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Vancouver Participatory Economics Collective

This is the blog for the Vancouver ParEcon Collective. Posts are made by collective members, regarding participatory economics, vision, strategy and related issues.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Canada-Peru investment pact

by Dave Markland
Last month, the governments of Canada and Peru inked a FIPA - a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement. A FIPA is a lowly species of free trade pact, undeserving of the "FTA" status of the deals we have with Chile, Costa Rica, Israel and of course the US and Mexico in NAFTA. (You can see a Canadian government page showing all our international agreements here.)


Canada already has 20 FIPA's with other countries, but this is the first since 1999 -- before the WTO Ministerial in Seattle which ran aground on public exposure and protest. As we'll see, FIPA's are the Canadian version of Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT's), which have become the latest weapon for the promotion of neo-liberal policies.

FIPA interpreted

Here you can find a report on BIT's done by L.E. Peterson for a German think tank. It's useful to read it and compare it with the Canada-Peru deal.

In the report's introduction, the think tank's director observes that, in lieu of progress in the WTO and similar forums, the push for BIT's "goes ahead unrestrained", though the negotiations "are rarely in the political limelight". Peterson himself doesn't mince words: "[M]any hundreds of bilateral agreements have entered into force without public notice or scrutiny. This reality casts some doubt on the oft-repeated claim that the defeat of the MAI was somehow a 'major victory' for critics of unfettered globalization."

With that, Peterson goes on to show how these new bilateral accords are attempts to succeed where global pacts have failed. He makes several interesting points, relevant to the matter at hand. Below, I note those points and add comment on how the Canada-Peru pact illustrates his concerns.

Item:
"The most notable of all BIT features has been the inclusion of a provision which grants foreign investors direct legal personality under international law. Equipped with this personality, investors may bring their own claims for damages" against national governments. This goes beyond NAFTA provisions, which require national governments to go to bat on behalf of business. The Canada-Peru FIPA itself makes these provisions Article 22.

Item:
"Most investment treaties no longer provide that foreign investors must exhaust their domestic legal remedies before mounting an international claim", writes Peterson. On this matter, there is no language I could find in the new FIPA which stipulates that any other avenues must be exhausted before proceeding with a request for arbitration.

Item: Peterson relates that most BIT's make use of either of two international bodies (ICSID or UNCITRAL) designed to adjudicate commercial disputes. Cases heard under UNCITRAL are typically rather hush-hush affairs. In the case of the Canadian FIPA, it stipulates that arbitration can occur under either of those bodies.

Item: Peterson specifically notes that Canada, along with the US, has pioneered the practice of "adding more nuance and introducing additional safeguards" in BIT's. The purpose of this is to gain further advantage in negotiations with weaker countries, as "many other governments have devoted far too little consideration to using similar 'specific and detailed exemptions' so as to mitigate" the effects of aggressive strategies like those ascribed to Canada.

Item: One of the purposes of BIT's, according to Peterson, is to provide aggrieved international investors with more potential avenues of litigation against foreign governments. Consequently "governments (particularly poorer ones) might choose to err on the side of caution, and refrain from exercising seemingly legitimate regulatory or policy functions, for fear that their actions might not withstand scrutiny in the 'arbitral casino'"...



**More to come on this issue in the next blog entry.

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