High Level Event on the Reform of Investment Protection: speech by Minister Reynders

High Level Event on the Reform of Investment Protection

Speech by H.E. Didier REYNDERS
Deputy Prime Minister
and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs


Egmont Palace
22 November 2018



Dear Commissioner, dear Cecilia,
Dear Secretary-General,
Dear Director,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first thank all of you for coming in such large numbers to this High Level Event on the Reform of Investment Protection. I am grateful to our key note speakers and panelists for their presence and participation here in Brussels.

Today’s large participation is the best illustration of the timeliness of our planned discussions. It reflects the critical juncture at which the ongoing, parallel debates stand today. We are here to take stock of those discussions, and debate their perspectives.

Investment protection is no longer the exclusive realm of experts, academics and diplomats. It goes to the heart of a lively public debate in many countries.

The discussions in Belgium about the EU-Canada trade agreement CETA in 2016 were an important sign that the boundaries of the discussions have changed.

It is important that we step up our efforts:

  • To maximize transparency,
  • To explain the need for reform and why adequate investment protection remains critical to support the internationalization of our enterprises, and create trust between countries and investors worldwide,
  • To pursue a multilateral approach that is ambitious yet adequate to address legitimate public concerns raised in the past years and decades, and
  • To ensure an inclusive dialogue with experts, business community, broader civil society and international organizations.

All of these reasons underpin our initiative to offer today’s platform to continue and strengthen the ongoing dialogue.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The issues raised about the existing international dispute resolution system are sometimes technical, including the absence of appeal procedures, issues of consistency and transparency, the costs of the system as well as the impartiality of arbitrators.

But some go to the heart of politics, touching on questions of legitimacy and accountability against the backdrop of a changing geo-economic landscape.

In response to these concerns, a debate has taken shape about the depth and scope of a future Investor-State Dispute Settlement reform. Various institutions and international bodies have initiated a reform or modernization process, some of which are here today.

We have just heard Commissioner Malmström about the European Union’s approach to investment dispute settlement. Besides the inclusion of the Investment Court System (ICS) in the EU's bilateral agreements, the EU and its member states have in parallel been developing possible multilateral options for reform.

The United Nations Commission of International Trade Law has entrusted its Working Group III with a broad mandate to work on the possible reform of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). The Working Group has recently concluded that reform is indeed desirable. The Group will now start discussions on recommendations for reform to the Commission of UNCITRAL.

Willing to address new and systemic issues in ISDS, the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) is currently also in the process of a comprehensive revision of its rules and regulations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Belgium is actively committed to the dynamic of reforms. We modernized our arbitration law in 2013, and Belgium boasts various trainings at universities and expertise centers, such as the Belgian Center for Arbitration and Mediation (CEPANI), as well as through the presence of renowned international conferences such as those organized by the Energy Charter Secretariat. Moreover, in view of the growing role of the EU in the realm of investment protection, the role of Brussels is set to grow further.  

Together with Luxembourg, we are currently in the process of finalizing a new model text for bilateral investment treaties in which we intend to introduce a sunset clause to replace ISDS with a multilateral jurisdiction once it becomes operational. 

As a result of the discussions about CETA, Belgium has submitted a request for an opinion to the European Court of Justice to further clarify the legal framework in which the Investment Court System, as a first step to a fully multilateral approach, will be established. The Court’s opinion will be important in our on-going discussions, and will help to solidify a strong and credible legal framework for investment protection.

In the ongoing discussions in UNCITRAL, Belgium holds particular attention to the promotion of alternative methods of dispute resolution, such as mediation. We will continue to advocate for maximum transparency, and want to ensure easier access for small and medium-sized enterprises to dispute resolution mechanisms.

Lastly, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to insist on the importance of the inclusiveness of the ongoing process. Our initiative today is a tangible contribution to achieve that ambition. We need to ensure that experts and civil society representatives can observe and participate in the ongoing debates. This is one of the reasons why UNCITRAL is particularly well suited as a forum for discussion. We have decided to present our candidature for election to its Commission for the 2019-2025 term. In the Commission, we intend to be a trusted partner for third countries. Foreign direct investments are key to economic welfare and development worldwide, and legal certainty remains essential to support an investment-friendly business environment. This ambition has led us to organize a Round Table with African countries this afternoon, to debate with a number of African partners their particular expectations in the ongoing reforms.

I wish all of you here today interesting discussions.

I am hopeful that they will contribute to the work of many of you on the ongoing reform of investment protection.

Thank you for your attention.