Exploding Public and Private Debt, Declining ODA and FDI, Lower World GDP and Trade Growth—Developing Countries Facing a Conundrum
Recently international institutions repeatedly cut the projections for world gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 2019, revealed further worsened accumulation of debt, reported declining official development assistance (ODA), highlighted consecutive drops of foreign direct investment (FDI) flows and showed decelerated international trade and intensified trade tension. A closer examination of the performance of developing countries in these datasets shows clearly the economic conundrum that developing countries are facing. The most dangerous sign is the rising levels of public and private debt, and debt sustainability challenges for developing countries. It is worrisome that over 40 percent of low income countries are facing a high risk of debt distress or are in debt distress. The cloudy patches over the world economy are gathering together and getting darker. It seems a storm is coming soon for those developing countries which are facing a combination of weak economic fundamentals. Yet, there seems to be limited room for policy makers to take actions as downward pressure is coming from different directions at the same time and creating constraints which would make policy measures ineffective or feeble. In some cases, policy tools used to limit negative effects of one problem could trigger negative impact on other problem(s) in hand.
Challenges of Investment Treaties on Policy Areas of Concern to Developing Countries
Country experiences have revealed that international investment agreements (IIAs) could have an adverse policy impact on various policy areas that are generally important for developing countries in relation to the achievement of their development objectives. This policy brief gives an overview of challenges resulting from IIAs to major policy areas of concern to developing countries. These policy areas include industrial policy, tax reform, handling debt crisis, the use of capital controls, intellectual property rights, public-private partnerships, and climate change action in relation to investment in clean technologies.
The ‘obvious to try’ method of addressing strategic patenting: How developing countries can utilise patent law to facilitate access to medicines
The current patentability standards for pharmaceutical inventions, as well as strategic patenting used by pharmaceutical companies, have substantially impacted access to affordable medicines. This has been especially detrimental for developing countries, which are under significant pressure to remain compliant with their international and bilateral obligations, while also providing their people with essential drugs. In order to improve access to medicines, developing countries may choose from a range of various mechanisms that may help to facilitate such access, while also allowing them to remain compliant with their international and bilateral obligations. This policy brief suggests that one of such mechanisms is to strengthen the obviousness requirement by applying the ‘obvious to try with a reasonable expectation of success’ test to pharmaceutical follow-on inventions. It is argued that the application of this test may be an effective tool in addressing the negative effect of strategic patenting. It may help to prevent the extension of patent protection and market exclusivity of existing drugs by pharmaceutical companies and, as a result, may open such medicines up to generic competition.
The Future of Investor-State Dispute Settlement Deliberated at UNCITRAL: Unveiling a Dichotomy between Reforming and Consolidating the Current Regime
Reform of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) is being deliberated at the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III, which will be meeting in New York between the 1st and 5th of April 2019. For several years, the ISDS regime has been under scrutiny from voices in both developed and developing countries. ISDS reforms have been addressed in multiple forums, including national, bilateral, regional and multilateral levels, such as the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Reforms could include moving away from arbitration as the norm for dispute settlement between foreign investors and host states or end up by introducing adaptations that might make arbitration in ISDS cases perform in a more acceptable way. Finding one-size-fits-all solutions in these deliberations is unlikely. Advancing relevant reforms would require full and effective participation of interested countries, equal opportunity for different points of views to be heard and integrated into the design of any potential outcome, and effective mechanisms to address any potential conflicts of interest within this forum.
UNCITRAL Working Group III: Can Reforming Procedures Rebalance Investor Rights and Obligations?
The work of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) provides an opportunity to rebalance the international investment regime – but only if the full gamut of key issues are identified. Requiring investors to uphold standards of responsible business conduct (RBC) is largely a function of substantive rights and obligations, but it also presents procedural dimensions that fall within the purview of the UNCITRAL process. This policy brief explores the issues and discusses possible options for reform.
Why the US Proposals on Development will Affect all Developing Countries and Undermine WTO
US submitted two highly problematic proposals to the WTO in January and February 2019, undermining the place of Special and Differential Treatment (S&D) for developing countries at the WTO. In the first paper (WT/GC/757), US criticises the practice of self-declared development status by developing countries arguing that the North-South construct no longer makes sense due to “great development strides”. The second paper (WT/GC/764) – a proposed Decision for the General Council – provides a way to operationalise what was in the first paper. It gave criteria that would exclude 34 Members or 53.6 percent of global population from S&D treatment in “current and future WTO negotiations”. This fundamentally changes S&D from an unconditional right for all developing countries to a concession that may or may not be provided. Even for those developing countries that are not part of the 34 excluded Members, the US notes that in sector-specific negotiations, other Members could also be “ineligible for special and differential treatment.” This paper critiques the US approach on Special and Differential Treatment and concludes that these papers by the US cannot be the basis for any further discussions. All developing countries must be able to decide the pace of their adjustment to trade rules.
Building a Mirage: The Effectiveness of Tax Carve-out Provisions in International Investment Agreements
The present policy brief analyses the language of taxation carve-out provisions incorporated in International Investment Agreements (IIAs), and its effectiveness with regards to restricting the protection and dispute settlement provisions of IIAs only to non-tax-related claims. It illustrates that even in cases where such carve-out provisions have been incorporated into IIAs, the broad language and lack of clarity in the drafting of such provisions have effectively allowed Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals to scrutinize tax measures adopted by States, and even determine that such measures resulted in a breach of State’s obligations under the agreement. It makes recommendations on how States could effectively implement such carve-outs when negotiating, reforming or drafting new international investment agreements.
Developing Countries and the Contemporary International Tax System: BEPS and other issues
This policy brief addresses the design of international taxation and tax cooperation in the context of issues presented in the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)/Group of Twenty (G20) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS)Project. It further considers their significance for developing countries and provides the Brazilian approach to those issues. The brief concludes by exploring the importance of regional cooperation vis-à-vis international organizations and highlights relevant considerations for developing countries engaging with the contemporary international tax system.
Illicit Financial Flows: Conceptual and Practical Issues
The issue of illicit financial flows (IFFs) is of great significance for many countries looking to mobilize domestic resources for achieving their development goals. The High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, led by H.E. Thabo Mbeki, brought the issue into the global spotlight, notably since the release of exposés like the ‘Panama Papers’. This policy brief elaborates on the conceptual underpinnings of IFFs, its sources and the development costs they generate. Building on the report of the High Level Panel, it provides recommendations to stem IFFs from developing countries.
Will the Amendment to the TRIPS Agreement Enhance Access to Medicines?
An amendment to the TRIPS Agreement by incorporation of the text of the decision of the WTO General Council on 30 August 2003 (as article 31bis) has been made in response to the problem identified in paragraph 6 of the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. This paragraph sought a solution to situations where patented pharmaceuticals which are not available in a country with no or insufficient manufacturing capacity can be supplied by a foreign provider. As originally adopted, the TRIPS Agreement did not allow the grant of compulsory licenses for exports only, thereby preventing generic manufacturers from exporting the required products to countries unable to produce them. While the new article 31bis is a step forward as it reflects public health concerns, it would be necessary to streamline the procedures to effectively ensure broader access to pharmaceutical products at low cost and in a timely manner.
IP Licence, Trademarks and ISDS: Bridgestone v. Panama
Can an intellectual property right or a license authorizing its use be deemed an ‘investment’ under bilateral investment treaties? This policy brief discusses the arguments submitted by the parties in the Bridgestone Licensing Services, Inc. and Bridgestone Americas, Inc. v. Republic of Panama case on questions regarding a trademark license agreement. Bridgestone Licensing Services, Inc. (BSLS) and Bridgestone Americas, Inc. (BSAM) together initiated arbitration proceedings on the grounds that Panama’s Supreme Court decision was unjust and arbitrary, violated Panama’s obligations under the United States-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), expropriated their investments, and violated the requirement of fair and equitable treatment (FET) to BSLS’s and BSAM’s investments.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement: An Anachronism Whose Time Has Gone
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) – a mechanism that allows foreign investors to bring claims against host governments to an international arbitral tribunal – is a relic that should be abolished. Its alleged benefits have not materialized and its costs – monetary and other – can represent a formidable obstacle to good economic governance. We recommend policymakers to terminate ISDS provisions in existing agreements and eschew them in future trade and investment treaties.