Environmental Law

[Andrea K. Bjorklund is the L. Yves Fortier Chair in International Arbitration and International Commercial Law at McGill University Faculty of Law, Canada] Mr. Alschner and Ms. Tuerk’s contribution very usefully highlights three areas where international investment law and sustainable development principles may intersect: climate change, industrial policy, and corporate social responsibility.  This precision is particularly valuable given the less-than-concrete nature of the idea of “sustainable development”.  Two common threads running through each section are the essential participation of the host state in fostering sustainable development and the tension between the pursuit of short-term goals (such as rapid economic development and the influx of capital and immediate returns in investment) and long-term goals (such as fostering sustainable economic development).  Investment agreements, either individually or in the guise of a multilateral instrument establishing shared principles, can contribute only a limited amount to the furtherance of sustainable development goals unless their reach expands drastically.  That point is well illustrated in the area of climate change.  Investment agreements themselves do not require that states legislate in environmentally friendly ways, or that states prioritize fighting climate change over promoting robust short-term industrial growth.  Thus, amendments to existing investment agreements, or carefully drafted new agreements, can satisfy one side of the equation – they can eliminate whatever constraints investment agreements might impose on states’ desire regulate to combat climate change or to promote certain industrial policy goals.  Yet states must still want to enact those laws. States also must be the primary architects of their industrial policy, and certainly should strive to ensure that their investment agreements do not interfere with their pursuit of those goals. Yet, as Mr. Alschner and Ms. Tuerk note, many policies designed to foster municipal economic development can also lead to unjustified investment protectionism.  For example, the “infant industries” argument often offered by states (and by industries) seeking to facilitate the establishment of a national entrant into a competitive industry.  In the short term such policies are possibly beneficial.  In the long run, however, a state might be left with elderly infants who do not want to leave the shelter provided by policies, often somewhat costly, that insulate them from competition, particularly in the home market. Insofar as fostering responsible investor behavior is concerned, again the host state’s laws are, at least in principle, the best vehicles for regulating and monitoring the activities of investors.  Host states can impose conditions on investors prior to granting concessions, ensure compliance with local laws prior to granting licenses, and generally police investors’ behavior.  Some states might lack the capacity effectively to ensure that investors follow those laws, but their strong commitment to requiring responsible corporate behavior is the ideal situation and without host states’ engagement and cooperation fostering that behavior will be very difficult. The authors recognize potential impediments to active host-state regulation, and suggest a few alternatives.  One is to amend international investment agreements to include references to corporate social responsibility and to encourage their interpretation in a manner that gives effect to those principles; another is encourage states themselves to engage in their best endeavors to promote companies’ adoption of corporate social responsibility principles.  A third is to ensure that incoming investors, prior to their admission, be subject to a screening procedure identifying their corporate social responsibility practices.  The fourth, and most ambitious, would be to include corporate-social-responsibility obligations in international investment agreements themselves – in other words, ensuring that investors have rights as well as responsibilities. Given my suggestion that host states are in the best position to impose and enforce obligations on corporations doing business in them, I query whether the recommended alternatives are adequate to compensate for deficiencies in regulation by host states. 

[Wolfgang Alschner is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Assistant at the Graduate Institute in Geneva, and Elisabeth Tuerk is Officer in Charge (OiC) of the Section on International Investment Agreements (IIAs) in UNCTAD's Division on Investment and Enterprise.]  One of the policy tools typically aimed at attracting foreign investment has been the conclusion of international investment agreements (IIAs). Foreign investment is an important source of finance for sustainable development, especially in low-income countries. However, the benefits from foreign investment are not automatic and the link between IIAs and sustainable development is a complex one: whereas IIA may contribute to more attracting more (sustainable) investment, they also constrain regulatory action by host governments that seek to maximize the positive and minimize the negative effects of foreign investment on sustainable development. This paper gives an overview of recent UNCTAD research on the nexus between IIAs and sustainable development in three areas of public policy-making. These include 1) combating climate change; 2) integrating investment and industrial policy; and 3) promoting responsible corporate behaviour. The paper concludes on the need for more inter-State cooperation to address the various challenges facing the IIA regime today and to enhance its sustainability dimension.

1) IIAs and climate change

When it comes to combating climate change, IIAs are a double edged sword.

[Dr Mary E. Footer is Professor of International Economic Law at the University of Notthingham, School of Law.] First of all my thanks to Freya Baetens and Opinio Juris for hosting the Book Symposium on Investment Law and for giving me the opportunity to post details of my chapter. I would also like to thank Gabrielle Marceau for her generous praise of my piece...

[Gabrielle Marceau is Counsellor in the Legal Affairs Division of the WTO and Associate Professor at the Faculty of Law in the University of Geneva. Opinions expressed are personal to the author and do not bind WTO Members or the WTO Secretariat.] In her chapter "International Investment law and trade: the relationship that never went away Mary E. Footer explores the relationship between the international investment and trade regimes, from various perspectives. Mary's chapter is a must read; in a few pages you will learn about the history of the evolution of investment and trade agreements and understand their natural interaction. The term "interaction" is important because trade and investment remain two distinct legal systems or legal regimes that interact with each other in various ways. Mary's historical analysis of the essentially bilateral nature of investment rules seems quite persuasive and offers a very insightful background for the discussions which follow.  When the author compares this system of bilateral deals with the multilateral nature of the WTO/GATT regime, the reader is provided with informed explanations. Then Mary E. Footer makes an excellent comparative study of the investment and trade regimes with the purpose of examining the similarities and differences in their approach towards multilateralism.  With respect to what she calls the "investment regime," she acknowledges that it may be true that the extraordinary number of individual BITs constitute a special juridical regime. Footer highlights that even though the BITs have a similar structure, they nevertheless differ in details. In fact, they differ in detail to such an extent that it would be difficult to argue that they are capable of giving rise to customary international law principles. With respect to differences and similarities between trade and investment, Footer points out two grounds of divergence: First, the trade regime, through MFN, promotes multilateral liberalization. A majority of BITs, on the other hand, offer controlled entry that reserve the right of the host state to regulate the inflow of foreign investment into its territory. Second, while the investment regime is left with clusters of individual BITs which bind only two states, the WTO represents a common agreement among all Members.  One similarity between the two regimes she argues, is that both proceed with negotiations that are bilateral in character. I would add that another important similarity is that both systems prohibit unjustifiable discrimination. The two systems have, however, adopted slightly divergent approaches on when discrimination is justifiable and when it is not.   In any case, I believe the impact of those similarities and differences should be further analysed and understood. Of course I can only agree with Mary Footer's conclusion that the WTO is much more than the sum of its parts and is a dynamic and evolving institution which operates in a more complex regime of norms, decision-making activities and procedures than the GATT. In contrast, the relatively uncoordinated system of bilateral, regional and plurilateral instruments in the field of investment represents something different from the full-fledged multilateral trade regime. Ultimately, on the basis of her analysis, Mary Footer comes to the following conclusions:
  • The "living apart together" (LAT) relationship between international investment and trade is as strong today as it ever was.
  • In international relations, there is the emergence of different but interconnected treaty regimes in investment and trade.
  • The challenge would lie in determining the extent to which the interaction between international investment and trade is going to lead to either greater convergence or a possible divergence.
The trade and investment debate is not new.  It is important to try to understand why the trade and investment matter was rejected in Cancun. Certainly the investor-state relationship is an extremely difficult issue.  But trade and investment interact naturally.  Investments can be impeded by restrictive trade discrimination for example, and often trade needs investment to start with and to grow. We cannot deny that the interaction between trade and investment is necessary for sustainable development, but it is a complex and multidimensional relationship. And with this chapter, Footer throws light on the different perspectives of this interaction between trade and investment systems or regimes. I believe that the dispute settlement of both trade and investment systems can learn a lot from each other. 

[Dr Mary E. Footer is Professor of International Economic Law at the University of Notthingham, School of Law.] The relationship between international investment law and trade has been a constant, if not consistent, one throughout the history of international economic relations. Drawing on the evolution of these two areas of economic activity over the course of six decades, this relationship is examined...