Trade and Investment

WTO Public Forum Working Session: The Future of the TRIPS Agreement Post COVID-19

Working Session at the WTO Public Forum 2021

Wednesday, 29 September 2021
16h30 –17h30 CET

Disciplines on intellectual property protection are part of the multilateral trade system through the WTO TRIPS Agreement. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to bear again the tension between the protection of intellectual property rights and public health, which had been addressed in 2001 through the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public health. Having in view the TRIPS flexibilities, this session will discuss the role of interpretation, temporary waivers and amendments in dealing with such tension and what further actions could be taken under the WTO rules in order to promote access to medical products for all.

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Policy Brief 101, September 2021

The Investment Facilitation Framework & Most Favoured Nation (MFN) Treatment

 By Peter Lunenborg

The issue of Investment Facilitation (IF) is one of the ‘Joint Statement Initiatives’ which has been under negotiation for a number of years between certain World Trade Organization (WTO) Members. It has not been without controversy as there is no multilateral mandate at the WTO for these negotiations. Questions have been raised about how the outcomes of these IF negotiations can be brought into the WTO framework. Despite these uncertainties, there is a draft Investment Facilitation Framework (IFF) text. This Policy Brief discusses the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment as contained in Article 2 of the Investment Facilitation Framework (IFF), also referred to as the Investment Facilitation for Development Agreement (IFDA).  This brief highlights the potential implications of the proposed text and proposes some options.

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South Centre Report, August 2021

Virtual Consultation in support of the UN Working Group’s 2021 Report to the UN General Assembly on Human Rights-Compatible International Investment Agreements

South Centre, 23 June 2021

Foreign direct investment (FDI) should support States’ efforts to “bring the SDGs and goals of the Paris Agreement to life for all people, everywhere.” However, achievement of these objectives is slowed down in the current situation where investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms are included in international investment agreements (IIAs). These mechanisms have increased the exposure of States to claims from foreign investors against regulatory measures taken to protect and guarantee a clean and safe environment, public health, human rights, social inclusion, and poverty reduction.

In the current scenario marked by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, FDI can be a valuable source of financing a better and fairer recovery, including investment needed to achieve the full realisation of all human rights. But to achieve this potential, there is a need to reshape the international investment regime, including through the reform of its substantive rules and standards, as well as of the ISDS mechanisms embedded in existing IIAs.

The South Centre and the United Nations Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises convened a virtual consultation to identify and assess the different challenges developing countries face while negotiating or reforming IIAs in line with their international human rights obligations. The virtual consultation aimed at highlighting and discussing some of the most common concerns and challenges those developing countries face in the promotion of responsible investment practices, including an exploratory discussion about balancing the rights and obligations of investors in IIAs and safeguarding the sovereign right of States to regulate in the public interest for building back better and fairer in face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also discussed possible reforms of the ISDS mechanism.

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SouthViews No. 225, 21 July 2021

Vaccine Nationalism 

By Prof. Ujal Singh Bhatia

The author posits that the global public health impact of the Covid-19 pandemic along with the economic and distributional aspects of vaccines and treatments, involves a market failure without the underlying institutional safety nets for an effective, globally coordinated response. He proposes strong, self-standing institutions with clear mandates and resources to make effective interventions at three levels: political, financial and regulatory. Also, the WTO rules regarding export restrictions are at present too accommodative to allow for a quick response. For Intellectual Property, both manufacturing and licensing, and relaxation of IP rules should be considered.

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Investment Policy Brief 23, July 2021

UNCITRAL Working Group III: Moving forward towards consensus or loosing balance?

By Daniel Uribe and Danish

This policy brief considers some concerns arising from the ongoing discussions on procedural reform of investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) in the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III. It highlights the need to allocate sufficient time to deliberate upon the important issues being raised by developing countries. It further discusses some structural reform options that have been identified by the Working Group and reflects on some concerns arising from a possible ‘single undertaking’ approach being implemented through a future possible multilateral agreement on ISDS.

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Investment Policy Brief 22, June 2021

Investment Policy Options for Facing COVID-19 Related ISDS Claims

By Daniel Uribe and Danish

Developing and least developed countries have undertaken a number of measures to fight against the multidimensional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such measures and those that may be adopted in the context of the recovery efforts are, however, susceptible to challenges by foreign investors using investor-State dispute settlement mechanisms.

This policy brief first considers the kinds of measures States have adopted to limit the spread of COVID-19, protect their strategic sectors and promote economic recovery, including through foreign investment aftercare and retention. It then addresses how the investor-State dispute settlement system (ISDS) has been used by investors in times of crises, based on the analysis of the awards in several cases brought against both developed and developing countries.

Against this backdrop, the brief elaborates on the different options and initiatives States can take for preventing ISDS claims at the national, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels. It concludes with some policy advice for developing and least developed countries to face possible COVID-19 related ISDS claims in the future.

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Investment Policy Brief 21, April 2021

Could COVID-19 trigger ‘localizing’ of international investment arbitration?

By Danish

In light of the challenges and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many developing countries have been unable to effectively participate in international investment arbitration proceedings, traditionally held in locations like Washington D.C. and The Hague. To ease the heavy burdens currently being placed on States and ensuring investor confidence, this Policy Brief argues for the ‘localization’ of investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) proceedings in host States and regions where the investment is actually located. It highlights the various advantages that localizing ISDS can bring, and the different regional initiatives already working towards this purpose. The brief also considers relevant legal and policy aspects, and seeks to provide concrete suggestions for the localization of ISDS as a small step towards the holistic reform of international investment arbitration.

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SouthViews No. 215, 6 April 2021

Technology and inequality: can we decolonise the digital world?

By Padmashree Gehl Sampath

In this article, the author argues that techno-centric explanations of progress and industrialisation are deeply entrenched in a wider social context that encourages us to ignore the historical roots of current inequalities – which, in fact, are not amenable to a technological solution alone. Making the data economy work for all will require a serious reflection on how we want to frame this debate, and how to align ourselves to a common vision of social progress that technology could help to accomplish.

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Investment Policy Brief 20, January 2021

Countries’ Policy Space to Implement Tobacco Packaging Measures in the Light of Their International Investment Obligations: Revisiting the Philip Morris v. Uruguay Case

By Alebe Linhares Mesquita and Vivian Daniele Rocha Gabriel 

This Policy Brief aims to provide a concise analysis of the international investment dispute involving Philip Morris subsidiaries and the Republic of Uruguay. It depicts the main legal and political background that preceded the case, analyzes the decision reached by the arbitral tribunal, and assesses the award’s major regulatory and policy implications. It intends to contribute to the discussions on how and to what extent States can adopt tobacco control measures without violating their international obligations to protect the investment and intellectual property of tobacco companies. The main lesson that can be learned from the analysis of the Philip Morris v. Uruguay case is that investors rights are not absolute and can be relativized when there is a clash between private and public interests, such as in the case of public health. As a result, claims such as indirect expropriation and fair and equitable treatment can be dismissed. Finally, one of the main consequences is the progressive change in the design of international investment treaties, containing more provisions related to the right to regulate.

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Panel discussion, 11 December 2020

Guaranteeing Access to Medicines: Reforming Trade and Investment Treaties in the COVID-19 Era

Eight months into COVID-19, what is the status of the international investment regime and access to essential medicines? The GDP Center’s Working Group on Trade and Access to Medicines will host a panel discussion on trade, the investment regime, and access to essential medicines. The event is co-sponsored by the South Centre, the intergovernmental organization of developing nations based in Switzerland.

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Research Paper 122, November 2020

Analysis of the Overcapacity and Overfishing Pillar of the WTO Fisheries Subsidies Negotiations

By Peter Lunenborg

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14.6 asks World Trade Organization (WTO) Members to “prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing”. Hence, the pillar on overcapacity and overfishing (O&O) is the most important pillar of the fisheries subsidies negotiations. However, WTO Members have not yet agreed on the approach to prohibition. This research paper distinguishes three types of approaches: the fisheries management linked approach (sometimes referred to as effects-based approach), capping and list-based approach.

This paper argues that the core of the prohibition in the Overfishing and Overcapacity pillar should be list-based and be applicable to large scale fisheries who receive the bulk of global fisheries subsidies especially those that are capacity-enhancing. For subsidies which are not prohibited an effects-based test might be considered. A supplementary subsidy prohibition covering areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) could be considered, or the vessels or operations targeted by proponents of the ABNJ proposals could be deemed ‘large scale’. If capping remains on the table, capping subsidies per fisher could be explored.  Special and Differential Treatment should be an integral element of the outcome as developing countries whose fisheries sector are less developed should not take on the same commitments.

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Webinar: Towards Justice in the International Economic Order: Proposals from the South

Webinar: Towards Justice in the International Economic Order: Proposals from the South

This webinar is a collaboration between Afronomicslaw and the South Centre, Geneva, to mark the 25th anniversary of the South Centre. Both the South Centre and Afronomicslaw share a commitment to the protection and promotion of the development interests of countries of the Global South.

The theme of the webinar “Towards Justice in the International Economic Order: Proposals from the South” reflects this shared commitment. In particular, the webinar will focus on selected initiatives proposed by the Global South. An important premise of the webinar presentations will be that the countries of the Global South are not mere spectators in the construction of the global order. Among the issues that the webinar will discuss will be access and a development-oriented approach to the WTO TRIPS Council (including the recent waiver proposal by South Africa and India on TRIPS obligations, and attempts to reframe the e-commerce and IP agenda). It will also reflect on the soon to be launched African Sovereign Debt Justice Network (AfSDJN), relating to issues of sovereign debt that have become particularly germane in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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