Reformed ISDS

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism has come under fire in the past few years. As a result of many controversial cases, civil society groups, international organisations, academics, lawyers and state officials have argued that the arbitration process has had a negative impact on public interest and is need of reform or should be scrapped altogether.

Therefore tweaked versions of the system have been proposed to avoid the most undesired “side effects” of standard ISDS rules. At least 45 countries and four regional blocs are revising or have recently revised their investment model agreements.

In 2012, South Africa, the government started to withdraw from its bilateral investment treaties and amended domestic legislation to make it compatible with BIT-like investor protections while incorporating exceptions where warranted by public interest considerations.

In 2014, Indonesia decided to terminate 67 bilateral investment treaties and has also been developing a new model BIT that supposedly reflects a more balanced approach between the country’s right to regulate and foreigner investor protection.

In 2015, the European Commission established a new ’Investment Court System’ to replace the current ISDS mechanism in its trade deals. The ICS has been incorporated in the EU deals with Canada (CETA) and Vietnam. It has also been proposed for the ongoing negotiations with Mexico, the Philippines and the US (TTIP). However many critics claim that this new system is largely window-dressing.

In December 2015, India released a revised model BIT which, for instance, requires investors to exhaust domestic remedies (Indian courts) before turning to international arbitration and leaves out “fair and equitable treatment” provisions.

In 2016, members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) (Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland) amended the SADC Finance and Investment Protocol that included ISDS provisions. The amendments eliminate the ISDS mechanism (only state-to-state arbitration remains) and narrow the scope of investors’ rights, including exclusion of “fair and equitable treatment”, limitations to “national treatment” to allow for local preferences, obligation for investors to follow host state domestic law and exception from investment rules for policies enacted to comply with international treaties.

In South America, experts from the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) have been developing an investment settlement centre, as an alternative to the World Bank’s ICSID.

In 2017 states from around the world began to debate at UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) about the possible reform of the ISDS system in a way that would address legitimacy concerns and rebalance the system. As part of these discussions, the EU proposed the creation of a Multilateral Investment Court (MIC), which was slammed by civil society groups, as the MIC would “enshrine, expand, and entrench the current system of corporate privilege in future trade deals.”

Photo: Attac / CC BY-SA 2.0

March 2021

The Hindu | 2-Oct-2023
Since India’s quest has been to establish a rule-based global order, its support for an appellate review will ensure more state and investor confidence in international investment law.
UNCTAD | 31-Aug-2023
UNCTAD presents a new toolbox to make international investment agreements actively support the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.
The Indian Express | 28-Aug-2023
As India and the UK inch closer towards finalising a free trade agreement, the contours of the much-debated and contentious bilateral investment treaty are likely to be finalised around the same time as the FTA.
Madhyam | 17-Aug-2023
The experience with investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms has been mixed, with India facing several adverse awards and financial compensation in certain high-profile cases.
The Hindu BusinessLine | 13-Jul-2023
New Delhi insists on ’exhaustion of local remedies’ clause but Brussels wants investor court system.
IISD | 3-Jul-2023
If India’s approach and engagement with international investment agreements can be distinguished into phases, with the new agreements being negotiated and concluded, India is poised to enter a new phase.
IISD | 3-Jul-2023
Si l’approche et l’engagement de l’Inde en matière d’Accords internationaux d’investissement peuvent être divisés en phases, l’on peut dire que l’Inde est sur le point d’entamer une nouvelle phase avec les nouveaux accords en cours de négociation et de conclusion.
Lexology | 21-Jun-2023
State parties consider whether to turn to traditional methods of investment dispute settlement mechanisms or more innovative solutions, such as an African investment court.
Chile Mejor sin TLC | 8-Jun-2023
Traducción extraoficial automática, revisada por Chile Mejor sin TLC con fines de transparencia ciudadana dado que el gobierno chileno no ha publicado el texto en español. Los subrayados son nuestros
IISD | 2-Jun-2023
Le protocole sur l’investissement de l’Accord portant création de la Zone de libre-échange continentale africaine a été adopté par les chefs d’État africains les 18 et 19 février 2023.