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.
In advance of the next meeting of UNCITRAL Working Group III (WG III) in April 2019, the European Union and its Member States have made a submission on “Establishing a standing mechanism for the settlement of international investment disputes” (the Submission), as well as a possible work plan for achieving this aim. As described in our blog post here, WG III has identified a number of concerns in relation to the resolution of investor-state disputes by ad hoc tribunals. In the Report of the 36th Session, WG III encouraged governments to submit proposals as to how the concerns about ISDS identified in the 36th Session should be addressed by way of reform.
The Submission advocates systemic structural change, proposing a two tier “standing mechanism” as “the only available option that effectively responds to all the concerns identified in the working Group” and “the only option that captures the intertwined nature of those concerns“. The features of the “standing mechanism” proposed in the Submission are unsurprising given the previously published views of the EU’s institutions, in particular the European Commission (the Commission). The rhetoric in the Submission differs from the previous articulations coming out of the EU institutions which refer overtly to an “investment court system“. However, the Commission’s news page makes clear that the “standing mechanism” described in the Submission is a “multilateral investment court“. In addition, whilst the Submission makes reference to “adjudicators” rather than judges, the characteristics of the “adjudicators” are those described in the EU’s previous papers on this topic (see here).
The Commission has historically been the flag-bearer for the EU’s reform of ISDS. In the Submission however, it is emphasised that the proposal represents the views of the EU “and its Member States“. This proposition may be tested if the proposed standing mechanism ultimately finds support: further to CJEU Opinion 2/15 on the European Union–Singapore Free Trade Agreement (FTA) on May 16, 2017, the instrument establishing a standing mechanism will need to be ratified by each of the Member States.
The Tribunal in Gabriel Resources v Romania recently issued an order (the Order) in response to an application (the Application) made by three Romanian NGOs, as non-disputing parties, for participation and an amicus submission (the Submission) in an ICSID arbitration under the Canada-Romania BIT (the BIT). Gabriel Resources’ allegations of breach of the BIT arise in relation to a proposed open pit mining development in Roşia Montană, Romania (the Project) which was not implemented.
The Tribunal granted the Application in part, admitting only certain sections of the Submission to the extent that they referred to factual issues within the specific knowledge of the Applicants and in relation to the interests which the Applicants claim to be protected. However, the Tribunal denied admission to arguments on the law, as well as references to or reliance on testimonies which could not be tested by cross-examination. The Tribunal also rejected the NGOs’ request to attend and participate in the oral hearing.
The Tribunal’s analysis of the conditions relevant to an application by non-disputing parties – and its approach of considering each section of the Submission in relation to those conditions (rather than the Submission as a whole) – provides a significant contribution to jurisprudence in this area. The application in Gabriel Resources is also consistent with a general increase in such third party interventions, particularly in disputes which touch on issues of public interest, such as environmental protection, public health measures, labour standards, cultural rights and/or human rights. Such a trend is likely to continue with civil society becoming more active in this context.
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
The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (“UNCITRAL“) has been considering the possible reform of investor-state dispute settlement (“ISDS“). UNCITRAL Working Group III (“WGIII“) has been given a broad mandate to identify concerns regarding ISDS procedure, consider whether reform is desirable, and, if so, develop relevant solutions to be recommended to the main UNCITRAL body (see our previous blog post here and article (issue 5, page 38) here). While WGIII enjoys broad discretion in discharging its mandate, any solutions devised will take into account the ongoing work of relevant international organisations, and each State may decide the extent to which it chooses to adopt the proposed solutions.
In the recent 36th session of WGIII, it was agreed that reform was desirable in at least three areas: (i) inconsistency and incorrectness of arbitral rulings; (ii) concerns about arbitrators and decision-makers; and (iii) the cost and duration of ISDS. However, the precise type of reform remains to be decided. Some States (and the EU) are advocating systemic reform while others propose a more nuanced approach, fixing perceived problems within the framework of the existing system.
Whilst WGIII’s mandate is limited to the procedural aspects of ISDS, changes to the way in which investor-state disputes are resolved may affect the value investors place on the substantive protections in investment treaties as a way of mitigating risks connected with foreign investment. Continue reading
In Ukraine v The Law Debenture Trust Corporation plc  EWCA Civ 2026 the English Court of Appeal (the Court) partially upheld an appeal in favour of the state of Ukraine (Ukraine), reversing in part the summary judgment granted to The Law Debenture Trust Corporation plc (the Claimant) by the Commercial Court.
The Claimant brought the claim as the trustee of notes with a nominal value of US$3 billion (the Notes) after Ukraine defaulted on the payment of principal and the final instalment of interest. The sole subscriber of the Notes was the Russian Federation (Russia).
In allowing the appeal in part, the Court found that there was a good arguable case that the public policy exception applied to the foreign act of state doctrine and that Ukraine’s defence of duress – based on allegations of breaches of ius cogens norms of international law and treaty provisions by Russia – was therefore justiciable.
At a critical time in the Brexit negotiations, in the latest podcast on the Herbert Smith Freehills Podcast channel, Andrew Cannon and Hannah Ambrose discuss dispute resolution between the UK and the EU. They look at the way in which the withdrawal agreement may be enforced, including the possible role of the CJEU, as well as considering how disputes may be resolved in the event of “no deal”.
Andrew and Hannah consider both the common ground and the important gaps between the EU’s and the UK’s proposals for dispute resolution. In particular, they consider the possibility of seeking political resolution before a joint committee, and discuss the limited but apparently agreed role of the CJEU in enforcing the financial settlement. They also address the proposals for mitigation of harm in the event that one side breaches the withdrawal agreement, including financial penalties and suspension of treaty rights and obligations.
Andrew and Hannah also reflect on other state to state dispute resolution procedures which may be palatable to both sides, including the use of arbitration and EFTA docking, as well as explaining why the International Court of Justice is not the right body to enforce the withdrawal agreement.
Moving on to a possible no-deal scenario, Andrew and Hannah contemplate the possibility of disputes about how much the UK is obliged to pay and when. They look at the role of the WTO dispute resolution framework in determining trade disputes, pointing out its restricted remit in the broader context of EU/UK relations, and consider whether individual Member States may have a role in seeking to enforce the UK’s international law obligations.
The podcast can be accessed here: https://soundcloud.com/herbert-smith-freehills/brexit-ep5
Our podcasts are available on iTunes, Spotify and SoundCloud and can be accessed on all devices. You can subscribe and be notified of all future episodes.
For further information, please contact Andrew Cannon, Partner, Hannah Ambrose, Senior Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.
The English Court (the “Court“) has dismissed an application by Ukraine to set aside a court order permitting Russian investor, PAO Tatneft, to enforce an arbitral award against Ukraine. Ukraine argued that it was immune from the Court’s jurisdiction by virtue of the State Immunity Act 1978. The Court found that Ukraine had not waived its right to rely on state immunity arguments, despite not having raising them in the arbitration. However, it found that Ukraine had agreed to submit the disputes in question to arbitration under the Russia-Ukraine Bilateral Investment Treaty (the “BIT“) and was therefore not immune from proceedings in connection with the arbitration by virtue of s9(1) of the State Immunity Act 1978 (“SIA“).
In the decision of Reliance Industries Limited & Ors v The Union of India  EWHC 822 (Comm) the English Commercial Court (the Court) considered a number of challenges to an arbitration award brought under sections 67, 68 and 69 of the Arbitration Act 1996 (the 1996 Act). In relation to certain of the challenges made under sections 67 and 68, the Court considered the doctrine of foreign act of state. The Court found that aspects of the doctrine are no less applicable to arbitration proceedings than litigation. It also held, obiter, that where parties including a foreign state ask a tribunal to determine the validity of that foreign state’s act, there can be no objection to the tribunal doing so. Also obiter, the Court considered that a failure to raise act of state in objection to the determination of an issue which has been put to the tribunal, could constitute a waiver of that right to object.
The judgment provides some helpful clarification on the applicability of the foreign act of state doctrine to arbitration and may be of considerable significance to parties which contract with sovereign counterparts.
The Court also considered challenges to the Award under the 1996 Act on various other bases and, in doing so, reiterated the English court’s reluctance to interfere with decisions of arbitral tribunals. A separate blog post on these other aspects of the judgment can be found here.
The White Paper published yesterday, “The Future Relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union”, includes the UK Government’s proposal for the resolution of disputes between the UK and the EU under what the UK Government views as an “Association Agreement”. This Association Agreement would form the institutional framework for the relationship, with a number of separate agreements (the majority falling within this institutional framework), each covering different elements of economic, security and cross-cutting cooperation.
Under the institutional framework there would be a UK-EU Governing Body, and under that Governing Body and answerable to it, a Joint Committee which would be responsible for the effective and efficient administration of the agreements. The Joint Committee, “through regular and structured dialogue”, would seek to prevent disputes arising, or otherwise play a role in resolving them.
The White Paper emphasises the potential for resolution of disputes through dialogue and non-formal means. However, it also outlines a potential dispute resolution process to ensure that the obligations contained in the institutional framework and agreements can be enforced if needed.