ISDS Reform: Designing Permanent Institutions at Working Group III
Last week, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group III (WGIII) turned squarely to designing permanent adjudicative institutions for the resolution of investment disputes. As readers of this blog may be aware, WGIII is charged with developing multilateral reforms to the current ad hoc system of investor-state dispute resolution (ISDS). This government-led process involves delegations from around a hundred States, with active participation by dozens of observer delegations from international organizations, arbitral institutions, NGOs, business associations, and learned societies. Beginning in WGIII’s 34th Session in 2017, this work has continued through biannual sessions in Vienna and New York. From 2017 to 2018, delegations registered substantial concerns with ISDS, relating to fragmented arbitral outcomes; arbitrator independence, impartiality, and diversity; duration and cost; multiple proceedings; and third-party funding (Phase 1). In the fall of 2018, WGIII decided to work multilaterally to reform such concerns within UNCITRAL (Phase 2). As of its 37th Session in 2019, WGIII has moved firmly into working on concrete reform options (Phase 3) (discussed here).
WGIII’s 38th Session in Vienna marked a key transition into detailed discussion of reform options. Meeting initially in October 2019, the WGIII held discussions on a series of reform options according to a pre-determined project schedule. This work was grounded in proposals by over forty-five governments, across twenty-three submissions (here); complemented by several Secretariat papers; submissions by observer delegations (here); and concept papers by the Academic Forum on ISDS Reform (here). In this initial meeting, WGIII focused on (i) developing a multilateral advisory center; (ii) a code of conduct; and (iii) reforms to third-party funding (discussed here). Discussions centered on high level values, trade-offs and prioritization, with the goal of guiding the Secretariat as it turns to developing more concrete reform options.
Resuming its 38th Session in Vienna last week (January 2020), WGIII turned squarely to designing permanent institutions: (iv) a standing appellate mechanism; and (v) a multilateral investment court (MIC); as well as the cross-cutting question of (vi) selecting and appointing adjudicators. As with the discussions last fall, the goal was to discuss each reform option at a high level, to provide guidance to the Secretariat. The Working Group is not yet taking firm decisions on the desirability or ultimate form of any reforms, although some States are already revealing their preferences. Later this year, WGIII will develop a new project schedule and begin circling back to each topic, seriatim, with the benefit of new responsive work by the Secretariat, the Academic Forum, and other organizations (such as the OECD, ICSID, the PCA, and several NGOs).READ MORE