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Trade Bill - Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:30 pm on 23rd January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Fairhead Baroness Fairhead The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 9:30 pm, 23rd January 2019

My Lords, first, I reassure your Lordships that the powers in the Bill will not be used to implement investment protection provisions, because such provisions in trade agreements do not require domestic legislation. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his explanation of the rationale behind Amendment 29, in his name. However, it would mean that no future free trade agreement could be signed or ratified unless any claims brought by foreign investors against the UK were heard by UK courts or tribunals.

The amendment overlooks the fact that foreign investors already have significant rights to legal redress in the UK—for example, through domestic law and normal procedures such as judicial reviews or commercial arbitration. As I think noble Lords would agree, UK courts are regarded internationally as reliable and independent. The amendment would preclude the possibility of disputes being resolved through ad hoc international arbitration tribunals, which is the internationally and currently accepted means of investor-state dispute settlements—ISDSs—in any future free trade agreement. So requiring investment disputes to be heard by UK courts or tribunals in all instances could undermine a framework that has successfully supported UK investors in many countries worldwide for, as the noble Lord said, a long time. In fact it has done so for the past 40 years.

The ISDS system does not allow other countries’ courts to have jurisdiction over matters that UK courts could determine themselves. Instead, it is independent of both states’ legal systems. It is important for foreign investors to have an independent means of redress, as they may be more susceptible to certain risks such as discrimination, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said. ISDSs allow claims to be brought for potential breaches of obligations of the type that the noble Baroness referred to—expropriation and discriminatory practice, et cetera.

The UK expects other countries to treat British businesses operating abroad as we treat investors in the UK. Although I do not believe that this was intended, it is likely that if this amendment were adopted any future partners would insist on reciprocal provisions, meaning that any disputes brought by UK investors against a host state might also be required to be heard in that host nation’s courts.

I turn to Amendment 56, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. Accepting this amendment would mean that for any future trade agreements to be signed and ratified, they would have to contain an agreement on the parties pursuing a multilateral investment tribunal system and an appellate mechanism for the settlement of investor-state disputes. Before I go on, there is an issue with the WTO appellate court; I think that the members of the WTO are trying to resolve it. It is not directly relevant to the ISDS as it is a different system, so in the interests of time I will stick to ISDS.

Not all trade agreements cover investor protection and dispute settlements. We therefore do not think it appropriate to require all trade agreements to include a commitment to pursue a multilateral investment tribunal system. In fact, to introduce such a requirement might hinder the development of our trade policy. As I mentioned, ISDSs have provided UK investors overseas with a means of redress which is independent of and outside the host state’s national courts. The UK has over 90 bilateral investment treaties which include these provisions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is absolutely right that reform of ISDS is under scrutiny. It has taken centre stage in recent years, frankly, with many international fora taking a keen interest. The UK supports the reform agendas which, as she said, focus on ensuring: fair, efficient and cost-effective outcomes of claims; high ethical standards for arbitrators; and increased transparency of hearings. We in the UK have supported the EU’s mandate to open negotiations to establish a multilateral investment court, or MIC, which would be a permanent body created to hear investment disputes. The CETA with Canada is currently the only EU FTA containing that investment court system. We are working with our Canadian partners on its provisions as part of the broader work on trade agreement continuity. This includes the question of our future approach to investor-state dispute settlements.