Trade & Investment

GOALS: For governments to review their positions towards investment agreements by ending their existing ones, and/or by refusing to enter into new ones. In particular, to question the investor-to-state dispute settlement mechanism and to put forward alternative investment policies that promote a more socially and environmentally just economic development.

In 2013, TNI’s in-depth research and expertise on international investment – particularly on the costs of investor-state dispute mechanisms (ISDS) – led to a surge in media coverage, making this hitherto ignored issue increasingly visible and political. Meanwhile, the issue was taken up by civil society networks spanning diverse social sectors and regions. This resulted in a number of governments around the world reconsidering their position on ISDS.

Putting investor-state dispute settlement on the agenda

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms give corporations the right to sue states if they take any measures – including public interest legislation – that might threaten even potential future profits. Highlighting how ISDS gives corporations far-reaching rights that curtail governments’ sovereignty and drain limited public budgets, was the main focus of TNI’s work on trade and investment in 2013.

TNI was cited in 67 articles in 18 countries’ national media – nearly half relating to ISDS. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development twice cited Profiting from Injustice in reports, as did influential trade magazines aimed at arbitrators. President Correa of Ecuador referred to it in several speeches, including his inaugural address. Over 1,100 people, including civil society organisations, policymakers and journalists, participated in TNI co-organised seminars and workshops in 11 countries, as well as at EU level.

There are indications of major shifts on ISDS. South Africa, and later Indonesia, gave notice that they would not be renewing a number of bilateral investment treaties (BITs). Ecuador set up a commission to review its BITs, and a regional Latin American observatory to monitor investment disputes with transnational corporations is to be set up by 8 governments. TNI was asked to second a staff member to work with the Ecuadorian commission, and has also been asked to help advise on the terms of reference for the Latin American observatory.

ISDS is also being hotly debated in Malaysia, Indonesia, India and other Asian countries, where TNI has supported Focus on the Global South’s work on EU-ASEAN free trade agreements across the region. TNI has also done specific capacity-building with civil society organisations in Burma to engage with the EU-Burma investment treaty negotiations, which has also raised awareness within the government there, which is now being more cautious in its negotiations. Even the European Commission was forced to respond to the public concern, promising a public consultation with citizens, while clear divisions emerged among EU member states in respect of ISDS inclusion in trade agreements.

Campaigning against TTIP

A very significant treaty negotiation underway is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and US. Focusing on it proved important in raising awareness of the wider implications of ISDS, especially among Europeans. Concerns about the crisis and the austerity measures in Europe have opened up new spaces to highlight the potential dangers of investment disputes for governments’ capacity to take measures consistent with the public interest. Campaigning work around the negotiations has catapulted trade and investment treaties onto the public agenda.

As a result of TNI and other Fair, Green and Global Alliance partners’ advocacy, the Dutch Parliament requested the government to conduct an investigation into the potential impact of ISDS in TTIP for the Netherlands.

TNI co-published A Transatlantic Corporate Bill of Rights in June 2013, one of the first publications to look in detail at the dangers of TTIP. TNI Fellow Susan George has played an important role in highlighting TTIP in the media and in her public speaking. In December 2013, TNI co-hosted a TTIP campaign strategy meeting in Brussels, attended by over 80 European civil society organisations.

TNI also co-initiated and hosts the European coordination of the Alternative Trade Mandate campaign, launched in Brussels in 2013. The ATM puts forward alternatives to the current European trade and investment agenda and encourages citizens to urge candidates for the European Parliament to pledge support for just and sustainable trade policies.

“TNI’s campaign on ISDS and alternative trade campaign suggests its continued relevance and leadership on global issues. I have no doubts in my mind that TNI will reach greater heights in the next years and will serve as an alternative voice of the marginalized and powerless.”

Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament, Malaysia