To this end, the aim of the thesis was dual: first, to ascertain the viability of existing frameworks for commercial arbitration in African emerging markets for the purposes of promoting their reputation as seats of international arbitration; and second, to extend the literature on the African Union’s economic integration agenda that has recently been brought to the fore again by the Agreement establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
In dealing with the problem, Dr. Taiwo set out to investigate the main research question of the extent to which a sector-specific specialist arbitration framework could enhance the right of access to justice.
Using a hybrid methodology and the single case study design, the central argument was that, to the extent that the necessary political will is present, identifying small spaces for reform (especially through specialist arbitration frameworks) and dealing with these issues in chunks is an effective way of progressively improving the parameters of access to justice, building attractive seats of international arbitration in Africa and consequently, contribute to economic and sustainable development.
One of the original contributions the thesis makes is applying access to justice from human rights law to commercial law as a major conceptual basis for the research to address not only arbitration matters but also other issues that parties take into consideration when choosing a seat of arbitration.
The wider significance of the work lies in its ability to not only reinforce the idea that the law is part of the development and should be part of critical sectors like the construction industry but also to inform law and policy for commercial arbitration in emerging markets and international institutions.
The thesis also expands the knowledge base of access to justice and the role it plays in issues beyond the realm of human rights law and discourse.
Dr. Taiwo plans to publish journal articles from her thesis to further explore the theme of the interplay of commercial dispute resolution and human rights for sustainability, and pathways to effective regionalisation through commercial arbitration in Africa.
The book examines the different ways non-state rules are applied in international commercial contracts with the aim to understand the legal authority of non-state rules. To do so, the book analyses:
The rule of non-state rules in international commercia law;
The role of non-state rules in international commercial contracts;
The application and interpretation of non-state rules.
Non-state rules can be defined as those rules which come from a source other than the state. This includes uncodified rules (trade usages and general principles of law) and codified rules (restatements of law, model laws, model contract clauses and guidelines). They are, in principle, not binding and they either need to be contracted into or can be contracted out of. The concept of non-state rules is wider than the lex mercatoria which consists of trade usages and practices by merchants and general principles of law, but would not include rules codified by international organisations and trade associations.
The contracting parties in an international contract might be faced with uncertainty and unpredictability as to the applicable law and its content. For at least one of the parties’ choice of law often means the application of a foreign law with sometimes unforeseen consequences. To escape the unpredictability of a foreign law, to create a level playing field between the contracting partners if they cannot agree on the applicable law, or because they prefer a neutral law, the parties might choose non-state rules as the governing law of the contract. Whilst such a choice is usually permitted in arbitration, it is only rarely permitted in litigation. Private international law in most jurisdictions allows the parties to include non-state rules as contractual terms or by reference, but limits choice of governing law to state laws.
Examining the role of non-state rules, beyond being the governing law of the contract, shows that they are frequently used by courts and arbitral tribunals to interpret either the contract or the applicable law. Interestingly, this is frequently done even when the parties have not included a reference to non-state rules in the contract. This can be done to either fill gaps in the contract, to show the compatibility of the applicable law with transnational commercial practice, or to interpret the contract in light of the principles of transnational commercial law. Courts and arbitral tribunals are thus taking a leading role in shaping how non-state rules are used.
This book examines these different ways in which non-state rules are applied in order to understand how this affects their legal authority. By studying the application of non-state rules, it can be understood what role they play in domestic law, what support they have from the international business community, and the position they have in courts and arbitral tribunals.
This book demonstrates how non-state rules have legal authority as the applicable law to the contract, as sources of (domestic) law, as legal doctrine/scholarship, and as terms of the contract. They can be considered as law, rules of law, contractual rules, and/or normative practices depending on the situation.
Dr. Hoekstra’s book thus gives a practical overview of different types of non-state rules and their role in international commercial law, and contributes to the theoretical discussion by analysing several key issues related to the legal authority of non-state rules.
Dr. Anil Yilmaz Vastardis, Senior Lecturer and Co-Director of the Essex Business and Human Rights Project, School of Law and Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
In my recently published book The Nationality of Corporate Investors under International Investment Law(Hart Publishing 2020), I dissect the relationship between international investment law, corporate law and the concept of nationality. I argue that this relationship has been problematic from host states’ and their communities’ perspective, for it creates a free market for manufactured corporate nationalities enabling wealthy investors to access investment treaty protections to challenge regulatory measures.
Scrolling through the UNCTAD investment dispute settlement database, one can detect, even without reading the awards or decisions, that some businesses publicly known to be corporate nationals of a particular state seek protection under investment treaties of other states. For instance, the UNCTAD database shows a claim filed by Chevron against the Philippines in 2019. One would expect this claim to be filed under the US-Philippines investment treaty, as Chevron Corporation is incorporated and headquartered in the US. But it appears from the UNCTAD investment agreements database that there is no investment treaty between the US and the Philippines. Instead, Chevron filed this claim under the Philippines-Switzerland investment treaty utilising its Swiss subsidiary Chevron Overseas Finance GmbH.
One investor, convenient nationalities
This practice of nationality shopping is relatively common and largely permitted in investment treaty practice. It is enabled by investment treaty texts and generous arbitral interpretations of a corporation’s link to its alleged home state. In the example of Chevron, while it certainly has a corporate presence in Switzerland, through which it may have channelled its investments to the Philippines, the question remains as to whether this alone makes Chevron a Swiss investor. The relevant investment treaty defines a protected Swiss ‘investor’ to include any company incorporated under Swiss law. According to this definition, Chevron in the Philippines is a Swiss investor and not a US investor. However, according to two prior investment treaty claims that Chevron filed against Ecuador, it is a US investor. This is not an isolated instance. In its 2011 claim against Australia, Philip Morris argued it was a Hong Kong investor, whilst at the same time arguing in a 2010 claim against Uruguay that it was a Swiss investor. Philip Morris is a well known, US – headquartered tobacco company. But in investment treaty claims, it has never been a US investor. Similarly, Mobil initiated a claim against Venezuela in 2007 as a Dutch investor and against Argentina in 1999 as a US investor. Total was a French investor in its claim against Argentina in 2004, but it was a Dutch investor in a claim against Uganda in 2015.
Good governance and development narratives no longer justify manufactured nationalities
There are many similar instances of less well-known corporate investors relying on manufactured corporate identities or nationalities in order to invoke investment treaty protections. And all of this is often permitted within the boundaries of investment treaty law and corporate law. Taking a page from Katharina Pistor’s Code of Capital, we can understand investment treaties and corporate law principles as offering a legal coding of foreign investment that enables investors to change identity so as to increase the durability and priority of their interests. Those in favour of this flexibility of investment treaty law argue that we should focus on the bigger picture: the objective of investment treaty law to enhance good governance and economic development would be better achieved if all investors had access to treaty protections and investment arbitration, regardless of their origin or nationality. Thus, it is in line with the objectives of investment treaties to interpret the concept of investor or corporate nationality expansively and flexibly – so much so that an investor can be a national of one state for the purpose of one claim and a national of another state for the purpose of another claim.
The good governance and development narratives of investment treaties, however, have been challenged by recent empirical work. After 20 years of proliferation of investment treaty claims, the evidence is lacking to support these narratives as justification for expanding the personal scope of investment treaty protections. States have begun to pay some attention to the personal scope of their investment treaties, especially for corporate investors, in newly negotiated investment treaties. Increasingly, states are adopting more detailed clauses that require a corporate investor to have a stronger connection to its home state than merely being incorporated in that jurisdiction. The question of personal scope of investment treaty protection is also considered by the UNCITRAL Working Group III as one of the reform areas to overcome consistency and correctness problems in investor-state dispute settlement. The recently published UNCTAD IIA Reform Accelerator also identifies ‘investor’ definitions among the eight key provisions of investment treaties in most need for reform. The objectives of these reform efforts are to tighten the definition of ‘investor’ and introduce ‘denial of benefits’ clauses to prevent corporate investors’ reliance on tenuous links with a home state to access treaty protection.
Reform and the pitfalls ahead
Reform is crucial in the area of personal coverage of treaties to (1) restore the reciprocal nature of investment treaty protections and (2) to avoid the reforms pursued by states on substantive investment treaty standards being side-stepped by investors by relying on the remaining older generation investment treaties. As I argue in my book, the permissive definitions of investor in older treaties and expansive interpretations of even the tighter definitions by arbitral tribunals have resulted in undermining the reciprocal nature of investment treaty commitments among states. There is no barrier for a US investor to rely on investment treaty protections for its investments in the Philippines, despite the two countries not having committed to extending such protection to each other’s investors. The definitions of investor, coupled with the convenience of creating corporate entities, artificially transform the standards of protection included in investment treaties into pseudo-erga omnes obligations for states which can be invoked by any investor, whether or not they are genuinely covered by a treaty. While reform of treaties is necessary to reverse this trend, treaty wording alone may not offer the tightening of standards the states are aiming for. Investment arbitration tribunals continue to have decisive input over the interpretation of treaty standards. This means that even tighter standards can be loosened in the process of arbitral interpretation. One of the key reforms added to investor definitions is to require that a protected investor has its real seat or substantial business activities in the home state. Yet, in a recent arbitral award in Mera Investment v Serbia, the tribunal interpreted the concept of real seat as the place of incorporation and permitted a shell corporation indirectly owned by nationals of the host state to benefit from the investment treaty, despite the investor lacking the genuine connections to the home state sought in the investment treaty. Thus, textual reform of treaties may not achieve the outcomes desired with the current model of investment arbitration.
The second consequence of the current definitions of investor and arbitral interpretations is that they can undermine substantive investment treaty reforms pursued by host states. This is due to investors’ ability to adopt a new, or rely on an existing corporate nationality, established using subsidiaries or mailbox companies and based on tenuous links with a home state that has an older generation treaty with the host state. In this way investors, who may genuinely be nationals of a home state that has recently signed a reformed treaty with the host state, can sidestep the reformed treaty and rely on an older generation treaty to bring its claim against the host state. Many new investment treaties introduce more nuanced substantive standards of protection and exceptions to the application of standards such as the FET standard or indirect expropriation in the areas of policies and measures introduced in the public interest. If, for instance, a Canadian investor within the EU wishes to avoid the provisions safeguarding the host state’s right to regulate to achieve legitimate public policy objectives enshrined in CETA, it can rely on an older generation investment treaty signed by the relevant EU member state and a third state in whose territory the investor can set up a shell corporation or has an existing subsidiary to reroute its investment before filing a claim and before a dispute becomes reasonably foreseeable.
Many states are working on reforming their investment treaties to curb the excesses of the older generation investment treaties. Unlike their first-generation counterparts, these newer generation treaties are being negotiated with greater attention to detail and lessons learned. The process for any state to reform its entire investment treaty programme can take a significant amount of time. In the meantime, investor definitions in treaties and expansive interpretation of this notion by arbitral tribunals can allow backdoor access for investors to older generation treaties via subsidiaries or shell corporations based in third countries. Even if a state reforms all its treaties and tightens investor definitions and includes denial of benefits clauses, there will still be a risk of arbitral tribunals undermining the objectives of the parties by interpreting the concepts incorrectly, as was done in Mera Investment v Serbia. The problems with both investment treaty texts and the decisive interpretative influence exercised by arbitral tribunals over those texts indicate that even serious change to one aspect of the investment treaty system, in isolation, can be undermined in the absence of more systemic reform.
The author would like to thank Daria Davitti, Nathalie Bernasconi, Paolo Vargiu, and Zoe Phillips Williams for their helpful comments.This post was originally published on Investment Treaty News.
The issue of legal representation in arbitration proceedings accounts for one of the sub-factors of ‘formal legal structure’ and ‘national arbitration law’ that disputing parties consider before choosing a seat of arbitration. Indeed, the ability of disputing parties in arbitration to freely select their desired representatives is embedded in the foundational principle of party autonomy, which continues to act as an incentive to settle cross-border disputes through international arbitration. However, while this may be the norm, a few countries take a different approach.
In Nigeria, a literal interpretation of the national arbitration rules prevents parties from selecting persons not admitted to the Nigerian bar as their representatives in arbitration proceedings. Upon being approached, courts of coordinate jurisdiction have interpreted the provisions in different ways. Therefore, this article examines the probable impact of this position on parties’ non-selection of the jurisdiction and its law in international arbitration proceedings. The article identifies scope for reform in the law and makes suggestions for creating a more liberal legislative and judicial framework in order to promote Nigeria as a seat of international arbitration.
The full article is published in Issue 2, Volume 37 of the Journal of International Arbitration and can be accessed here.