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.
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.
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.
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.
Emerging Trends in FTAs and Public Health: Investment Agreements and Intellectual Property
Friday, 28 May 2021 – 16:00-17:30 (CET)
The inclusion of TRIPS-Plus provisions in developing country IP laws, as a result of negotiations of free trade agreements (FTAs) continues to be of concern. In addition, there are various emerging areas that require attention from developing countries, where accumulated knowledge and institutional learning are more limited. These include investment agreements that include ‘intellectual property’ as a category of investment – with subsequent ISDS mechanisms, as well as competition and investment chapters or agreements that may restrict the policy space, such as the China-EU Comprehensive Investment Agreement. There are several important developments to consider for the upcoming years. New negotiations in the period of Covid-19 crisis, when countries are in dire financial situations, may lead to even more unbalanced negotiations. The UK is pursuing new agreements after Brexit with developing countries, while the USA has signaled renewed attention to multilateralism and at the same time is continuing to make use of Section 301 of its trade law to advance reforms in third countries. The AfCFTA negotiations of the intellectual property chapter are set to start this year. Moreover, the RCEP Agreement is to be implemented via national law amendments and attention must be given in particular to the process for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and the technical assistance offered.
In this context, the South Centre is holding a series of webinars on emerging trends related to free trade agreements (FTAs) and investment agreements that impact public health. In this first session, we will discuss the topic of investment agreements and intellectual property, including varied angles to the issue, such as perspectives for post Covid-19 agreements, the legal construction of IP as a category of investment, the challenges of ISDS and policy reform options, and the analysis of a concrete case.
Could COVID-19 trigger ‘localizing’ of international investment arbitration?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A New Trend in Trade Agreements: Ensuring Access to Cancer Drugs
By Maria Fabiana Jorge
A World Health Organization (WHO) report on cancer indicates that the cancer burden will increase at least by 60% over the next two decades, straining health systems and communities. Companies develop cancer drugs in part because payers are less resistant to paying high drug prices for these drugs. As Barbara Rimer, Dean of the University of North Carolina and Chair of the U.S. President’s Cancer Panel stated, “[m]ost cancer drugs launched in the United States between 2009 and 2014 were priced at more than $100,000 per patient for one year of treatment.” Many of the new cancer drugs are biologics. Such prices are clearly out of reach for most patients who will need them increasingly more to stay alive. While competition is critical to ensure lower drug prices, we have seen a number of strategies, including through trade agreements, to prevent competition and extend monopolies over these drugs and their very high drug prices. It is no accident that the exclusivity granted to biologic drugs has been one of the most conflictive provisions in recent trade agreements such as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Nevertheless a new trend in trade agreements started in 2007 when U.S. Members of Congress pushed back against the interests of powerful economic groups seeking longer monopolies for drugs. These Members of the U.S. Congress prevailed then in restoring some balance in the trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama and further consolidated this new trend in 2019 in the USMCA. Moreover, following the U.S. withdrawal from the original Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the negotiators of the remaining 11 countries also pushed back to ensure a better balance between innovation and access in the CPTPP. People around the world need to be aware of these precedents and ensure that they also work for access to medicines for their own citizens.