USCIB Senior Advisor Shaun Donnelly and investment treaty expert Lauren Mandell from USCIB member firm WilmerHale represented USCIB at a virtual Working Group III (WG III) sessions of the UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). For over three years, WG III has been discussing possible “reforms” of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration system. The sessions had delegates and observers participating from around the world and every time zone.
According to Donnelly, the European Union’s effort to establish a multilateral investment court continued to be the focus of discussions as it has been in the past three years. Under the EU’s vision, the court would replace traditional ISDS – under which the investor appoints one arbitrator, the state appoints one arbitrator, and the parties jointly appoint the chair of the tribunal – with a “court” consisting of a pool of judges appointed solely by states, assigned to each case on a random basis.
“The discussion last week focused on technical questions regarding how judges would be selected and appointed, including qualifications, nominations and screening procedures, and terms of office,” said Donnelly. “However, amidst this technical exercise, numerous states, as well as USCIB and other observer groups, raised larger conceptual questions about the merits of a court. In particular, some states objected to losing their ability to appoint adjudicators in individual cases. Other states raised questions about the cost of establishing and maintaining the court.”
The WG also started debate on the key issue of adding an appellate body which might review investor-state decisions, whether from an ISDS panel or a new investment court. USCIB actively participated in the discussions and posed many questions regarding the desirability of a court.
As a next step, the working group tasked the UNCITRAL Secretariat with drafting legal text to flesh out the design of the court. According to Donnelly, it will be important for USCIB and USCIB member companies to actively monitor this drafting and negotiation process to ensure that the working group fully takes into account investors’ interests.
USCIB is one of only a few non-governmental organizations representing business that is accredited to participate in the working group discussions.
“It’s not clear how much real progress was made but there was real debate on some important issues,” Donnelly said. “My colleague Lauren and other expert observers got chances to point out major questions and problems with the EU’s investment court proposal. Increasing numbers of member states also seem to be focusing on the flaws in the EU’s radical proposal which would eliminate investors’ role in selecting arbiters. The U.S. government delegation did an outstanding job. We will continue to work with interested government delegations as well as legal, arbitration and business groups allies. We encourage more USCIB members to get involved with us in this important negotiation.”