Does ISDS Promote FDI? Asia-Pacific Insights from and for Australia and India – Luke Nottage & Jaivir Singh

Treaty-based Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) keeps attracting media attention. An example is a social media campaign by the ‘GetUp!’ group, which aims generally ‘to build a progressive Australia and bring participation back into our democracy’, objecting to ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This free trade agreement (FTA), signed in February 2016, encompasses Australia and 11 other Asia-Pacific economies generating around 40% of world GDP. Whether and how the TPP will be ratified and come into force has become very uncertain anyway, after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump in US presidential elections. Although Trump seems already to be backtracking on some of his pre-election positions, he had been opposed to the US ratifying the TPP and indeed favoured renegotiation of the longstanding North American FTA with Canada and Mexico. Both FTAs include the option of ISDS, allowing foreign investors to bring direct claims against host states for violating substantive commitments such as non-discrimination or adequate compensation for expropriation.

Nonetheless, taking advantage of the extra uncertainty now surrounding the TPP, China is already trying to get Australia’s support to progress negotiations for a broader FTA, establishing a “Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific” (FTAAP). China had been pressing for a FTAAP as it had not been included in TPP negotiations. After the TPP was signed, China had also tried to accelerate negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP or ASEAN+6) FTA, underway since late 2012 and involving ten Southeast Asian states along with China, Japan, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand. Ministerial statements and a leaked draft Investment Chapter indicate that ISDS provisions remain on the negotiating agenda for RCEP (Kawharu, Amokura and Nottage, Luke R., Models for Investment Treaties in the Asian Region: An Underview, 2016).

Public opposition to ISDS therefore remains an important issue, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Legal professionals need to engage with this debate and understand the pros and cons of this dispute resolution procedure, especially the investor-state arbitration mechanism. On the one hand, the GetUp! Campaign against the TPP had focused on the risk of Australia being subject to ISDS claims especially from US investors, in light of their claims against Canada under the North American FTA. Yet damages awarded by arbitrators or through settlements amount to only 0.05% of US FDI in Canada, and the latter’s investors bring more ISDS claims per capita than US investors.

On the other hand, the GetUp! campaign did not adequately explain or consider why and how ISDS commitments are made. Host states have increasingly offered such protection to foreign investors in investment treaties since the 1970s. Bilateral investment treaties (BITs) proliferated especially as communist states began to open up their economies from the 1990s. Bilateral and regional FTAs, usually with investment chapters also containing ISDS protections, were concluded after the collapse of efforts to develop a multilateral investment agreement through the World Trade Organization (WTO) and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The extra option of treaty-based ISDS was seen as a more direct and less politicized procedure compared to inter-state dispute settlement. The latter is still typically provided in investment treaties (but hardly ever used), as well as for trade disputes under the WTO (where, for example, Australia has only been complainant in seven cases – last in 2003). Credible commitments through ISDS-backed treaties were seen as particularly important for developing countries where domestic courts and legal protections did not meet international standards.

Yet ISDS has recently become a lightning rod for public opposition to FTAs (and economic globalization more generally), often after host states are subjected to their investment treaty claims (Nottage, Luke R., Rebalancing Investment Treaties and Investor-State Arbitration: Two Approaches,, 2016). For example, major debate emerged in India after Australia’s White Industries won a claim in 2011 under UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules as provided by the BIT with India (signed with Australia in 1999). The tribunal found that India had not satisfied the promised “effective means” for the investor to enforce a commercial arbitration award (against an Indian SOE). This and subsequent claims prompted the Indian government to finalise a revised (less pro-investor) Model BIT in December 2015 It is now being used in negotiating new BITs (eg that signed with Cambodia in 2016) and indeed when proposing to terminate older-generation treaties (including with Australia).

Similarly, Philip Morris Asia’s much larger claim initiated in 2011 under a BIT signed in 1993 with Hong Kong, for alleged expropriation of trademarks from Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation, led to escalating local media coverage – until the arbitral tribunal rejected jurisdiction in 2015 (Hepburn, Jarrod and Nottage, Luke R., Case Note: Philip Morris Asia v Australia, 2016). This cause celebre also became a factor behind the Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement announcing in 2011 a major shift for Australia: eschewing ISDS in new treaties, even with developing countries (Nottage, Luke R., The Rise and Possible Fall of Investor-State Arbitration in Asia: A Skeptic’s View of Australia’s ‘Gillard Government Trade Policy Statement’, 2011). This resulted in no significant FTAs being concluded, until a new Coalition Government gained power in late 2014 and reverted to including ISDS on a case-by-case assessment (Nottage, Luke R., Investor-State Arbitration Policy and Practice in Australia, 2016). The current Labor Opposition maintains its objections to ISDS, creating difficulties for Australia to ratify the TPP.

Australia’s temporary shift was partly due to politics: in 2011 the (centre-left) Gillard Labor Government was in coalition with the Greens, who are even more opposed to free trade and investment. But the stance also relied on arguments from some economists, even though they instead favour more free trade and foreign investment, albeit through unilateral or perhaps multilateral initiatives rather than bilateral or even regional FTAs. Developing the latter perspective , a majority report of the Productivity Commission in 2010 into Australia’s FTAs had argued against the common world-wide practice of offering foreign investors extra procedural rights such as ISDS. It did concede that such extra rights might be justified, for example if they led to greater cross-border flows in foreign direct investment (FDI). Yet the Commission pointed to a few studies suggesting that, on an aggregate (world-wide) basis, ISDS-backed treaty provisions had not significantly increased flows.

A recent econometric study by Luke Nottage (a co-author of this posting) with Shiro Armstrong casts doubt on that observation (Armstrong, Shiro Patrick and Nottage, Luke R., The Impact of Investment Treaties and ISDS Provisions on Foreign Direct Investment: A Baseline Econometric Analysis, 2016. After an extensive review of existing empirical research and associated methodological issues, their study instead found positive and significant impacts from ISDS provisions on FDI outflows from OECD countries over 1985-2014, using a Knowledge-Capital Model with a dynamic panel indicator (effectively addressing the problem of endogeneity in variables). This impact on FDI could be found from ISDS provisions on their own, especially when ISDS was included in treaties signed or promptly ratified with non-OECD or less developed countries. The econometric study by Armstrong and Nottage also found a positive and significant impact from ISDS provisions when combined with the Most-Favoured-Nation provision, which is a key and indicative substantive treaty commitment for foreign investors. (This aspect was tested because the “strength” of treaties can vary in terms of substantive commitments by host states: we might not expect much impact on FDI even from ISDS provisions if the substantive protections and liberalisation commitments are few.)

Counter-intuitively, however, the study found that in general FDI impact was even larger for weaker-form ISDS provisions. This could be due to investors historically having been impressed by a broader “signaling” effect from states concluding investment treaties. Yet the impact from ISDS provisions also seems to be diminishing since 2001, when ISDS claims started to pick up world-wide and therefore investors (or at least legal advisors) could have begun to pay more attention to the details of ISDS and other treaty provisions. Reduced impact since 2001 may be related to more efforts from host states to unilaterally liberalise and encourage FDI. However, it could also be due to a saturation effect (as treaties began to be concluded with less economically important partner states), or indeed due to less pro-investor provisions being incorporated into investment treaties (influenced by more recent US practice, partly in response to ISDS claims (Alschner, Wolfgang and Skougarevskiy, Dmitriy, Mapping the Universe of International Investment Agreements, 2016.

Further variables impacting on FDI (such as double-tax treaties) could be investigated, as can regional differences. Data limitations also remain, as there is now considerable FDI outflow from non-OECD countries. Nonetheless, this baseline study suggests that it has been and still may be risky to eschew ISDS provisions altogether. In particular, results indicate a strong positive effect on FDI flows from ratified investment treaties overall even from 2001. So states would have missed out on that if they had insisted on omitting ISDS, and this then became a deal-breaker for counterparty states.

Further econometric research underway at a Delhi-based thinktank suggests that India was correct not to abandon ISDS provisions altogether in its revised Model BIT (and to retreat from an even less pro-investor earlier draft of the Model BIT. While this study by Jaivir Singh (one of the co-authors of this posting) and his colleagues is still ongoing, preliminary results (using instead a gravity-type model) find that although the signing of individual BITs had an insignificant impact on FDI inflows into India, the cumulative effect of signing BITs is significant and so is the coefficient associated with the signing of FTAs. Since almost all of India’s investment treaties provide for full ISDS protections, these preliminary results suggest that ISDS can have a positive influence on foreign investment, albeit in a non-obvious compound manner.

Overall, these studies suggest that ISDS-backed treaty provisions liberalising and protecting FDI have had a significant impact, but in complex and evolving ways. Agreeing to dialed-back ISDS provisions and even substantive commitments (perhaps following recent EU preferences may be an acceptable way forward. This is true especially for Australia and India, as they continue negotiations bilaterally as well as through RCEP, and perhaps eventually for the FTAAP FTA.

Luke Nottage is Professor at University of Sydney Law School & Jaivir Singh is Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

This post draws on Nottage’s joint project researching international investment dispute management, funded by the Australian Research Council (DP140102526, 2014-7); and Singh’s ongoing project assessing the impact of investment treaties on FDI in India, for the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. Singh was a visitor at the University of Sydney in October 2016. The article was first published by the Asia-Pacific Forum for International Arbitration, and republished here with permission.

Lord Goldsmith talks to ACICA audience about Brexit and arbitration – Marina Kofman

On 24 October 2016, Lord Goldsmith addressed an ACICA audience in Sydney about Brexit and arbitration. He set the Brexit scene: Theresa May is still tight-lipped about the nature of Brexit, following a Brexit campaign characterised by a lack of clarity on what Brexit would actually mean. Uncertainty abounds, except for in one aspect: indications are that negotiations will not be easy. The EU has made it clear to the UK that there will be ‘no negotiation without notification.’

First things first – the constitutional challenge: May plans to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty next year but does she have the authority to do that under the royal prerogative? This issue is being hotly debated and is currently being tried in the London Courts. On 3 November 2016, the High Court delivered judgment finding that Article 50 could not be invoked without an Act of Parliament. Arrangements are in place for an expedited appeal straight to the UK Supreme Court and that case will be heard by December. Consequences for the UK and EU will be massive. Much of that is only dimly seen right now.

Impact on London arbitration

The thesis of Lord Goldsmith’s talk was that Brexit will not lead to a diminution of the merits or popularity of London as a seat of arbitration, nor damage the popularity of English law as the commercial law of choice for many international transactions. Why is this the case?

At the centenary conference of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) in London last year, the CIArb published a list of ten features necessary to make for a safe, effective and successful seat of arbitration. These features are: (1) a clear arbitration law; (2) an independent judiciary; (3) legal expertise; (4) education; (5) the right of choice in representation; (6) accessibility and safety of the seat; (7) facilities; (8) professional ethics that embrace diversity of traditions; (9) enforceability; and (10) arbitrator immunity. London meets all of these requirements, none of which depend on UK membership of the EU. There is, therefore, no reason to believe that London will diminish in popularity as a seat of arbitration. Lord Goldsmith opined that despite the growth of arbitration and arbitral institutions in Asia, Brexit will not spark a ‘land grab’ for traditionally London-based work by other arbitration centres.

Potential opportunities

In addition to the challenges presented by Brexit, there are certain opportunities. First, there may be a substantive disentanglement of English law and EU law. European law has coloured English law, so if EU regulations no longer apply then English common law may see a resurgence. Secondly, the determination of jurisdictional issues in court cases may end up vastly different should the UK go down the path of abandoning the Brussels Regulation regime and return to common law forum non conveniens principles. The current regime means a UK commercial court can be seized of a matter in circumstances where it is not necessarily the most appropriate forum, but then have limited ways to decline jurisdiction. Right now though, it is uncertain what will happen in terms of UK court judgments until we know more about how the UK will proceed in relation to its private international law framework with respect to the EU. This might push some users towards arbitration, which has a reliable enforcement regime under the New York Convention. Another advantage of Brexit might be that UK courts will again be able to issue anti-suit injunctions directed at European courts. UK courts once commonly issued anti-suit injunctions to prevent proceedings brought in breach of arbitration agreements. This was, however, put to an end in 2004 when the European Court of Justice held that the practice was incompatible with the Brussels Convention.

Thirdly, Brexit might influence the debate about investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS). The EU has proposed an ‘Investment Court System’, a permanent investment court with an appeals process for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The competence for negotiating EU treaties currently rests with the EU, and the EU has been firm that the UK is not free to negotiate its own treaties whilst it remains in the EU. The question is, would being freed from the EU give the UK a negotiating advantage? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, it is plausible even if the USA agrees to the an investment court system that it will still opt for conventional ISDS mechanisms in its other trade deals, in which case we might not see the inexorable rise of the Investment Court System. The UK’s decision to opt for one model or the other will influence the course of the debate particularly as the UK will become one of the more active trade negotiating countries over the coming years.

In his concluding remarks, Lord Goldsmith stated that it may now be time for Australia and the UK to grow a new and invigorated cooperation in the field of common law. This is also the time for lawyers to examine closely the opportunities for collaboration in training, development of the law and finding better ways to serve clients.

Marina Kofman is Assistant Editor of the ILA Reporter. A version of this article was originally written for and published by ACICA. It is partially reproduced here with permission.

The Implications of Trump Denouncing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – Leon Trakman

President- elect Donald Trump’s announcement on Tuesday 22 November 2016 that the US will not ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is not a surprise.  He had stated that he would do as such throughout the presidential campaign, as had his democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

His formal announcement is that the state parties to the TPP, including Australia, will revert to the position they had been in before the TPP was negotiated, seven years ago.

For now, there is no doubt that the TPP’s demise will disappoint the expectations of some TPP states, such as Japan, itself a late party that has strongly endorsed it.  Developing countries like Vietnam that stood to benefit disproportionately from its ratification will also be disappointed.

However, President-elect Trump’s announcement is unlikely to throw transpacific economies into turmoil, not only because his position was fully expected, but because the perceived benefit of the TPP for regional trade has been hotly debated and denounced by various labour, environmental, health and consumer lobby groups, among others, from its inception.

President-elect Trump’s announcement nevertheless has strategic importance, particularly in asserting that the US will negotiate bilateral trade agreements that best suit US interests in place of the TPP.  This statement is vague at best and wholly unsubstantiated.  First, it amounts to little more than a broad aspiration in the absence of verification.  Second, it does not stem from prior strategic planning by key US authorities.  In fact, President-elect Trump has opined as much before appointing a Secretary of Commerce or a US Trade Representative.  It is difficult to conceive of how replacing the world’s largest regional trade agreement with a series of bilateral trade agreements could be seriously contemplated without the serious consideration of such trade authorities. Third, as a practical matter, negotiating bilateral agreements take time, as Britain is likely to learn post-Brexit; and until they are negotiated, trade barriers are likely to continue.  Fourth, there is no assurance that the US will do better in negotiating bilateral trade agreements than under a ratified TPP.  States may run for cover from such bilateralism fearing that a pro-US trade deal will be too expensive to sustain, even though the US remains the world’s largest trade importer.  Fifth, the US already has bilateral trade agreements with a number of transpacific countries, including its 2004 US-Australia Free Trade Agreement.  Therefore, in many cases, no new bilateral treaties will eventuate in the absence of real economic impetus to negotiate them.

Importantly, the US withdrawal from the TPP, which excludes China, may provide China with even greater opportunity to conclude regional trade partnerships that exclude the US, such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to which Australia is also a party.

Trump’s rejection of the TPP nevertheless has important economic consequences.  The TPP is particularly attractive to member states as a prototype treaty directed at reducing and then eliminating trade barriers, including costly import and export duties.  In contrast, the RCEP does not replicate that resolve, making it less attractive economically to countries like Australia seeking access to foreign markets.

If the US is to remain the primary player in defining global trade, the result of Trump’s assertion is likely to be a reluctance of states to reduce or eliminate trade barriers in bilateral trade agreements.

If President-elect Trump’s declaration against the TPP has legs to stand on, it is likely to undermine trade liberalisation more generally; and that result, feared by macro-economists, is potentially the most troubling.

Professor Trakman is a Barrister, Professor of Law and Former Dean at the University of New South Wales

The Champagne Problems of the Paris Agreement – Josh Sheppard

 

Introduction

On 4 November 2016, the Paris Agreement came into force, just under a year after it was concluded and signed. Coming into force earlier than expected, the First Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (“CMA1”) has been hastily organised to coincide with the twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (“COP22”). This article will address two critical questions regarding CMA1 and COP22: what is left for discussion after last year’s historic result, and how will the earlier-than-expected CMA1 affect negotiations?

 

The Detail

Whereas the 21st Conference of the Parties (“COP21”) was primarily concerned with the broad mechanisms of international climate cooperation – limiting global warming to 2°C, with an aspirational limit of 1.5°C and mandating that greenhouse gas emissions peak by the second half of the 21st Century – COP22/CMA1 will focus on the practical details of how these mechanisms will work and goals achieved.

 

Nationally Determined Contributions 

Some of the key negotiations will centre around the Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDCs”), which outline each country’s intended emissions reductions. Successive NDCs must contain greater emissions reductions and must reflect each party’s “highest possible ambition”. Decisions are scheduled to be made about the features of NDCs, how NDCs can be communicated in ways that aid clarity, transparency, and understanding, and what guidance should be given regarding accounting for NDCs so that there is consistency between communication and implementation. The depth of what remains unknown surrounding the practical operation of the NDCs is evident through analysis of the different debates currently taking place, particularly regarding timing and accounting practices.

 

  1. Timing

NDCs are due every five years (Art. 4(9)), although the exact timeframe is to be determined by the Parties: Art. 4(10). India has suggested that developing countries should not have to submit NDCs every five years. This submission may fuel debate in respect of how far the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” extends, especially given that the Agreement explicitly refers to a five-year timeframe.

 

  1. Accounting

Accounting rules for determining emissions reductions illustrate further contrasts in the approaches adopted between developed and developing country Parties. The power of such rules has been demonstrated by Australia, infamously taking advantage of a rule that allowed for the crediting of good past performance under the initial Kyoto Protocol period to meet its current 2020 target, despite emissions actually being projected to increase by the end of the target period.

 

Some countries are seeking to avoid a rigid accounting system, with China advancing the following proposal:

[D]eveloped country Parties should take the lead in applying the guidance for accounting” [while] developing country Parties should be allowed to choose … the sectors and gases covered in their NDCs and specific methodologies on accounting”.

 

Iran and India, too, stress the different responsibilities for developed and developing countries in communicating NDCs, both specifically suggesting that the latter should not have to report on land use.

 

Demonstrating these rules’ critical importance to an effective Paris Agreement, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) has made several comments regarding the accounting practices employed by Parties in their intended NDCs. Inconsistent reporting on land use between parties and the failure to provide information on assumptions and methods used to account for those emissions are obstacles to evaluating the entire effect of the actions outlined in the NDCs. Meanwhile, Costa Rica (on behalf of a coalition of Latin American countries) and Japan have requested that NDCs more clearly outline which emissions reductions are unconditional and conditional. These concerns, along with the differing application of agreed accounting standards justified by “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” may see confidence in the NDC system decline and the Agreement unravel, if left unaddressed.

 

The dilemmas posed by the unanticipated swiftness of the Paris Agreement

Entering into force faster than most commentators expected, the Paris Agreement’s swift adoption has also created a headache for administrators and diplomats. Those who have not yet ratified the Agreement are technically not allowed to participate in the Meeting. The Climate Institute have highlighted the importance of allowing those who have not yet ratified the Agreement to participate in these processes, especially as many of these countries may have legitimate reasons for not yet having ratified the Agreement. Meanwhile, guidance that is supposed to be provided by sub-committees and working groups to CMA1 remains unfinished, the process of creating such advice having only begun this year. Therefore, many of the decisions that CMA1 was scheduled to make under the decision of COP21 are not yet ready to be made.

 

The World Resources Institute points out that this ought to be easily resolved, as COP22 can simply adopt new timeframes that accord with the early entry into force of the Agreement. However, the Paris Agreement contains reference to decisions being made at its first meeting, including the determination of common timeframes for NDCs. As this is in the treaty text, it is more difficult to amend the requirement for decisions to be made.

 

The Climate Institute posits that COP22 must formally create a method by which these practicalities can continue to be discussed and determined until the end of 2018. The World Resources Institute suggests that one possible solution is the suspension of CMA1 until agreed, providing the example of COP6’s suspension for seven months after the Conference was first opened. This appears to be the most likely solution.

 

Conclusion 

COP22, as CMA1 or its potential starting point, is where the difficult work begins in ensuring that emissions are reduced in a manner consistent with the Paris Agreement. The early entry into force of the Paris Agreement has, perhaps ironically, made this difficult work all the more complicated. It will likely mean the delay of important decisions to allow for expert guidance, the opportunity for Parties to put their views, and ratification by most, if not all, Parties. To resolve these issues, countries will have to draw further on that same cooperative spirit that facilitated the swift and unanimous adoption of the Paris Agreement.

 

Josh Sheppard is Assistant Editor of the ILA Reporter.

Common Article 1: A Lynchpin in the System to Ensure Respect for International Humanitarian Law – Jean-Marie Henckaerts

In March, the ICRC released an updated Commentary on the First Geneva Convention of 1949.  This is the first instalment of six new commentaries aimed at bringing the interpretation of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols of 1977 to the 21st century.  In this blog mini-series co-hosted with the ICRC, three authors will share their perspective on some of the fundamental obligations enshrined in the Geneva Conventions and the evolution of the application and interpretation of these important provisions. 

Jean-Marie Henckaerts, ICRC’s Head of the Commentaries Update project, kicks off the mini-series with an examination of why the commitment by States to respect and ensure respect for IHL is more than just a “loose pledge”, and what measures States can take to fulfil this obligation.

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