Update on the future of ISDS: the discussions within UNCITRAL Working Group III – no apparent consensus to date

After a number of years of public debate in a variety of fora, the discussion of the future development of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) has recently moved to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). UNCITRAL Working Group III (WGIII) has been given a broad mandate to identify concerns regarding ISDS, consider whether reform is desirable and, if so, develop relevant solutions to be recommended to UNCITRAL.

WGIII started its work in the 34th session which took place from 27 November to 1 December 2017. As discussed further below, a number of key points were discussed, including: (i) the duration and costs involved in the procedure; (ii) the allocation of costs; and (iii) transparency. There was also some preliminary consideration of possible developments or changes in relation to the treatment of these issues. The Report of the 34th session indicates that some states advocate a fact-based analysis of ISDS but others note the need to address wider public perceptions of ISDS, as these can raise concerns over the legitimacy of the system.

Bringing the debate about the future of ISDS under the auspices of UNCITRAL, involving high level government representatives from across the world, and also in view of the transparent nature of WGIII’s process, raises the stakes, and perhaps also the prospects, of a more systemic reform. However, whilst the forum has the potential to generate a multilateral plan for ISDS, it is hard to discern any broad consensus at this stage either on the nature of the perceived problems associated with the current system of ad hoc arbitration, or on how those problems may be resolved. This is apparent from the Report and also from the audio recordings (helpfully summarised by IA Reporter, here). The 35th session will take place on April 23 to April 27 2018, following which further clarity on these issues may emerge.

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Brexit—the future of state-to-state, investor-state and domestic dispute resolution

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.

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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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European Commission formally presents proposed Investment Chapter for TTIP to the US

Yesterday, 12 November, the EU formally presented its proposed language for the Investment Chapter of the TTIP to the US. As discussed in our earlier blog piece here, the EU is suggesting an "Investment Court System" to resolve disputes between investors and states under the TTIP.

The 12 November text is very similar to that seen in the previous draft, with a number of small changes. These changes include (but are not limited to):

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European Commission publishes draft investment chapter for the TTIP, including investment protection provisions and the establishment of an International Investment Court

On 16 September the European Commission published detailed draft proposals for the investment chapter in the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership treaty between the EU and the US (“TTIP”). The full text is available here. The chapter includes detailed investment protections and the establishment of an International Investment Court to resolve disputes under the TTIP. These proposals follow the Commission’s 5 May 2015 Concept Paper (discussed in our earlier blog here), which looked at reforming the ISDS system and proposed moving away from the current system of Investment Treaty arbitration.

The Commission has made it clear that this draft is for discussion and consideration within the EU before being put to the US as part of the TTIP text.

We explore and summarise below some of the key issues raised in the chapter.

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EU Commission issues “Concept Paper” on ISDS in the TTIP and beyond: proposals for “profound reform”

Further to its report on the outcome of the consultation on investment protection and investor-state dispute settlement in the TTIP, the EU Commission has issued a “Concept Paper” which envisages a very different future for resolution of investor-state disputes.

The Concept Paper builds on the four key areas which the Commission previously identified as requiring further consideration, explaining that there is opportunity for “profound reform” of the investment protection and ISDS systems. It also elaborates on the steps it has already taken in the EU-Canada FTA (the CETA) and the EU-Singapore FTA to improve the systems, and makes proposals which it considers will offer further progress towards its goal of protecting and encouraging investment without affecting the ability of the EU and its Member States to pursue policy objectives.

The Commission has proposed what it terms “concrete ideas” and a “concrete solution” (as summarised below). The Concept Paper is not binding and the Commission states that the content is without prejudice to its final position. However, the Concept Paper is a clear indication of the evolving thinking of the Commission in these areas. In particular, the Concept Paper contains two clear messages:

  • Despite the outcome of last year’s consultation and the apparent weight of opinion in the European Parliament, the Commission is not minded to remove substantive investment protections or investor-state arbitration from the TTIP.
  • The Commission envisages major changes in the future for ISDS which, if adopted in the TTIP and accepted more broadly in other free trade and investment agreements, would have significant implications for the way in which investors are able to protect their investments and resolve disputes with host states.

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