Posts Tagged Bilateral investment treaties

If you can’t beat them, join them? Using BITs for environmentally proactive purposes.

Update 29 September 2016. The award was made public on 28 September 2016. It sides with Barbados. Look for my analysis in a separate blog piece.

Thank you for the team at Dechert to remind us of the potential that BITs may be used to pursue proactive, rather than just reactive environmental litigation. A word of explanation: Bilateral Investment Treaties, in particular their investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms, are currently under a lot of pressure following the public outcry over the TTIP negotiations. Allowing private investors to sue countries that roll out regulation, using vague principles of protection of property, is seen by many as a form of corporate bullying.

Dechert’s briefing however reminds us firstly, specifically vis-a-vis stubborn air pollution in the Indonesia area, that States may carry responsibility in line with Trail Smelter’s nec utere tuo principle. The possibility for individuals (as opposed to neighbouring States) suing on that basis, is of course complicated by the mechanism of (absence of) direct effect of huge chunks of international environmental law. That is where investor-state can come in handily. Such as in Allard v Barbados at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Dechert’s summary of that case reads ‘the Canadian owner of an eco-tourist facility in Barbados is currently suing the Government of Barbados for an alleged breach of the full protection and security provision (among other provisions) in the Canada- Barbados bilateral investment treaty. Peter Allard argues in his claim that Barbados breached its treaty obligations by failing to enforce its domestic environmental laws, which he alleges led to the environment being spoilt and a loss of tourist revenues at his eco-resort’.

A timely reminder of the good BITs can do, just before I am to speak (again) tomorrow on TTIP and why EU citisens are so suspicious of it.

Geert.

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The TTIP and the EU’s regulatory standards: Do BITs require an environmental guarantee?

Consultancy Ecologic have released a report which they have prepared for the European Parliament. It reviews the impact which the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) might have on the environmental ‘acquis’ of the European Union (the collected body of EU environmental law). A wide range of issues are discussed – best have a look at the report for all the details. Included are the risks associated with standing for private companies under classic BITs, which as I reported earlier, the EC have recently defended.

The report downplays the impact which the TTIP might have on ECJ case-law [‘The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has consistently held that international trade and investment agreements only have direct effect within the EU in very limited circumstances. Thus, in past ECJ cases, private companies have not normally been able to rely on e.g. WTO law for invalidating an EU action or claiming damages from the EU. This is likely to apply to TTIP as well.’] That I believe is a touch incautious. The ECJ might qualify its case-law, in particular given that the extent of integration of a trade agreement, is part of the reason for the ECJ to reject direct effect. If the TTIP eventually will include the type of deep(ish) integration forecast, the Court might well find it to have direct effect in certain circumstances.

The report suggests the EP keep a close eye on the provisions in the agreement with an impact on environmental law. This includes the type of regulatory co-operation which the TTIP might yield: a focus on process or on outcome, as neatly summarised by Simon Lester. It makes me wonder whether the Agreement might do with an Article 193 TFEU-type ‘environmental guarantee’.

Geert.

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Metamorphosis: Can an investment loose such qualification because of its negative externalities? The Philip Morris v Uruguay arbitration

Update 9 July 2016: the panel sided with Uruguay on the merits, in a move which must boost those rejecting criticism that international trade law, including BITs, MITs and TTIP, deny States’ regulatory autonomy.

A very interesting debate in the PMI v Uruguay arbitration on plain packaging. The decision on jurisdiction (which was taken in July this year) rejected the notion that an ‘investment’ under a BIT looses such qualification as a result of, in effect, its negative externalities. Uruguay had argued that PMI’s interests in Uruguay do not constitute a protected investment since not only do they fail to make any contribution to the Country’s development, but they actively prevent and interfere with such development, due to the health impact of tobacco consumption.

The Panel, having to establish its subject-matter jurisdiction, gave the notion ‘investment’ a broad meaning, in the absence of express language to the contrary in the BIT concerned. With reference to ICSID precedent, the tribunal declined to make ex-post economic /financial  evaluations determine its jurisdiction – all the more so since such business, economic, financial… ex post evaluation is subject to tit for tat data and figures.

The case will therefore continue on the merits.  Interesting material.

Geert.

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Exam questions, anyone? Plain packaging regulations and domestic regulatory autonomy

Postscript January 2016 Reportedly the Permanent Court of Arbitration under UNCITRAL rules, has declined jurisdiction. The award is to be made public here once it has been cleared of confidential data.

Postscript June 2015: I have many other posts on the issue however I thought I”d here that in June 2015, Ukraine suspended its complaint against Australia. Simon Lester collates why. And end of May 2015, Norway Norway TBT plain packaing notification its plain packaging plans to the WTO TBT Committee, with extensive pre-emption of legal arguments against it.

Postscript 22 10 2013:  on the BIT front, see the interesting defence by the European Commission of BITs in October 2013 here. Reference is made ia to the ongoing Philip Morris and Vatenfall (Nuclear energy) issues.

Faculty everywhere have been handed a treasure trove of exam questions, courtesy of ‘plain packaging’ (students please look away now).  A variety of States are in the process of introducing ‘plain packaging’ requirements on tobacco products. Although they of course vary in detail, they generally require tobacco manufacturers to strip packaging of all tailored corporate content, resorting instead to prescribed generic packaging. The ‘plain’ packaging required is generally limited to brand name in standardised fashion (font size and lettering, colour…), joined by a number of health warnings (including, sometimes, images), excise duties requirements and ingredients listings.

Plain packaging ticks all the boxes of a classic ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ dispute. It pitches the freedom of a sovereign State to pursue ‘regulatory’ interests (environment, public health, consumer protection, stability of the economy etc.) against the free trade commitments which the same State has voluntarily committed to. These trade commitments take the form of multilateral (such as the WTO, the EU’s Internal Market, or NAFTA) or bilateral (such as bilateral free trade agreements and customs unions) agreements. They most often do not, but sometimes do include procedural rights for private parties (as opposed to simply the States which have concluded the agreement) to launch legal proceedings should free trade (arguably) have been infringed. Such standing for private parties is the case in many BITs, i.e. Bilateral Investment Treaties, as well as for instance (subject to a number of whistles and bells), NAFTA.

Free trade agreements are not generally oblivious to the continuing desire of participating States to regulate the interests referred to above. Consequently they include room for ‘domestic regulatory autonomy’ to continue after the conclusion of the agreement, subject of course to checks and balances.

This fragile balance between free trade and regulatory autonomy is exactly what the current debate on plain packaging is all about. The issue is being fought on many fronts: At the World Trade Organisation, Ukraine have filed a complaint in March 2012 against Australia’s plain packaging laws on the basis of the TRIPS (intellectual property) and TBT (technical barriers to trade; product regulations) Agreements. Ukraine’s complaint is supported by a number of WTO Members with tobacco manufacturing interests.

Australia’s position is eagerly anticipated by other jurisdictions thinking of doing something similar.See e.g. here and here.

At a constitutional level, issues include free (commercial) speech (see here for the related issue of graphic warnings), expropriation (of the trademark), non-discrimination (why no plain packaging on alcohol, for instance).

At a level of BITs, the issue has rejuvinated the ‘regulatory takings’ debate (do new regulatory requriements of host States amount to a ‘regulatory taking’ (as compared to a straightforward expropriation) that may be incompatible with investment protection requirements. The Uruguay-Switserland (see here and enter search term ‘ICSID Case No. ARB/10/7’) and Australia-Hong Kong BITs are among those affected. One imagines that the necessity of the measure will be hotly contested, as the actual health impact of the measure is not entirely certain. See the (controversial) ruling of the European Free Trade Association’s Court on the related issue of display bans here and the excellent analysis of prof Alemanno.

One will have gathered: all of this is excellent material for those of us teaching Trade and regulatory law. Geert.

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