News in Brief

European Commission seeks permission to begin investment treaty negotiations with China

The European Commission has proposed a negotiating mandate to EU member states for an investment agreement with China. This could become the EU’s first stand-alone investment agreement since it gained jurisdiction over foreign direct investment in 2009.

The negotiating mandate must be approved by the European Council before the Commission can begin negotiations. China must also give its go-ahead to formally begin talks. The EU and China agreed in February 2012 at the 14th EU-China summit to begin work on an investment agreement.

There are currently bilateral investment treaties between China and 26 EU Member States, which an EU agreement would streamline into “a single, coherent text,” according to the Commission.

The Commission is aiming for an agreement that would encompass investment protection and liberalization. A “crucial” issue is “access to the Chinese market,” states the Commission.  China has so far resisted making national treatment market access commitments in its trade and investment agreements.

The Commission may face a considerable challenge as it tries to sway China’s position on market access. The incentives appear stronger for Europe, given the European market is more open to foreign investors than China’s. An official from the Commission also acknowledged to the European Voice that the protection provided to Chinese investors is not a big concern to China.

In 2011, European companies invested 17.5 billion euros in China, while China invested 2.8 million euros the same year. The Commission notes that this is less than 3% of total outflows for both the EU and China—and therefore asserts “there is a huge potential to further develop bilateral investment ties.”

While this would mark the EU’s first efforts at a stand-alone bilateral investment treaty, the Commission has been actively packaging investment-related provisions into its broader trade and economic agreements. The EU is currently negotiating with Canada, India, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Mercosur member states.

Greece faces claim over sovereign debt restructuring

A claim has been lodged against the government of Greece over measures related to it sovereign debt.

The claimants, Postova Banka A.S., based in Slovakia, and its shareholder Istrokapital, complain that Greece forced Postova to exchange its Greek bonds for securities of a lesser value. The claim was registered with ICSID on May 20, 2013.

The specialised news service IAReporter has also reported on a second potential claim against Greece; this one by the Popular Bank of Cyprus, which filed a notice of dispute in November 2012. According to IAReporter, the bank complains that Greece discriminated against foreign-owned banks under the Emergency Liquidity Assistance program, in which national banks provide support to illiquid banks.

Greece is not the first country to investment face claims by holders of sovereign debt. Argentina faces three such claims related to its debt restructuring in 2005. In the largest of those claims, tens of thousands of Italian bondholders are seeking approximately $4.3 billion in damages (Abaclat v. Argentina).

Investors file for arbitration against Czech Republic in reaction to changes to renewable energy incentives

A group of eight investors in photovoltaic energy have filed for arbitration against the Czech Republic over changes to incentives for renewable energy.

The group, which call themselves the International PhotoVoltaic Investors Club, complains of “dramatic changes introduced to the legal and regulatory framework for the support for the solar sector in late 2010.” The measures complained of include a 26 per cent levy on revenues from solar installations.

The investors complain that Czech Republic backtracked on incentives designed to attract foreign capital to investment in solar power projects. In a statement the group claimed it was seeking arbitration under various bilateral investment treaties and the Energy Charter Treaty.

Similar types of claims have arisen elsewhere in Europe. Fourteen investors have lodged a claim against Spain over retrospective cuts to solar energy tariffs. Spain experienced a boom in renewable energy investment due to a favorable feed-in-tariff, which kept rates high even as technology costs came down. Investors in Italy are also complaining that the government broke long-term commitments to provide price-support to renewable energy suppliers.

UNCTAD nominates a new director-general

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has nominated Mukhisa Kituyi, a former member of the Kenyan Parliament and a former Minister of Commerce and Industry of Kenya, to serve as Secretary-General of the United National Conference on Trade and Sustainable Development (UNCTAD) for a four-year term beginning September 1, 2013.

Mr. Kituyi is currently a visiting fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution and head of the Institute of Governance in Nairobi. His nomination will go to the UN General Assembly for confirmation.

If confirmed, Mr. Kituyi will succeed Supachai Panitchpakdi of Thailand, who assumed the post on September 1, 2005 and was reappointed in 2009. Mr. Supachai will conclude his second four-year term of office on August 31, 2013.