Abandoning all Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanisms Also Not Supported by the Facts (updated 17 August)
I am glad the High Court of Australia rejected today the argument by major tobacco companies that Australia’s plain packaging legislation is an unconstitutional “acquisition” of their rights. I dislike those companies’ products, their marketing and their litigation strategies, and I support the plain packaging legislation. I’ve also made numerous submissions to the Australian government since 2005 seeking to improve safety regulation for general consumer goods – partially achieved in the 2010 “Australian Consumer Law”.
But I hope that the ongoing arbitration claim of “expropriation”, initiated by Philip Morris Asia under the 1993 Hong Kong – Australia bilateral investment treaty, does not feed into blanket rejection of any forms of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in investment treaties. Although that system has flaws, it also has benefits, and there is ample scope to draft treaties to provide clear and appropriate mechanisms to balancing private and public interests. With others familiar with international investment law, I provide further examples of the most promising substantive and procedural law reforms in an Open Letter dated 28 July 2012, in response to a recent OECD Public Consultation on ISDS.
My comment will therefore address points made recently on The Conversation blog by Dr Kyla Tienhaara, who remains completely opposed to any form of ISDS. In fact, she urges the Gillard Government to try to excise ISDS from all Australia's existing FTAs and investment treaties (dating back to 1988), in addition to eschewing them for future treaties – as the Government seems to be attempting, pursuant to its policy shift on ISDS announced in the 2011 Trade Policy Statement (TPS). An alternative is for the Government to approach Hong Kong authorities to seek agreement on amending the 1993 treaty to suspend PMA’s pending claim. More generally, Australia should consider including ISDS provisions in future treaties but expressly reserve its right to agree with the treaty partner to suspend particular types of claims, for example regarding public health issues. This compromise approach is already essentially found in investment treaty practice where the claim involves allegations of “expropriatory taxation”.