[A2k] FT: Brussels seeks to curb investor litigation under trade deals

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Tue Jan 21 14:41:59 PST 2014


http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/3abf920e-82cb-11e3-8119-00144feab7de.html


January 21, 2014 8:14 pm


Brussels seeks to curb investor litigation under trade deals

By Shawn Donnan in London

The European Commission is pushing to include strict constraints on
investors’ ability to take legal action against governments as part of a
new trans-Atlantic trade
deal<http://www.ft.com/intl/topics/themes/Global_Trade>,
according to leaked documents.


So-called investor-state dispute settlement provisions are among the most
controversial elements of trade deals now being negotiated globally.
Critics argue they give companies carte blanche to use trade deals and
secretive arbitration panels to challenge national laws and regulations
they do not like. Brussels hopes that setting limits on their use under a
translatlantic deal would help to set a high bar for other cases around the
world

In a move to address vocal
criticism<http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/1b2942a0-328f-11e3-b3a7-00144feab7de.html>
of
the inclusion of such a mechanism in the sweeping EU-US trade pact now
being negotiated, Karel de Gucht, the European trade commissioner, on
Tuesday announced he would be holding public consultations on the issue in
the weeks to come. He also pledged to release a proposed negotiating text
of the investment chapter of any deal in March.

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Investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms are not a new element of trade
agreements. According to the EU, they are a feature in many of the 1,400
investment agreements member states have signed with third parties.

But the rules governing them are often vague and in recent years critics
argue that companies and lawyers – including many from Europe – have become
more creative in how they use them. The most often-cited case is one now
underway in which tobacco giant Philip Morris is using a Hong Kong
investment agreement to challenge Australia’s plain-packaging laws for
cigarettes.


According to documents seen by the FT the tough conditions proposed by the
EU for any investor-state legal cases include a requirement that the losers
of any challenge cover legal costs for all parties. They would also allow
arbitration panels to quickly throw out any “frivolous cases” and make any
rulings eligible for appeal, something that often cannot be done now.


The proposed rules would bar companies from launching legal attacks on
multiple fronts by bringing cases in local courts in addition to before
arbitration panels. They would also make all documents and hearings public
in such cases and impose strict standards on the makeup of arbitration
panels.


“We shall define exactly what level of treatment investors can and cannot
expect from host governments,” Mr de Gucht wrote in a letter last month to
the chairman of the European Parliament’s international trade committee,
Portuguese MEP Vital Moreina.

In a separate policy briefing, Commission officials argued that the
inclusion of a robust investor-state dispute mechanism in an EU-US deal was
crucial in order to set a precedent for other pacts and reform a system now
open to abuse.


An EU-US deal, they wrote, “will be an agreement between the largest
exporters and recipients of investment in the world . . . [and] could thus
serve as the launching pad for a new era of investment agreements and serve
as a model for the rest of the world.”

Not including an investor-state mechanism would “set a dangerous precedent
for the EU’s future negotiations with other countries (e.g. China,
Myanmar)”. Both the EU and US are now negotiating investment treaties with
China.


Mr de Gucht’s move to open public consultations was welcomed by critics,
which in the past have included France’s trade minister, Nicole
Bricq<http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/ec0b02be-1a34-11e3-93e8-00144feab7de.html?siteedition=intl>
.


But it is unlikely to do much to quash opposition altogether.

Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament who sits on the
international trade committee, said it was unclear why, with two
functioning legal systems, either the EU or the US needed an additional
arbitration mechanism for investor-state disputes.


She also said the vocal opposition seen in recent months over the
investor-state issue was a sign of how the EU-US negotiations were likely
to get increasingly complex as details emerged of compromises on sensitive
areas.


“I’m 100 per cent certain it will get more complicated,” she said.



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