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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North American trade and investment developments: No new NAFTA (for now), and Mexico signs the ICSID Convention

One month into 2018, the future of NAFTA continues to hang in the balance. The negotiating parties will reportedly convene in Ottawa for the sixth of seven planned negotiating sessions from January 23 – 29th.[1] The parties initially hoped to conclude the negotiations before the end of 2017, but US President Donald Trump indicated on January 11, 2018 that there was “no rush” in the negotiations.[2] In the same interview, Mr. Trump said that it may be difficult to reach an agreement before the July 1, 2018 federal election in Mexico, suggesting that the negotiations may continue for months. The parties’ agreement to keep the negotiations confidential[3] means that few concrete details about the negotiating texts and parties’ proposals have been made public.

For more analysis of the NAFTA renegotiations, see our previous updates:

August 7, 2017 – NAFTA renegotiation: ISDS reform objectives

August 16, 2017 – What to watch for as NAFTA (re)negotiators get to work

August 24, 2017 – A warning shot for Investor-State Dispute Settlement under NAFTA 2.0?

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A Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

Key points

  1. The ministers responsible for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) of 11 countries have announced that the core elements of a Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership are agreed (CPTPP). While much of the original TPP looks to remain intact, 20 provisions of the TPP are suspended, in particular with respect to Investor–State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) disputes for initial approvals of investments and financial services. There are also 4 items to be finalised by the Parties’ consensus.
  2. The final impact of these changes can only be determined after the release of the full text. Current indications are that the differences will not significantly change the shape of ISDS under the TPP. Investors making investments into these 11 countries will still want to proactively consider how to take advantage of the protections given by this agreement if it comes into force.
  3. This is a significant step forward to implementing a mega-regional agreement for the Asia-Pacific region, which substantially is the form rejected by the United States early this year.

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A warning shot for investor-state dispute settlement under NAFTA 2.0?

The US Trade Representative (USTR) is reportedly finalizing a proposal to dramatically restructure NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, transforming it into an “opt-in” regime under which each NAFTA state would elect whether or not to permit investors of other NAFTA parties to bring claims directly against it.[1] The proposal apparently remains under discussion within the US administration, and has not yet been formally communicated to Canada and Mexico.

The ambition of this reported proposal, which would fundamentally reshape investor protection under NAFTA, far exceeds what the US administration had tabled in advance of the negotiations.[2]

Developed states may have historically viewed the submission to arbitral jurisdiction to resolve disputes with certain investors under investment treaties and free trade agreements primarily as a benefit for their own investors going abroad, rather than as a potential source of liability. However, that appears to be changing with the tides of global investment flows, and as developed states have increasingly been the respondents in investor-state arbitration. US Trade Representative Lighthizer has echoed this criticism, saying that he is “troubled by the fact that nonelected non-Americans can make the final decision that the United States law is invalid“, as the US has committed itself in numerous bilateral and multilateral international agreements, including NAFTA.[3]

This is not the first time that investor-state arbitration, which has the potential to hold states accountable for measures taken in violation of their international obligations, has come under fire. In recent international practice, states have explored alternatives to the investor-state arbitration mechanism. For example, the recently concluded Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (“CETA“) instead adopted an international investment tribunal featuring a regularized 15-person membership and limited appellate procedures, among other innovations.

While the EU has sharply broken with past practice on ISDS mechanisms, the US recently supported including investor-state arbitration in the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the contemplated US-EU Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). ISDS has lost favor among some governments and other stakeholders, but remains popular among influential groups; for example, in advance of the NAFTA renegotiations, the National Association of Manufacturers, which includes many businesses with investments in cross-border supply chains, mobilized to lobby in favor of maintaining NAFTA’s investor-state arbitration mechanisms.[4] The USTR proposal will likely generate significant controversy, as some stakeholders will think it goes too far to strip protections for international investors, while others would prefer the wholesale abandonment of ISDS.

It is, of course, too soon to attempt to draw far-reaching conclusions about the USTR’s reported proposal, but it does appear to signal a significant shift in US policy. Businesses with global supply chains and international investments should closely follow the NAFTA renegotiations, as a move by the US away from ISDS may signal the emergence of serious cracks in the foundations of investment protection under international law.

 

This is part 2 of our ongoing series concerning the future of NAFTA. Round one of the NAFTA renegotiations ended Sunday, August 20, 2017, after which the negotiating parties issued a trilateral statement reaffirming their intentions to continue at a rapid pace. Round two of the talks will take place in Mexico from September 1-5, before moving to Canada for round three from September 23-27.

For more context, see our previous posts:

 

 

If you have specific questions about how the NAFTA renegotiations may affect your business, please contact Christian Leathley, Partner, Timothy Hughes, Associate, or your usual Herbert Smith Freehills contact.

Christian Leathley
Christian Leathley
Partner
+1 (917) 542 7812
Timothy Hughes
Timothy Hughes
Associate
+1 (917) 542 7836

 

 

[1] http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/08/22/u-s-bid-to-exit-nafta-arbitration-panels-draws-ire-from-businesses.html

[2] In the objectives released by the US Trade Representative on July 17, 2017, the administration signaled a more modest agenda in relation to NAFTA’s ISDS mechanisms, including measures to improve transparency and expanded opportunities for non-parties to make submissions in a dispute.

[3] http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/08/22/u-s-bid-to-exit-nafta-arbitration-panels-draws-ire-from-businesses.html

[4] https://www.law360.com/articles/952633/biz-groups-mobilize-to-maintain-nafta-investment-arbitration

 

What to watch for as NAFTA (re)negotiators get to work

On August 16, 2017, trade representatives of the United States, Mexico and Canada will convene in Washington, DC for the first of seven scheduled rounds of negotiations in relation to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The negotiations have been covered extensively in national and international media and, given the scope of the interests at stake, we expect that coverage to only intensify.

To provide practical insights to stakeholders in key industries, we have focused this update on the context of the negotiations, the interests and objectives laid out by the states in advance of the talks, and our strategic view of what interested observers should watch for. We will periodically publish sector-focused insights as the negotiations develop. Continue reading

Herbert Smith Freehills’ Response to EU Consultation: the Future of Investor-State Dispute Settlement

As discussed in our blog post here, on 21 December 2016 the EU Commission launched a public consultation on the multilateral reform of the investment dispute settlement system. The consultation closed on 15 March 2017 with a full report of the responses anticipated later this year. Herbert Smith Freehills has submitted a position paper to the Commission in response to the consultation.

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The future of ISDS in the EU: leaked non-paper reveals proposal for EU-wide investment agreement

In a recently leaked non-paper presented to the EU Council's Trade Policy Committee (available here), Austria, Finland, France, Germany and the Netherlands (the "Delegations") have proposed the introduction of an EU-wide investor-state dispute settlement ("ISDS") mechanism.  The proposal is an interesting development in the continuing debate surrounding the future of ISDS in the EU and the wider disputes over the relative merits of investor protection, most prominently in the context of negotiation of the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement ("CETA") and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership ("TTIP").  Although the proposal has no legal effect and will not impact any current arbitral proceedings under intra-EU bilateral investment treaties ("BITs"), the non-paper nonetheless offers a valuable insight into the views of the Delegations on ISDS and adds another voice to the debate on the future of investor protection in the EU.

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Arbitration and intra-EU BITs – German Bundesgerichtshof weighs in on the discussion

In its decision of 3 March 2016 (I ZB 2/15), published on 11 May 2016, the German Federal Court of Justice ("BGH") announced that it would request the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") to make a preliminary ruling on the validity of arbitration agreements concluded under intra-EU bilateral investment treaties pursuant to Art. 267 TFEU. While this decision takes the underlying investor state dispute to yet another level, the BGH's request for preliminary ruling by the CJEU bears the potential of becoming a turning point in the history of investor state dispute settlement in that it forces the CJEU to rule on the relationship between EU law and international investment law.

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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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