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Defending International Investment Agreements at UNCTAD's High-Level Conference on IIAs

By Shaun Donnelly, Vice President for Investment & Financial Services, U.S. Council for International Business

The annual high-level conference on International Investment Agreements (IIAs), “Phase 2 of IIA Reform” at the U.S. Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) in Geneva, October 9-11 was poorly attended by the business community.  There were only two of us and therefore we were busy playing defense, with no real opportunity to play offense.  As with many UNCTAD conferences, sessions are dominated by government representatives, especially from developing countries, plus NGO and labor activists and academics.  Because there was such limited participation from the business community, UNCTAD assigned me a speaking role in both the opening and closing plenary sessions and as a panelist on two breakout sessions. 

A compilation of my main talking points from multiple interventions over the three-day conference is posted here and is also included on the UNCTAD web site, as part of the wider conference documentation that includes the record of the conference and interventions of various speakers, etc.

Having spent three days on the international investment policy battlefields of Geneva, it is clear that too many government representatives seem to see Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) flows as threats to economic development.  And they see International Investment Agreements, which can play a key role in promoting/incentivizing FDI flows, as threats to governments “policy space.” And, of course, to those critics, Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) arbitration is a cosmic threat to government sovereignty.  The long held view that FDI is a key driver of growth, development and jobs and respect for the role strong investment agreements with effective dispute resolution plays in improving the quality and quantity of FDI flows around the world is under siege.   

Those who realty understand international investment and the policy environment important to fostering it are needed now more than ever to help ensure that the investment policy debate that is too often occurring is substantive, based on facts, and not a reflection of misguided, populist political diatribes.

Shaun Donnelly is Vice President for Investment and Financial Services at the U.S. Council for International Business (USCIB), a leading U.S. trade association in Washington. USCIB is the voice of U.S. business in key international organizations, including the OECD, the International Chamber of Commerce, the International Labor Organization and other UN agencies.