José Rafael Mata Dona
A week before the autumn session in Vienna of the UNCITRAL Working Group III, the EC held a Stakeholder meeting in Brussels on the subject of the establishment of a Multilateral Investment Court. The initiative took place as part of the EC Commitment to Transparency.
During the introductory speech, Collin Brown (Dispute Settlement and Legal Aspects of Trade Policy, Directorate General for Trade, European Commission) traced the history of the proposal for a multilateral court for the settlement of investment disputes back to September 2017. This was followed by Collin’s general comments on UNCITRAL discussions, mandate and the content covered through its three distinct phases of progress, the last of which ‘Development of relevant solutions for the reform of ISDS’ started on the 4th of April 2019 and is still ongoing in two parallel tracks: one focusing on structural reforms and another involving other types of solutions. Collin highlighted the celebration of inter-sessional meetings, as in September 2019 in Conakry, Guinea.
The EC’s expectation for the 14–18 October 2019 meeting is that the WG will agree to discuss substantive issues and proceed as per the UNCITRAL Secretariat paper on reform options. Also, the EC expects the WG to develop relations to other international bodies e.g. OECD and UNCTAD. Among the submissions to UNCITRAL WG III on possible reform of ISDS, Collin said particular attention should be paid to China’s proposal of a permanent appellate mechanism. He generally commented on the UNCITRAL Secretariat thematic papers and the multidisciplinary approach of the Academic Forum papers. Along those lines, he specifically mentioned the proposal for the creation of ‘An Advisory Centre on International Investment Law’ (See here and here). The slides of the presentation and the video of the meeting are available here.
All the foregoing led to the exchange of views described below.
In the first round of questions, participants asked about (i) the role of the USA in the WG (ii) the jurisdiction of the Multilateral Court (iii) the maintenance of the term ‘arbitrator’ in the EC proposal for a multilateral court (iv) the status of the EC in the WG and (v) any particular contribution the EU is or is not willing to support.
In reply to those questions, Collin clarified the US has not submitted a paper but takes a fairly active role in the WG with more focus on reforms already put in place.
He said the EU view on the jurisdiction of the MIC is that it should be kept fairly open, though that debate is yet to happen. Further, he mentioned the EC does not refer any longer either to ‘arbitrators’ nor ‘judges’ in its proposal. It now refers to ‘adjudicators’ as a more neutral term.
Collin signalled accreditation to the WG is directly handled by the UNCITRAL Secretary. The EC submitted a paper on behalf of both, the EU and EU Member States.
For the EC, the WG is not the appropriate forum to discuss about withdrawal of consent. On the contrary, the EC sees coming as a genuine part of the discussions the use of domestic remedies, which in its opinion should be encouraged but not necessarily exhausted.
In the second round of questions, participants asked about (i) the use of an opt-in clause (ii) the level of consent expressed by African groups during the regional meeting in Conakry (iii) expectations in Vienna regarding the two parallel tracks of work streams (iv) the support behind the MIC and how long it could take, (v) how many EU countries have ratified the Mauritius Convention and applied it (vi) the applicability of the New York Convention to the enforceability of the MIC decisions (vii) EU Law conformity in regard with Opinion 1/17 of the CJEU, and (viii) the ability of third parties to have more extended rights than an amicus curiæ.
Collin explained the idea of the opt-in clause is to create an umbrella treaty and remarked there is a discussion as to whether it would be automatically applicable or not. As previous examples of implementation, he quoted the United Nations Convention on Transparency in Treaty-based Investor-State Arbitration (the ‘Mauritius Convention’) and the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters developed jointly by the OECD and the Council of Europe.
Collin argued he could not speak on behalf of any African groups. Allegedly, there was a concern on costs, duration of proceedings, how to address more the use of Conciliation, Mediation and other ADRs, cultural diversity in arbitration and the difficulties developing countries face in managing to defend themselves.
As to the two parallel tracks of work streams, the EC will actively participate in both. However, its priority is to work more on a permanent structure. Collin said the idea of the multilateral court has found not only support but also interest. Countries realize there is an opportunity to engage in significant reform and are keen to do that. Obviously, it is quite difficult to predict how long this will take despite the celebration of intersectional sessions to accelerate the process to move forward.
Collin said the number of countries that have ratified the Mauritius Convention is growing steadily, but international law does not move very quickly. So, it takes time. During the last 4 years, the EU has been discussing a Council decision on the adoption of the Convention, but a very small number of EU States does not want to get there. Once that decision is made, it will open the door for EU Member States to ratify the Mauritius Convention, which already many EU Member States have signed.
On enforceability, Collin distinguished two elements. On the one hand, there should not be the ability for domestic courts to review a decision which has been subject to appeal. These rules should be modelled or similar to ICSID enforceability rules. On the other hand, the EC foresees an argument on the enforceability of the decisions of the MIC in third countries. According to the EC, the solution to the latter is to apply the New York Convention. And in this regard, the Iran-United States Claims Tribunal is quoted as an example of the applicability of the New York Convention to the enforceability of the decisions of a permanent body. This does not properly clear the fact that equality of the parties in the appointment of arbitrators constitutes a principle of international public policy. Article V(2)(b) of the New York Convention is understood as providing grounds for nonrecognition of awards for a lack of due process or violation of public policy.
As to EU Law conformity in regard with Opinion 1/17 of the CJEU, the EC envisions to ensure it in part in the MIC itself but much more likely also in the underlying treaties with non-binding decisions on EU Law and the same for the type of remedies.
For the EC, the question on the ability of third parties to have more extended rights than an amicus curiæ is not on the horizon of the discussions that will take place in Vienna from 14 to 18 October 2019. It is a subject for future discussion in a later stage of the reform.
Finally, during the last round of questions Collin observed that it is not immediately clear the Multilateral Court should be a specific structure or have a particular relation to the International Court of Justice.
 Member of the Brussels, Barcelona and Caracas Bars.