By Yosuke Iwasaki (Sidley Austin LLP) and Takashi Yokoyama (Tenzer Arrieta PLLC)
While Japan has signed 36 bilateral investment treaties (“BITs”) with predominantly capital importing countries, historically the Japanese government’s investment treaty policy has been veiled in secrecy. While some countries, such as the United States and India, have officially published their own model BITs, Japan has never announced a model text as a template for negotiations. This may make it difficult for foreign government officials to anticipate the overall treaty structure that Japan will seek to adopt when entering investment treaty negotiations with other states. This post aims to highlight certain drafting hallmarks of Japan’s recently signed international investment agreements (“IIAs”) by examining the substantive and procedural provisions from the Japan-Argentina BIT (JAGT), Japan-Armenia BIT (JAMT), Japan-Jordan BIT (JJT) and Japan-UAE BIT (JUT), which were all signed in 2018, and the Japan-Cote d’Ivoire BIT (JCT) and Japan-Morocco BIT (JMT), which were both signed in 2020 (all six treaties collectively, “Treaties”). We will also explain Japan’s modern BIT policy based on two treaty-making approaches – traditional investment protection and modern investment liberalization.
Traditional Protection vs. Modern Liberalization
The JJT, JMT and JUT are generally classified as “Traditional Protection IIAs” as they only cover foreign investments that traditionally qualify as an “investment.” On the other hand, JAGT, JAMT and JCT are categorized as “Modern Liberalization IIAs” as they grant investors a right of admission or they establish the status of investments at the pre-investment stage. In this regard, a Japanese government official testified on 12 May 2020 that Japan’s default position in negotiating a BIT with potential contracting states is to adopt the Modern Liberalization IIAs approach, though it was open to consider the Traditional Protection IIAs approach. Considering that not many countries presently adopt the approach reflected in the Modern Liberalization IIAs, this policy of Japan promoting market access is remarkable internationally. However, the authors consider the modern liberalization approach fits Japan’s global economic position as a capital exporting country to broadly protect Japanese investors in a host state.
Definition of Investment
The definition of investments is generally broad in the Treaties the authors surveyed. The Treaties define an “investment” on an “asset” basis as “every kind of asset owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by an investor,” extending its application to “any tangible and intangible, movable and immovable property, and any related property rights,” with a non-exhaustive enumeration of “investment” forms that enables arbitral tribunals to interpret the investor’s activities or expenditures into the treaty’s definition of an “investment,” even if it is not listed. In contrast, Article 1.4 of the India Model BIT 2015 constitutes an “investment” on an “enterprise” basis that is conceptually narrower than the “asset” approach embraced in the vast majority of Japanese IIAs.
Aside from this common definition of investments, the Treaties also feature four notable hallmarks.
First, JAGT, JMT and JUT each refer to the “characteristics of an investment” as part of their definition of “investment.” In using this term, they are likely inspired by the four characteristics for the definition of “investment” set out in the Salini test and other ICSID arbitral awards: i) the commitment of capital or other characteristics; ii) a certain duration of performance; iii) assumption of risk; and iv) a contribution to the economic development of the host state. In addition to the inherent “characteristics of an investment” generally required in any investment disputes, the enumerated characteristics will be scrutinized in particular for alignment with the purpose of each Treaty before an arbitral tribunal.
Second, JAGT, JJT and JMT each stipulate that an investment shall be “made in accordance with applicable laws and regulations” in the host state. The requirement of compliance with applicable laws and regulations is rooted in arbitral awards. In this regard, the footnote of JAGT Article 1(a) provides that “[i]t is confirmed that nothing in this Agreement shall apply to investments made by investors of a Contracting Party in violation of the applicable laws and regulations of either or both of the Contracting Parties.” Notably, the “degree of violation” by an investor could be a contentious issue for a tribunal to consider. For example, if an investor does not submit the registration documents required under the Foreign Exchange Law at the time of incorporation and afterward conducted ordinary business activities without any particular violations of law in the host state, it would be disproportionate if the investment treaty regime were to consistently preclude the business activities or expenditures of the investor from investment protection regardless of whether such violation is material or minor.
Third, JAGT, JJT and JMT each explicitly preclude public debts from the definition of “investments.” Unless a treaty unambiguously precludes public debts from the definition of “investments,” the issue of whether public debts legally have the appropriate characteristics to amount to an “investment” could be a contentious one. For the avoidance of disputes, JAGT, JJT and JMT each preclude public debts from the definition of investments.
Fourth, JUT Article 1(a) precludes “natural resources” in the definition of investments because that constitutes “public property” under the UAE Constitution. However, this does not mean that all kinds of assets or business activities relevant to natural resources are consequently precluded from investment protection. For example, a natural resource refinery funded by an investor could constitute an “investment” under the JUT, apart from the natural resources involved themselves.
Definition of Investor / Denial of Benefits
The Treaties commonly provide that an “investor” shall be either: i) “a natural person having the nationality of that Contracting Party in accordance with its applicable laws and regulations”; or ii) “an enterprise of that Contracting Party,” that “is making or has made an investment.” Among the Treaties, JMT Article 1(b) explains in relation to “dual nationality” that “a natural person who is a dual national shall be deemed to be exclusively a national of the State of his or her dominant and effective nationality.” This may not cover a Japanese investor with dual nationality which may be because Japanese immigration law does not recognize dual nationality.
JMT Article 1(b) uniquely qualifies an “investor of a Contracting Party” that is an “enterprise” which is “carrying out substantial business activities” in that Contracting Party. There are some statutory distinctions or differences of legal consequences between JMT and the other Treaties despite the fact that the denial of benefits (“DOB”) clauses in the Treaties also bar an enterprise that does not operate substantial business activities in the home state from enjoying the Treaty’s investment protection. Firstly, excluding such an enterprise from BIT protection through the definition of an investor or DOB clause may result in bifurcation, determining whether the burden of proof shall lie with an investor or a host state. Secondly, there is considerable debate about whether the assertion based on the DOB clause might not go to jurisdiction but rather admissibility or merits, and whether that assertion can be made after the claim is filed or must be invoked at some earlier date in time.
Finally, the Treaties enjoin an enterprise owned or controlled by an investor of a non-Contracting Party that has no diplomatic relations with the host state from enjoying the benefits of the protection.
Most-Favored Nation Treatment
All of the Treaties explicitly preclude the applicability of their MFN provisions to any treatment granted by procedural provisions of any other international agreements. We note that the Modern Liberalization IIAs further proscribe their MFN provisions’ applicability to any treatment granted by substantive and procedural provisions of international agreements signed before the effective dates of the Modern Liberalization IIAs. In this regard, JAGT enjoins its MFN provision’s applicability to any treatment granted by substantive and procedural provisions of international agreements signed before the effective date of JAGT, under Article 3.5, while the other two stipulate the same in the Schedule of Reservation.
Curiously, in barring the MFN provisions’ applicability to substantive and procedural provisions of international agreements signed before the effective dates, the scope of the MFN provisions’ applicability under the Modern Liberalization IIAs is considerably narrower than that provided by the Traditional Protection IIAs despite the investment liberalization policy that Japan wishes to facilitate.
Fair and Equitable Treatment
Each of the Treaties equates FET with the customary international law standard. While India’s Model BIT 2015 Article 3.1 and the Canada-EU Economic and Trade Agreement Article 8.10.2 exhaustively enumerate the elements of FET, Japan is not currently adopting such an approach. Rather, the extremely straightforward wordings of JAMT and JJT’s FET provisions invite interpretation as per their plain and broad meaning by arbitral tribunals. In contrast, the detailed FET provisions in JAGT and JMT may demonstrate that Japan is attempting this type of statutory clarification of the FET standard in some of its IIAs, as endorsed by the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership.
This difference is a result of negotiations between Japan and the other contracting countries. However, we humbly consider this extremely straightforward wordings’ definition could benefit an investor because the FET provision may apply to government action broadly, while the detailed definition could benefit a host state, because an investor shall satisfy the enumerated elements of the FET to prove that the government action breaches it. For broader investment protection, the former approach would be in harmony with Japan’s broader investment protection policy.
Umbrella Clause/Investment Agreement
Among the Traditional Protection IIAs, JUT Article 5.3 adopts an Umbrella Clause providing that: “Each Contracting Party shall observe any obligation it may have entered into with regard to investments … of investors of the other Contracting Party.” In this regard, arbitral tribunals historically diverge on whether and to what extent an Umbrella Clause could apply to a case where an investor alleges a host state’s breach of contract. In SGS v. Pakistan, the tribunal denied the Umbrella Clause’s applicability to a breach of contract between the disputing parties because there was no clear and persuasive evidence that this was the actual intention of the contracting countries. Other tribunals have also underscored that the Umbrella Clause shall solely embrace disputes regarding investment agreements or contracts to which (i) the host state itself is privy as a sovereign (as opposed to separate entities whose actions may be attributable to the state under international law), or which (ii) involve sovereign rather than commercial acts. There are of course, as with many issues arising in investment treaty arbitration, decisions that go the other way. The interpretation of such clauses by a given arbitral tribunal has a potential to limit the scope of obligations arising from an Umbrella Clause of IIAs, such as limiting their application to when a host state acts in a sovereign capacity or when the state itself is a party to the contract. Thus, arbitral tribunals could also restrain the applicability of JUT Article 5.3 depending on their own interpretation of the host state’s actual intention with respect to contractual disputes.
On the other hand, Japan’s Modern Liberalization IIAs cover a breach of contract by the host state by the “investment agreement” provision instead of the Umbrella Clause, as the CPTPP Article 9.19 similarly employed this approach. In this regard, JAMT Article 1 defines an “investment agreement” as a written agreement between an investor (or its investment that is an enterprise in the territory) and a host state’s central or local government or authority. JAMT Article 24.6 entitles an investor to submit a claim for the host state’s breaches of investment agreements through Article 24.2 (a)(i)(B) and (b)(i)(B) to arbitration by the state’s “consent” set out in the Treaty. The latter provision further provides that any dispute settlement clauses in an investment agreement between an investor and a host state shall not supersede this “consent.” Japan’s “investment agreement” provisions may clarify the scope and any limitations on the text of the host state’s obligations and issues of privity under an Umbrella Clause. The authors underline that this “investment agreement” provision’s approach is one of Japan’s remarkable features in the Modern Liberalization IIAs that may replace the traditional function of an Umbrella Clause in IIAs.
Each Treaty establishes the four conditions of lawful expropriation: i) a public purpose; ii) in a non-discriminatory manner; iii) upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation; and iv) in accordance with due process of law. “Compensation” is defined as “the fair market value of the expropriated investments” in the Treaties. “Interest” is calculated as “commercially reasonable rate” in the same manner, while the duration of the interest could be interpreted differently in each Treaty. For example, JAGT, JAMT, JGT and JJT compute “Interest” from the date of expropriation until the date of payment, while JMT and JUT do so by “taking into account the length of time until the time of payment.” These two Treaties might evaluate less amount of the interest than the others in the quantum award accordingly.
We note that JAGT Article 11.2 and 11.3 and JMT Annex referred to in its Article 9 enumerate the three conceivable factors in determining whether a government measure constitutes “indirect expropriation,” which are likely influenced by the investment treaty practice of the U.S. and Latin American countries, comprising: i) economic impact of the government action; ii) interferences with distinct and reasonable expectations arising out of investment; and iii) character of the government action. Both Treaties also delineate that government action for legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health, safety and the environment, would not constitute “indirect expropriation” except in “rare circumstances.” On balance, the phrase “rare circumstances” is likely provided to benefit an investor.
While substantive provisions in each Treaty vary respectively, the authors conclude that the scope of the investment protection under Japan’s Treaties is comparatively broad. This can be seen from the comprehensive definition of an “investment” or “investor” and the FET provisions, interpretation and application of which are much left to arbitral tribunals. We assume that this is not only because Japan is a capital exporting country, but also because of the fact Japan had never previously been a respondent state in investment arbitrations initiated under its IIAs at least before the signing of the Treaties. Japan’s initiatives on the Modern Liberalization IIAs may explain the recent BIT policy. Finally, preservation of State rights to regulate may also be further area of interest for examining how Japan develops the scope of its IIAs in the near future.
The authors received helpful comments from Shimpei Ishido of Nishimura & Asahi in Japan and Charles Tay of Zhong Lun Law Firm in China. The Japan’s modern BIT policy on procedural provisions will be unveiled at the next piece. ↑
This counting of Japan’s BITs does not include multilateral investment treaties and investment chapters of EPAs except for the Japan-Korea-China Investment Treaty signed in 2012. This piece does not analyze the Japan-Georgia BIT signed on 29 January 2021 after our submission to the editorial committee. ↑
Katsuhiko Takahashi’s response at Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the House of Councilors, Japan’s Diet on 12 May 2020 ↑
See, e.g., JUT Article 1(a), JMT Article 1(a) ↑
Salini Costruttori S.p.A. and Italstrade S.p.A. v. Kingdom of Morocco [I], ICSID Case No. ARB/00/4, Decision on Jurisdiction of 31 July 2001. Joy Mining Machinery Limited v. Arab Republic of Egypt, ICSID Case No. ARB/03/11, Award on Jurisdiction of 6 August 2004 ↑
See, e.g., Romak S.A. v. The Republic of Uzbekistan, Award, 26 November 2009 ↑
See, e.g., Phoenix Action, Ltd. v. The Czech Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/06/5, Award on 15 April 2009 ↑
See JAGT Article 1(a)(iii) “a sovereign debt of a Contracting Party or a debt of a state enterprise,” JJT Article 1(a) Note (i) “public debt,” JMT Article 1(a) Note (i) “debt securities issued by a Contracting Party or loan to a Contracting Party or to a public enterprise.” ↑
See, e.g., Abaclat and Others v. Argentine Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/07/5, Poštová banka, a.s. and ISTROKAPITAL SE v. Hellenic Republic, ICSID Case No. ARB/13/8 ↑
Katsuhiko Takahashi’s response at Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives, Japan’s Diet on 10 April 2020 ↑
See, e.g., JJT Article 1(b), JMT Article 1(b) ↑
See, e.g., JAGT Article 23.2 ↑
See, e.g., Plama v. Bulgaria Decision on Jurisdiction, 8 February 2005; Empresa Eléctrica del Ecuador, Inc. v. Republic of Ecuador, Award, 2 June 2009, para. 71; Isolux Infrastructure Netherlands, BV v. Kingdom of Spain, SCC Case No. V2013/153, Award, 12 July 2016 ↑
See, e.g., Ampal v. Egypt, Decision on Jurisdiction, 1 February 2016, paras. 160-170 ↑
See, e.g., JMT Article 20 ↑
See Article 9.6.2 of Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership ↑
See SGS Société Générale de Surveillance S.A. v. Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Decision on Jurisdiction, ICSID Case No. ARB/01/13 ↑
See, e.g., Impregilo SpA v The Islamic Republic of Pakistan, ICSID Case No.ARB/03/3, Decision on Jurisdiction, 22 April 2005, para. 223, Gustav F W Hamester GmbH & Co KG v Republic of Ghana, ICSID Case No ARB/07/24, Award, 18 June 2010, para. 347(i) ↑
See, e.g., El Paso Energy International Company v. Argentine Republic, Decision on Jurisdiction, ICSID Case No. ARB/03/15, Pan American Energy LLC and BP Argentina Exploration Company v. Argentine Republic, Decision on Preliminary Objections, ICSID Case No. ARB/03/13, CMS Gas Transmission Company v. Argentine Republic, Award, ICSID Case No. ARB/01/8, Sempra Energy International v. Argentine Republic, Award, ICSID Case No. ARB/02/16 ↑
See, e.g., JAGT Article 11.5 and JUT Article 12.3 ↑
See, e.g., Middle East Cement v. Egypt, ICSID Case No. ARB/99/6, Award of 12 April 2002. Metalclad v. Mexico, ICSID Case No. ARB(AF)/97/1, Award of 30 August 2000 ↑
See Japan’s Action Plan for Promotion of Investment Environment Preservation by International Investment Treaties declared on 11 May 2016 ↑