Services

Utility corporations have used investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions found in trade and investment agreements to challenge state attempts to regulate privatized public services such as water, social security or other services.

In response to several governments which have tried to lower public services rates for poorer populations or in face of a significant economic crisis, foreign companies have initiated ISDS disputes, claiming they were treated “unfairly”, due to their loss of profits.

Potentially, any significant reforms of standards in relation to major infrastructure or utilities and associated services could be the target of ISDS.

As of end of 2019, about 2/3 of all ISDS disputes concerned the services sector at large, including public services but also financial services, telecommunications, transport, construction, etc.

Most well-known disputes include:

• Azurix (US) v. Argentina: US$165 million awarded in 2006 to the investor, a water company. The dispute arose from the contamination of a reservoir, which made the water undrinkable in the area. The firm claimed the government had expropriated its investment and denied the firm “fair and equitable treatment” by not allowing rate increases and not investing sufficient public funds in the water infrastructure (Argentina-US BIT invoked).

• Tampa Electric Company “TECO” (US) vs. Guatemala: the US-based energy company challenged Guatemala’s decision to lower the electricity rates that a private utility could charge. TECO was awarded US$25 million in 2013 (CAFTA invoked).

• TCW (US) vs. Dominican Republic: the US investment management corporation that jointly owned with the government one of the Dominican Republic’s three electricity distribution firms, sued the government for failing to raise electricity rates and to prevent electricity theft by poor residents. Case settled in 2009 for US$26.5 million paid to the investor (CAFTA invoked).

(March 2020)

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The Guardian | 8-Aug-2014
More than two-thirds of voters in 13 battleground constituencies want to see the NHS safeguarded from a new trade deal that critics say threatens to make the privatisation of UK health services permanent.
| 3-Nov-2013
Argentina has agreed to settle five separate investment treaty arbitration claims at a cost of around USD 500 million, in an historic departure from the Latin American state’s refusal to comply with awards made by international investment treaty arbitration bodies.
IA Reporter | 27-Jun-2012
French multinational Veolia has had an ICSID arbitration claim registered against the Arab Republic of Egypt.
Policymic | 29-Mar-2012
Ecuadorian communities learned from the way that Chevron’s operations flouted environmental law in the 1990’s, that once entrusted to foreign businesses their natural resources are usually squandered.
| 26-Mar-2012
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday he was suspending trade benefits for Argentina because of the South American country’s failure to pay more than $300 million in compensation awards in two disputes involving American investors.
Reuters | 9-Aug-2011
Azurix Corp plans to ask the Obama administration for help in recovering more than $230 million it says it is owned by the government of Argentina. It would be the first time a US company has used the "Section 301" trade law to pressure a foreign government to pay an award decided by an arbitrator in an investment dispute.
| 11-Aug-2010
French media conglomerate Vivendi (VIV.FR) Tuesday said the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, or ICSID, reaffirmed its original ruling and financial award in favour of the company in a long-running dispute with Argentina.

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