AFTINET joins 300 civil society organisations to urge real change at United Nations discussions on global corporate rights

Media release 31 October 2018: “The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) has joined more than 300 civil society groups to urge governments at United Nations meetings in Vienna this week to completely overhaul the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system contained in trade agreements like the TPP-11, which the Australian government has just ratified. The signatories include global organisations such as Public Services International, Friends of the Earth International, and ActionAid,” AFTINET Convener Dr Patricia Ranald said today.

“The public letter is the latest example of a growing backlash against ISDS. There are now 855 cases and corporations have won billions of dollars in compensation awarded by international tribunals for health, environment, indigenous rights or other public interest regulation. Governments from South Africa to Indonesia have terminated many of their treaties that include ISDS. Even the United States, Mexico, and Canada have agreed to roll back ISDS in the new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA),” said Dr Ranald.

The letter says that ISDS is fundamentally unbalanced because it empowers foreign corporations “to sue governments outside of domestic court systems for unlimited amounts of compensation, including for the loss of expected future profits.”

The letter is addressed to member governments, including Australia, attending meetings of the little-known UN Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), which provides one set of rules under which many ISDS cases are litigated. After years of public outcry against ISDS, UNCITRAL has a working group to discuss proposals for change.

“The signatory organisations fear that fundamental issues are not being addressed. They demand that, instead of focusing on procedural tweaks on the margins of the ISDS system, governments should put their efforts into discussing how to move away from ISDS altogether. This would include termination or replacement of existing agreements. ISDS should not be part of any trade agreement,” said Dr Ranald.

The signatories also specifically reject attempts by the European Union to push a “Multilateral Investment Court” as a “solution,” explaining that this EU proposal “would not only fail to address most of the fundamental flaws of ISDS and the current investment treaty regime, but seems designed to keep many of ISDS’s most damaging features (and flaws) intact.”

See the full text of the letter and list of signatories here.

Contact Dr Patricia Ranald on 0419 695 841