October 2016, the EU and Canada signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (the CETA).  As explained in our blog post here, the text of the CETA, which was originally agreed in 2014, was subjected to "legal scrubbing" in February 2016 which led to the inclusion, at the instigation of the EU, of an Investment Court System (an ICS) in place of the ad hoc investor-State arbitration provisions which had originally been included in CETA, and are included in roughly 3200 international investment agreements and other treaties. 

On 13 and 14 December 2016, the European Commission (the Commission) and the Canadian Government met in Geneva to engage in "exploratory discussions" with government representatives from around the world on the establishment of the multilateral ICS. It will have been the first meeting at government-to-government level on this initiative since the ICS was first proposed by the Commission in its Concept Paper of May 2015. For the multilateral ICS to succeed in the way envisioned by the Commission, broad global support will be required.

The CETA will be provisionally applied in advance of its ratification. However, as discussed below, provisional application will not extend to certain of the substantive investor protections, nor to the ICS. The exclusion of certain provisions from provisional application raises a number of questions as to how the agreement will operate in practice. 

Interestingly, whilst the UK has indicated that it intends to provisionally apply the CETA, the exclusion of the ICS from the provisional application has been described by the UK Government as its "main ask" of the EU in this context. The UK Government has also concluded that, even though CETA is being put forward as a "mixed agreement" and ratified by all the Member States, the UK will not automatically benefit from CETA's provisions after the UK leaves the EU.

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Trade Post-Brexit: What would a hard Brexit mean for international trade?

The UK’s vote to leave the EU brings with it the possibility of so-called 'hard Brexit'. Business needs to understand what Britain leaving the EU without a smooth transition to a new framework might mean for cross-border trade both within Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.

At the point when the British government announces its formal intention to exit the EU by triggering Article 50, a two-year countdown will begin to the UK leaving the EU. Understanding the various changes, analysing the risks they pose and working through potential solutions will all be essential to help firms position themselves to navigate the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

The peculiarity of the Article 50 process – with its two-year ticking clock – makes this preparatory work all the more urgent. If no alternative relationship or even temporary transitional arrangement were to be agreed between Britain and the EU before the two years run out, the EU treaties would cease to apply to the UK, with nothing to replace them. This has profound implications for both sides.

Herbert Smith Freehills has worked in collaboration with The Boston Consulting Group and Global Counsel to produce a report that considers the potential impact on trade in goods and services if the UK left the EU single market and the EU Customs Union without any new trade agreement in place.The report is designed to help business leaders understand and prepare for a sharp shift in the UK’s relationship with the EU: hard Brexit. Regardless of the eventual outcome, planning for a hard Brexit scenario provides businesses with a baseline to see most clearly the potential impact of the possible changes and to make corresponding plans of action.

Our conversations with business leaders suggest the mood is not necessarily one of negativity, but the scale of the potential change coupled with the lack of clarity as to how it might be effected leaves a lot of uncertainty in the short-to-medium term. Businesses are struggling to understand what Brexit would mean for them. Understanding hard Brexit is a good place to start.

‘We do not necessarily think that a hard Brexit is the most likely outcome of negotiations,’ says Lode Van Den Hende, a partner and international trade law specialist at Herbert Smith Freehills. ‘But planning for this scenario is the most effective way for businesses to compare their current position from within the EU single market with a counterfactual position in which the UK trades with the EU and the rest of the world on the basis of WTO rules. From this baseline, organisations can see most clearly the potential impact of the possible changes and make a corresponding plan of action.’

This report not only aims to help businesses understand the implications of a hard Brexit, but the role they may play in shaping that or an alternative outcome.

The report, produced by Herbert Smith Freehills, The Boston Consulting Group and Global Counsel contains expert contributions from Stephen Adams, Partner, Global Counsel, Pierre Mercier, Senior partner and managing director, The Boston Consulting Group, and Lode Van Den Hende, Partner, Herbert Smith Freehills.

Please follow this link to Herbert Smith Freehills' Brexit hub to download a copy of the report. 

Lode Van Den Hende
Lode Van Den Hende
Partner
+32 2 518 1831

EU trade agreement enters into effect with five southern African countries

On 10 June 2016 the EU signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the Southern Africa Development Community EPA Group comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland (the SADC EPA).

On 10 October 2016 that agreement entered into effect between the EU and five of those countries: with Mozambique in the process of ratifying the agreement and due to join immediately thereafter.

The SADC EPA represents the latest agreement in a scheme to create a free trade area between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).  Like previous EPAs, a key objective is to support the conditions for increasing investment and economic growth in the SADC EPA states. The EU is the SADC EPA Group’s largest trading partner. Export products from the SADC region include, notably, diamonds (from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia) as well as agricultural products, oil and metals. Manufactured goods, wine and food products are exported from South Africa, the largest EU trading partner in the region. EU imports to the SADC EPA Group include vehicles, machinery, electrical equipment, pharmaceuticals and processed food.

The key provisions of the SADC EPA are discussed below.

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