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Thursday, May 9, 2013

U.S. International Investment Agreements: Issues for Congress

Shayerah Ilias Akhtar
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Martin A. Weiss
Specialist in International Trade and Finance

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is an increasingly important driver of the global economy. In the absence of an overarching multilateral framework on investment, bilateral investment treaties (BITs) and investment chapters in free trade agreements (FTAs), collectively referred to as “international investment agreements,” have emerged as the primary mechanism for promoting a rules-based system for international investment. These agreements contain provisions on nondiscriminatory treatment of investments by the host country, limits on expropriation of investments, and access to impartial binding procedures to settle investment-related disputes with host governments, among other things. FTA investment chapters generally contain provisions identical or similar to those in U.S. BITs.

As FDI flows have expanded, the number of international investment agreements also has increased, both between developed and developing countries and between developing countries. Presently, there are over 3,000 BITs globally. The United States has concluded 47 BITs, 41 of which have entered into force. Of the 14 FTAs agreed by the United States, 12 contain investment provisions. Investment dynamics also have given rise to more investment disputes. In 2011, the number of investment disputes filed in international arbitration forums was 47, its highest level ever for a single year. Congress plays an active role in developing and implementing U.S. policy on FDI through its oversight and legislative responsibilities. Congress can set investment negotiating objectives for U.S. trade agreements in trade promotion authority (TPA). Unlike FTAs, which require a full vote of Congress on implementing legislation, BITs, as international treaties, require only Senate ratification.

The United States, which remains both a major source for and a major destination of FDI, uses international investment agreements to reduce restrictions on foreign investment, provide nondiscriminatory treatment for foreign investment, and reduce other market-distorting measures to maximize the benefits of such investment, while balancing other U.S. policy interests. In April 2012, the Obama Administration announced the conclusion of its review of the U.S. Model BIT, the template which the United States uses to negotiate BITs and investment chapters in FTAs. The 2012 Model BIT maintains the “core” or substantive investor protections affirmed in the 2004 Model BIT. It also clarifies that BIT obligations apply to state-owned enterprises (SOEs); limits performance requirements; strengthens labor and environmental provisions; clarifies which financial services provisions may fall under a prudential exception (such as to address balance of payments problems); expands transparency obligations; and increases requirements for stakeholder input in the standards-setting process.

The conclusion of the Model BIT review may generate momentum to conclude previously launched negotiations with countries such as China and India, or to launch investment negotiations with other U.S. trading partners. Investment policy issues feature prominently in other ongoing U.S. trade negotiations, including the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) FTA, as well as the anticipated Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiation. In addition to considering negotiating priorities for these and proposed BITs with major emerging economies, Members may also want to consider the effectiveness of BITs in promoting and protecting investment.

Date of Report: April 29, 2013
Number of Pages: 22
Order Number: R43052
Price: $29.95

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