An Indian company goes treaty shopping…

Amidst reports of yet another investment treaty arbitration against India over the cancellation of 2G licenses by the Indian supreme court (ToIIE), the ICSID has registered an arbitration that may well represent the first time an Indian TNC has gone treaty shopping.

According to its website, on 27 September 2013, the ICSID registered an arbitration proceeding initiated by Spentex Netherlands, B.V., against the Republic of Uzbekistan (ICSID Case No. ARB/13/26). A quick Google search reveals that the Claimant in this case, Spentex Netherlands, B.V., is actually a subsidiary of Spentex Industries Ltd., a textile company registered and incorporated in New Delhi and managed by Indian nationals. The 2012-13 Annual Report of Spentex Industries Ltd. provides some insight on the relationship between the Indian parent and the Dutch and Uzbek subsidiaries. Note 42 of the Financial Statement states that:

The Company [Spentex Industries Ltd.] has an investment of Rs. 56,10,11,339 [approx. USD 89,83,362] and Rs. 93,23,779 [USD 1,49,301] in its subsidiary Spentex Netherlands B. V. (SNBV) and its step down subsidiary Spentex Tashkent Toytepa LLC (STTL) respectively. Further it has Rs. 7,00,12,404 as export receivable from STTL and advances of Rs. 9,50,70,902 in SNBV as on March 31, 2013.

The ICSID website does not yet give any further details about the arbitration, except that its subject matter relates to the “Textile Industry.” Spentex India’s statements provide some insight on the details of the dispute. Spentex India describes its version of the developments in Uzbekistan in a press release (apparently) dated 31 May 2012:

An Indian investor SIl (Spentex) through its project company STTL invested and commenced its business in Uzbekistan in right earnest and made investment vide Investment Agreement dated 26th September 2006 entered between the Government of Uzbekistan and Spentex (investor). However, in the midst of term of the Investment Agreement certain changes in legal provisions, economic and business conditions and policies were adversely changed by the authorities in Uzbekistan. These changes being contrary to the provisions of Investment Agreement jeopardized the legal stability of its project company and its business became completely unviable. Spentex made many representations to Uzbek authorities and its financers for rectifying the situation but the same went unheard and ultimately project company was forced to shut down all its factories in Uzbekistan and bankruptcy was thrust upon it. Harassment by tax authorities and prosecutors was another reason which never allowed STTL to function normally as arbitrary penalties were imposed and pressure from the prosecutor was a common feature

The arbitration proceeding also finds a mention in Spentex India’s 2012-13 Annual Report:

During the period of investment Government of Uzbekistan changed certain laws and policies by breaching the investment agreement and rendered operation of STTL unviable. Since treaties entered between the Governments of India and Uzbekistan and the Investment agreement entered between Govt. of Uzbekistan and STTL were breached, company has issued notice claiming in excess of USD 100 Mn. towards protection of investment and payment of dues & compensation for the losses suffered by the company.

Interestingly, although the above quote from the Annual Report refers to the the bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between India and Uzbekistan being breached, the claimant in the arbitration proceeding is the Dutch subsidiary of Spentex India, suggesting that the claimant has sought protection under the Netherlands-Uzbekistan BIT. This is not unusual, as transnational corporations investing in foreign countries often structure their investments through a subsidiary in The Netherlands in order to avail the benefits of the vast network of Dutch BITs. The IISD, in a critical piece, notes that Dutch BITs “invite[] ‘treaty shopping,’ – i.e. routing investments through third countries to acquire the protection of investment treaties that investors would not, otherwise, have in their home state jurisdiction.” Even though the merits of the practice continue to be debated, there is no general international legal rule prohibiting investors from structuring their investments in a manner that allows them to avail of the greater protection available under certain treaties.

This development is interesting because it, once again, shows the blurring of the traditional capital-importing/capital-exporting dichotomy in discussions on investment treaties and investment arbitration. While investment treaties and investment arbitration may initially have emerged in a world where capital exporting countries primarily sought to protect their investors operating in capital importing countries, the scenario today does not allow for such a clear distinction to be easily drawn as traditional capital exporting countries gradually find themselves fending off claims by foreign investors. This, for example, is reflected in the evolution of the United States BIT program, which was focused mainly at investment protection abroad in its early days. In recent times, however, as the flow of investments into the United States has increased, its BITs have evolved to take into account not just the need for protecting investments abroad, but also the impact of such treaties and claims by foreign investors on the domestic regulatory space available to the government.

Faced with several claims by foreign investors under different BITs, there has been widespread criticism of the Indian BIT program as being too “pro-investor.” The Indian government has gone back to the drawing board and is currently reviewing its BITs. Cornered by the many treaty claims it faces, the government may well see BITs and investment arbitration as liabilities that expose it to unnecessary international litigation. However, as the Spentex case well illustrates, Indian investors are also increasingly investing abroad. Given the reciprocal basis of BITs generally, if India dilutes the standards of substantive and procedural protection in its BITs in immediate response to the claims filed against it, this would also weaken the protection available to Indian investors abroad. Therefore, as India undertakes to review and rationalize its BIT program, it must strike a careful balance between its domestic regulatory interests, on the one hand, and the interests of the Indian investor abroad, on the other. In its attempt to shield itself from claims by foreign investors, India should not deprive its own investors the benefits and protection promised by BITs.

Hat-tip to Aditya Singh for the alert about the Spentex arbitration.

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An Update on Investment Treaty Arbitrations Against India

Over the past year or so India has been involved in a number of disputes with foreign investors which are at various stages of settlement. Discussions to reach a settlement are apparently underway in the dispute initiated by Vodafone against the retrospective capital gains tax sought to be imposed by the government, although the FT notes that a settlement is “highly unlikely until after India’s forthcoming national election in 2014, if at all.”

Negotiations have failed to yield result in at least two other disputes, leading to the initiation of arbitration under some investment treaties. An arbitral tribunal has been set up in a dispute initiated by “Devas Multimedia and its U.S. associates (who invested in the deal through foreign direct investment routed via Mauritius) against the Government of India following the cancellation of the deal for the launch of two satellites and the allocation of S-band spectrum to Devas.” The arbitration has been commenced under the India-Mauritius BIT and will be held under the UNCITRAL Rules with the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague acting as the registry. The tribunal comprises of Canadian lawyer and politician Marc Lalonde QC (presiding arbitrator), Chilean lawyer and currently a Judge ad hoc at the ICJ Francisco Orrego Vicuña, and the former Chief Justice of Rajasthan High Court Justice Anil Dev Singh. The investor-claimants are being represented by lawyers from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, LLP. India is instructing lawyers from the Indian law firm Khaitan & Co. and Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt and Mosle, LL.P.

Reports also suggest that an arbitral tribunal has been constituted in a dispute initiated by ByCell, a telecommunications firm incorporated in Switzerland and owned by a Cypriot company and Russian nationals, under India’s BITs with Cyprus and Russia. The Lex Arbitri blog offers some information on the events leading to the dispute. According to the Economic Times, India has appointed Professor Brigitte Stern as its party appointed arbitrator. Details about the other arbitrators are not yet public. Curtis will also represent India in this proceeding.

On the appointment of Prof. Stern, the Indian government is apparently of the view that “[a] strong arbitrator will ensure that government’s case is represented effectively”. While this view stresses the importance of party appointed arbitrators, I think the Economic Times goes a bit far in claiming that India has “rope[d]” in “Brigitte Stern to take on Swiss telco ByCell”.  The institution of party appointed arbitrators is a common feature of international adjudication. Parties regularly choose their arbitrators in international proceedings and even the ICJ allows States to appoint ad hoc Judges for disputes in which a State party does not have a Judge of its nationality on the Court. In a diverse international legal order, party appointment can serve a useful purpose as it allows the parties to choose a person who, in their opinion, can best understand their concerns, position and culture, and can effectively explain these to his or her fellow adjudicators. India’s reason to appoint Prof. Stern appears to be reasonable in so far as it is based on India’s belief that Prof. Stern is best placed to understand the concerns of developing host-States as respondents in investment arbitration. But, now that Prof. Stern has been appointed, she also has certain obligations of independence and impartiality as a judicial member of the tribunal. To say that she has been appointed by India to “take on” ByCell presents an inaccurate picture of the role and function of an arbitrator in a proceeding of this nature. India’s lawyers will be “taking on” ByCell, not the arbitrator appointed by India.

On a related note, the issue of India’s BITs recently came up for discussion in the Indian parliament. A Member of Parliament inquired how many BITs India had concluded. In response, the Minister of State for Commerce stated that India has concluded BITs with 82 States, of which 72 BITs have come into force. He also stated that India has paid Aus $ 98,12,077 to White Industries following the award against India. Interestingly, the Minister noted that, in light of its loss in the White Industries arbitration, India is now reviewing the text of its model BIT.

Hat tip to Aditya Singh for sharing the Economic Times article on the ByCell arbitration.

BREAKING: Award in India-Pak Kishenganga Arbitration Delivered

The Kishenganga Tribunal at the PCA

The Kishenganga Tribunal at the PCA

A Tribunal constituted under the 1960 Indus Waters Treaty (also called the “Court of Arbitration” under the Treaty) today rendered its (partial) Award in a dispute between India and Pakistan over the construction of the Kishenganga hydro-electric power project by the former (previously covered here, here, and here). According to The Hindu, the Tribunal in its Award found that:

India can go ahead with the diversion of the waters of Kishanganga, a tributary of Jhelum, for hydro-electric power generation.

However, the court restrained India from adopting the drawdown flushing technique for clearing sedimentation in the run-of-the river project designed for generation of 330 MW power. India may have to adopt a different technique for flushing.

In the initial reports received by The Hindu it is learnt that the court also sought statistics on the environmental flows into the river downstream of the project.

To recall, Pakistan had originally requested the Tribunal to determine two issues:

1. Whether India’s proposed diversion of the river Kishenganga (Neelum) into another Tributary, i.e. the Bonar Madmati Nallah, being one central element of the Kishenganga Project, breaches India’s legal obligations owed to Pakistan under the Treaty, as interpreted and applied in accordance with international law, including India’s obligations under Article III(2) (let flow all the waters of the Western rivers and not permit any interference with those waters) and Article IV(6) (maintenance of natural channels)? [the “First Dispute”]

2. Whether under the Treaty, India may deplete or bring the reservoir level of a run-of-river Plant below Dead Storage Level (DSL) in any circumstances except in the case of an unforeseen emergency? [the “Second Dispute”]

From the above, it thus appears that the Tribunal found in favour of India on the issue of diversion (the “First Dispute”), but against it on the second issue of reservoir level (the “Second Dispute”).

As of writing this post, neither the Award nor a press-release was available on the Permanent Court of Arbitration website. As always, we hope that the Award will soon be made publicly available. ILCurry will bring you more detailed analyses as and when that happens.

UPDATE (19 Feb. 2013): The partial Award is now available on the PCA website here. A press-release is available here. According to the press-release:

In its Partial Award, which is final with respect to the matters decided therein, without appeal and binding on the Parties, the Court of Arbitration unanimously decided:

1. that the Kishenganga Hydro-Electric Project (KHEP) constitutes a Run-of-River Plant under the Treaty, and India may accordingly divert water from the Kishenganga/Neelum River for power generation by the KHEP in the manner envisaged. However, when operating the KHEP, India is under an obligation to maintain a minimum flow of water in the Kishenganga/Neelum River, at a rate to be determined by the Court in a Final Award.

2. Except in the case of an unforeseen emergency, the Treaty does not permit India’s reduction below “Dead Storage Level” of the water level in the reservoirs of Run-of-River Plants located on the rivers allocated to Pakistan under the Treaty. This ruling does not apply to Plants already in operation or under construction (whose designs have been communicated by India and not objected to by Pakistan)

The Court expects to be able to render its Final Award determining the minimum flow of water India would be required to release in the Kishenganga/Neelum River by the end of 2013.

 

More on this soon!

GMR, Maldives and International Law

I’ve been following the recent turn of events involving India’s GMR Group and the Republic of Maldives closely. The events raise very interesting issues relating to diplomatic protection, dispute settlement, and the international regulation of cross-border investment. These developments warrant closer scrutiny considering the growing public resentment against bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in India, following an adverse award by the Tribunal in White Industries v. India, with many calling for India’s renegotiation of, if not withdrawal from, these treaties and the investment arbitration mechanism.

The story…

To recall briefly, in 2010, the GMR Male International Airport Pvt. Ltd. (GMIAL) — a consortium of the Indian GMR Group (77%) and the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (23%) — was awarded a concession contract by the Maldivian government to build and operate the Ibrahim Nasser International Airport in Male for a period of 25 years. The contract, valued by some at over USD 500 million, is said to represent the single largest inflow of foreign investment in Maldivian history. GMIAL claims that it won the contract through an internationally competitive bidding process conducted by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation. For Maldives, the contract was approved and signed in 2010 by the government of President Mohamed Nasheed. As we all know, however, earlier this year, President Nasheed was ousted in what he alleged was a military coup, and a new government came to power. Reportedly, GMIAL’s concession contract was questioned by the new government soon after it gained power. Most recently, on 27 November 2012, the Maldivian Government issued a notice to GMIAL asking it to hand over the control and operation of the Male airport to the government by 7 December 2012, claiming that the concession contract was void. The Maldivian government has also stated at several instances that it will pay compensation to GMIAL (without giving any further details).

Meanwhile, an arbitration proceeding was commenced in July 2012. I have been unable to get more details on this, but presumably this was done pursuant to an arbitration clause in the concession contract (and not an investment treaty), with GMIAL commencing the proceedings against the Maldivian government following the problems it faced once the new government came to power in February 2012 (feel free to correct me on this, of course). To make matters more interesting, on 3 December 2012, the High Court of Singapore granted injunctive relief to GMIAL against the Maldivian government’s notice of 27 November, restraining it from “interfer[ing] with the rights of the Investor (GMR-MAHB consortium) under the concession agreement.” Following this injunction, however, the Maldivian government stuck to its position, stating that its decision was “non-reversible and non-negotiable” and that the that Singaporean “judge was incorrect in interpreting the law as, where compensation is adequate, an injunction cannot be issued and a court cannot issue such an injunction against a sovereign state.” Maldives has appealed the order before the Supreme Court of Singapore, with reports suggesting that the appeal has been allowed. As things stand right now, it seems like the Maldivian government will go ahead and take control of the Male airport from GMIAL on 7 December. At the risk of sounding too human, let me only note that there must naturally be a lot of worried foreign faces in Male right now. Reports also indicate that GMIAL had not obtained political risk insurance for its investment.

Enter the Government of India…

Once the Maldivian government issued its notice of 27 November, the Indian government took notice of GMIAL’s case. In its initial response, the Indian government noted that the Maldivian government’s action “sends a very negative signal to foreign investors and the international community” and that it would continue to be seized of the matter. Subsequently, following a call by the Indian industrial association ASSOCHAM to exercise diplomatic protection, reports indicate that the Indian government has suspended the disbursement of foreign aid for Maldives. Following the injunction granted by the High Court of Singapore, the Maldivian foreign minister also spoke to his Indian counterpart. In its latest press release, the Indian Ministry of foreign affairs has stated that Maldives should follow the rule of law and that it “expected that no arbitrary and coercive measures should be taken pending the outcome of the legal process underway. Resort to any such actions would inevitably have adverse consequences for relations between India and the Maldives.” Meanwhile, GMR has stated that it is committed to exploring all remedies available to it, including the option of going to the International Court of Justice (!).

So, what options for GMIAL now?

Right now, GMIAL is already part of a contractual arbitration proceeding against the government of Maldives. The arbitration is being controlled by the courts of Singapore — presumably the primary jurisdiction. If there is no misconduct on part of GMIAL (the IFC’s involvement certainly is very interesting, and rather redeeming), the arbitration might still lead to a NYC award enforceable somewhere.

In addition to this contractual arbitration proceeding, it has also been suggested that GMR should take the dispute to the ICJ. This obviously is not possible (since only States can seize the ICJ), but it is still important to see if India can exercise diplomatic protection and espouse GMR’s claim. Once India has domestically taken a decision to go to the ICJ, there are two ways to proceed: to submit the dispute to the Court by a special agreement, or to invoke the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. The problem with the latter is that the Maldives has not submitted a declaration accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute. India has a declaration, thus symbolically accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, but the acceptance is made practically worthless by a massive list of 12 reservations, thus giving away with one hand, what it took with the other. Therefore, unless Maldives accepts the Court’s jurisdiction and India does away with its reservation,  the only way out is for India and Maldives to seize the Court through a Special Agreement. Obviously, that would require a lot of convincing and diplomatic rigmarole, but it will be interesting to see how this develops.

Until now we’ve looked at the private (contractual) dispute settlement proceeding underway and the unlikeliness of a public dispute settlement proceeding at the ICJ. I am sure that there is at least a theoretical possibility of going to the domestic courts in Maldives. I do not know  enough about the courts there to comment on their independence, which I have to presume because of my ignorance. That’s the domestic public (court) option then. Of course, we are only talking of options here for finding jurisdiction. Whether GMIAL eventually succeeds in any of these proceedings will depend upon the specific facts of the case (e.g., GMIALs conduct), the terms of the concession contract and the applicable law.

But, what about investment arbitration?

Apart from all these options, there could have also been an option for GMR/GMIAL to commence a legal dispute under an investment treaty between India and the Maldives. I say “could” because, to my knowledge, there is no bilateral investment treaty between India and the Maldives. Further, I do not know of a trade agreement (including the SAFTA) between the two that includes an investment chapter. Without an investment treaty in place, the option of a treaty based arbitration does not exist. Having said that, it is still an option worth reflecting on. If nothing else, then only to think about India’s BIT program. This is particularly relevant given India’s first (and only public) loss in the White Industries arbitration under the India-Australia BIT. Post White Industries there has been a growing opposition in India against BITs and investment arbitration (some extreme voices, and some milder caveats). But, the discussion until now has been rather reactionary, operating in the shadows of White Industry. This turn of events involving the Maldives offers another perspective to inform the discussion, i.e. the utility of investment treaties in protecting outward FDI from India.

The first obvious question is: why doesn’t India have a BIT in place with the Maldives? As I set out to find an answer to this question, I proceeded on the assumption that the Indian BIT program was designed mainly to attract inward FDI, rather than protect outward FDI. My cursory empirical research, however, suggests otherwise. For example, of the top 15 destinations for outward Indian FDI, India does not have a BIT currently in force with only three states (US, UAE and Singapore), in addition to the Channel Islands and the British Virgin Islands (but I suppose India’s BIT with UK applies to these territories). The situation is similar for other developing countries, with India having a BIT with many of the states favored by Indian investors in Africa and Asia. Whatever the original intentions then, the design of India’s BIT program is not aimed at attracting FDI alone. Maldives  just happened to be one unlucky place? Maybe. Anyway, the point here is that any good BIT program for a growing economy should not only be designed for attracting inward FDI, but should account for outward FDI from that economy. India’s BIT program, at least on paper, appears to meet this standard since India has concluded investment treaties with several top destinations for outward FDI from India.

Will the Indian investor please stand up?

Another important insight to be gained from the Maldives story relates to the role of the industry in shaping India’s BIT program. Thus far, the participants in the discussion on Indian BITs have included the occasional academic, the disgruntled domestic lawyer (paywalled), the principled international lawyer (also paywalled), and a rather passive Indian government. There are good reasons for taking into account the perspective of an actual beneficiary of the BIT program, i.e. the Indian investor. Otherwise, any eventual policy risks becoming ultimately ineffective and irrelevant. Indian investors and companies can begin by forming a forum for discussing issues relating to international protection of investments. They could carry out a periodic survey of the most popular destinations for outward FDI from India, and make responsive suggestions to the government’s BIT program with specific countries. Individual investors concerned about the investment climate in countries with no BITs could ask the Indian government, through this channel, to try and negotiate one. To my knowledge, no such forum currently exists, with only commerce chambers like ASSOCHAM and FICCI making reactionary comments in specific cases. With growing outward FDI by Indian firms, a systemic analysis of the benefits of investment treaties for protection of outward Indian FDI by all stakeholders involved would certainly be helpful.

In another world…

I should conclude by presenting the scenario had an investment treaty been in force between India and the Maldives. For the investor (GMR/GMIAL), this would have provided another forum for lodging its claim against the Maldives, and having it adjudicated in a timely manner according to international standards for investment protection. For the Indian government, an investment treaty and an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism would have avoided the process of exercising diplomatic protection. It could have merely pointed GMR in the direction of the treaty, and could have avoided engaging in “gunboat diplomacy” by issuing threats of canceling foreign aid. In other words, a BIT could have depolitcized the international dispute. I should point out that the benefits of BITs and investment arbitration for India and Indian investors do not suggest that such a treaty would have been prejudicial to Maldives. A range of defenses would have been available to the Maldives, including many based on GMR/GMIAL’s misconduct (if any). As examples, I would only cite the cases of Fraport and Malicorp, both involving airport concession contracts which were terminated by the host State. In both treaty arbitration proceedings, the claims of the investors were rejected on grounds relating to investor misconduct (the Fraport award was subsequently annulled, but for different reasons). So, in another world, at another time, everyone could have lived happily ever after (almost)!

Update (7 December 2012): As my friend Manu Sanan points out, India actually does have an investment treaty with Singapore in the form of an investment chapter in the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Thus, India does not have an investment treaty with only two out of the top 15 destinations for outward Indian FDI.

Indian SC delivers judgment in Kaiser, overrules Bhatia

Readers interested in international arbitration would be aware of what have been called the “misgivings”of the Indian courts on international arbitration. The Supreme Court has rendered several controversial judgments on the Indian Arbitration Act of 1996 in the past, none being more infamous than the Bhatia International judgment. In Bhatia, the Court held that Part I of the Indian Arbitration Act is also applicable in proceedings for the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, even though Part II of the law deals with the “enforcement of certain foreign awards”, unless the applicability of Part I has been excluded by the parties. A result of this was that Indian courts could set-aside foreign arbitral awards under Section 34 of the Act contained in Part I. This was considered anomalous by many in the international arbitration community in so far it allowed Indian courts seized with the enforcement of foreign awards (“secondary jurisdication”) to not just deny enforcement, but even set-aside the foreign arbitral (a task usually reserved for the courts of the “primary jurisdiction” — the seat).

Now, in Kaiser Aluminium, the Court has overruled Bhatia, holding that there is complete “segregation” between Parts I and II of the Indian Act. With this, the Court moves towards an understanding of the proper functions of the courts of the primary and secondary jurisdiction:

Thus, it is clear that the regulation of conduct of arbitration and challenge to an award would have to be done by the courts of the country in which the arbitration is being
conducted. Such a court is then the supervisory court possessed of the power to annul the award. (para. 128)

The Court concludes:

198. In view of the above discussion, we are of the considered opinion that the Arbitration Act, 1996 has accepted the territoriality principle which has been adopted in the UNCITRAL Model Law. Section 2(2) makes a declaration that Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 shall apply to all arbitrations which take place within India. We are of the considered opinion that Part I of the Arbitration Act, 1996 would have no application to International Commercial Arbitration held outside India. Therefore, such awards would only be subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts when the same are sought to be enforced in India in accordance with the provisions contained in Part II of the Arbitration Act, 1996. In our opinion, the provisions contained in Arbitration Act, 1996 make it crystal clear that there can be no overlapping or intermingling of the provisions contained in Part I with the provisions contained in Part II of the Arbitration Act, 1996.

No doubt, the judgment would be welcomed by the international arbitration community to the extent it brings Indian law and practice in conformity with internatioanal practice and standards.

Moreover, having read the Court’s decision once, in my opinion the Court’s engagement with international arbitration at a conceptual level would go a long way in promoting consistency and sound practice in the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards in India. I have long believed that the problems relating to the enforcement of foreign arbitration awards in India have resulted from a failure of the Indian courts to conceptually engage with international arbitration. Thus, for example, Indian courts have, in my opinion, relied overly upon textual and contextual tools of interpretation, without promoting a conceptual understanding of international arbitration first. Kaiser seems to mark a welcome departure from this trend. The counsels and the Court have for the first time engaged in a thorough analysis of fundamental issues such as the territoriality and delocalization of international arbitration. Whereas these terms may be very familiar to international arbitration lawyers, the discussion in India hitherto has almost always avoided this framework. So, apart from the welcome commercial implications of the decision, I hope that the judgment would also help promote a better understanding of international arbitration in India, both amongst the courts and the scholars. Indeed, now that the Bhatia saga is over, and with the attempt in Kaiser to conceptually analyze arbitration, hopefully we can move on to further fine tuning Indian arbitration law to the demands of the transnational economic order.

The full-text of the judgment (.pdf) is available here.

Back from Break, with a Summer Update!

Apologies for the extended summer break (not for the lack of thoughts or developments, though).

Let’s begin with a recap of what’s been happening for India at the international stage over the summer:

The ICJ and Justice Bhandari’s election:

1. Justice Bhandari was finally sworn-in as a judge of the International Court of Justice on 19 June 2012 (right before the Diallo judgment was read). For those interested, here’s a photo of Justice Bhandari being sworn in, and a video of him making the (rather short) solemn declaration (the oath).

2. On the debate surrounding Justice Bhandari’s nomination (see this for some background), two main criticisms have been leveled against Justice Bhandari’s nomination by India for the ICJ. The first, as reflected here, argues that as a national judge with little or no real experience in international law, Justice Bhandari’s nomination by the Indian national group of the PCA reflected absurd decision making. From an international legal perspective, the underlying assumption of this view is thus: “a judge may be well-versed with domestic legal traditions, but one assumes that a Judge at the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, responsible for adjudicating on questions of international law (Article 38), would possess knowledge of international law!” The second criticism, as argued by Arghya Sengupta in an OpEd in The Hindu, takes issue with the nomination of Justice Bhandari, a sitting Supreme Court Judge, by the government of India on grounds of undermining the independence of the Supreme Court Judge (Justice Bhandari). As much as I understand, and perhaps even agree with, some of the sentiments behind these arguments, I still disagree with several individual arguments inherent in these criticisms, especially in light of the rather inchoate state of the international legal profession in India. However, I’d save my thoughts on this for later.

3. I’ve blogged about a right to Information application seeking information on Justice Bhandari’s nomination earlier. In response, the Ministry of External Affairs denied some information on Justice Bhandari’s nomination on the ground that the RTI Act allows withholding information related to strategic interests of the country, and besides it would also affect canvassing for Justice Bhandari. Now, the Central Information Commission has asked the MEA to provide the requested information. Interestingly, the CIC has also asked for the Indian national group of the PCA to answer some of the queries (could an argument be made here that the national group is not a “public authority” for the purposes of the RTI Act?).

Moving on to the Enrica Lexie incident (covered previously here and here):

There’s been considerable discussion on the international legal aspects of the incident.

1. Duncan Hollis, over on Opinio Juris, takes a look at the incident through the prism of the SS Lotus case decided by the PCIJ.

2. A debate in The Hindu captures the essential position and arguments both for and against the jurisdiction of Indian courts over the Italian marines. Samir Saran and Samya Chatterjee argue that the Indian courts do not have jurisdiction. Prabir Purkayastha and Rishabh Bailey, referring to Article 97 of the UNCLOS and the SS Lotus judgment, argue that Indian courts “also” have jurisdiction over the incident (as opposed to exclusive jurisdiction of Italy). Finally, Samir Saran disputes the above interpretation of Article 97 and also makes a very interesting argument based on the Indian Merchant Shipping Act.

3. Meanwhile, and perhaps more importantly, Judge Gopinath of the Kerala High Court has rendered (a reasonably well crafted) judgment in the writ petition filed by the Italian marines arguing that Indian courts do not have jurisdiction. The Court ruled that the Indian courts can exercise jurisdiction over the Italian marines under the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure as they were within India’s contiguous/exclusive economic zone. It addressed a number of other important matters such as the sovereign immunity of the marines (held no sovereign immunity), the “compatibility” of several national laws (including the SUA Act) with the UNCLOS (held are “compatible”), and the relevance of past precedence (the Raymund Genacio case — differentiated on facts). Particularly interesting is the Court’s interpretation of the UNCLOS. For example, in defining valid exercise of sovereign authority by India in the territorial-, contiguous-, and exclusive economic zones under the UNCLOS, it notes:

To hold that a coastal state has no right whatsoever to protect its nationals exercising their legitimate rights inside the coastal state’s CZ/EEZ, would be nothing but a total travesty of justice and an outrageous affront to the nation’s sovereignty. Such a view would mean that any day, any passing-by ship can simply shoot and kill, at its will, fishermen engaged in earning their livelihood; and then get away with its act on the ground that it happened beyond the territorial waters of the coastal state. Such a view will not merely be a bad precedent, but a grossly unjust one, and will go against all settled principles of law. (para. 33)

At the WTO:

1. On 25 June, the DSB established a Panel with standard terms of reference in the poultry dispute between the US (complainant) and India (DS430: India — Measures Concerning the Importation of Agricultural Products).

2. According to news reports, the US has threatened to challenge India’s compulsory license for Nexavar at the WTO. This comes after reports that India’s commerce minister had defended the WTO consistency of the license.

Bilateral Investment Treaties/Arbitration:

1. The Sistema dispute appears to be moving forward, with the six-month notice period nearing its end and the selection of a legal team by India. Several names have been suggested, including Mr. Rodman Bundy, Prof. Donald McRae and Senior Advocate A K Ganguli.

2. Several NGO’s have written a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressing concern over the ongoing US-India BIT negotiations. Their main attack appears to be against investor-state dispute settlement provisions.

3. In Nepal, a breakaway faction of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) has said that it will work towards scrapping of the recently concluded BIT with India.

4. The latest on the Vodafone BIT dispute is that it is moving forward with India not agreeing to Vodafone’s demands. Reports suggest that Prime Minister Singh would soon take a decision on Vodafone’s plea “seeking an undertaking that the [retrospective] amendment would not apply to it.”

And, finally, here’s the quote of the summer by none other than India’s (“underachieving“) Prime Minister:

“there are no international solutions to India’s problems”

– Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, returning from his trip to Los Cabos for the G20 and Rio.

A Freudian slip now, Mr Singh? : )

Vodafone BIT Dispute: India’s Initial Response

In response to Vodafone filing a notice of dispute against India under the India-Netherlands BIT, here is India’s initial response as per a news report:

Referring to the recent threat of Vodafone to invoke bilateral investment treaty with the Netherlands on the tax issue, the official said the arbitration clause in the BIPA (Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement) cannot apply in Vodafone-Hutchison deal as it was signed in Cayman islands.

“The deal happened in Cayman islands and they are invoking India-Netherlands BIPA,” the finance ministry official said, adding “while in the Supreme Court Vodafone said that the deal happened outside India, under BIPA it is saying it has made substantial investment in India.”

Under the BIT, an “investment” for the purposes of jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal exists if there an  “asset invested in accordance with the national laws and regulations of the Contracting Party in the territory of which the investment is made….” Article 1(a) also provides the usual inclusive listing of what constitutes “investment” for the purposes of the BIT.

Vodafone Initiates BIT Dispute Against India

As per a press release by Vodafone, on 17 April 2012, Vodafone’s Dutch subsidiary, Vodafone International Holdings BV, served a notice of dispute against the Indian government initiating the dispute settlement process under the India-Netherlands bilateral investment treaty (WSJ; FT; The Hindu suggesting that the Indian government had not received the notice as of 17 April).

Vodafone’s Complaint:

The notice of dispute is not publicly available. As per the Vodafone press release, however:

The dispute arises from the retrospective tax legislation proposed by the Indian government which, if enacted, would have serious consequences for a wide range of Indian and international businesses, as well as direct and negative consequences for Vodafone. The proposed legislation would also countermand the verdict of the Indian Supreme Court in January 2012, which ruled that Vodafone had no liability to account for withholding tax on its acquisition of indirect interests in Hutchison Essar Limited in 2007.

Vodafone believes that the retrospective tax proposals amount to a denial of justice and a breach of the Indian government’s obligations under the BIT to accord fair and equitable treatment to investors.

The Dispute Settlement Process under the India-Netherlands BIT:

Whatever the political and domestic ramifications of the dispute in India, the dispute settlement process under international investment law has now been triggered. Specifically, Article 9 of the India-Netherlands BIT provides that by notifying the host-state of its “intentions”, the investor can trigger the dispute settlement mechanism under the BIT. Once such a notice is served (as has been by Vodafone), the treaty provides for a 3 month period of negotiations for the amicable settlement of the dispute. If negotiations fail to resolve the dispute within 3 months, conciliation may be resorted to if both parties so agree. Otherwise, or in case the conciliation proceedings are terminated at any stage, arbitration proceedings are initiated under Article 9(3) of the BIT, being in all likelihood, an UNCITRAL arbitration before an ad hoc arbitral tribunal.

On the alternatives to arbitration generally:

For what its worth, Vodafone’s official press release is quite aggressively worded. As I’ve noted above, the treaty text makes an explicit reference to the first 3 months as a period for negotiations for the amicable settlement of the dispute (Article 9(1)). In fact, as per Article 9(1), the “intention” behind the first notice of dispute should be to negotiate an amicable settlement.  According to Vodafone, however, this notice “is the first step required prior to the commencement of international arbitration under the Bilateral Investment Treaty”. The fact that Vodafone sees this notice not as a sign of engaging in negotiations, but only as a precursor to the arbitration suggests an eagerness on part of Vodafone to resort to arbitration, and a disinterest in settling amicably.

On how this relates to the larger issue of the space for less-adversarial means of dispute settlement under BITs, I refer you to this recent UNCTAD study on the alternatives to arbitration as a means for the settlement of investor-state dispute settlement provision. (In particular, see Prof. Michael Reisman’s remarks on p.22, and the commentary by Lisa Bingham on p.33).

To pique your curiosity, here’s a quote from Prof. Reisman’s piece:

Ironically, what international lawyers proudly point to as a significant systemic progression, the ADR community seems to view as a problem. ADR proponents appear to believe that there is too much third-party dispute resolution [investment arbitration] in the field of international investment. In point of fact, there is actually very little, and much of it is already being disposed of through informal settlement. The above-stated number 318, which seems enormous in comparison to other international judicial or arbitral instances (for example the dockets of the Permanent Court of International Justice, the International Court of Justice, and the Permanent Court of Arbitration) must be put into context. The gross amount of foreign direct investment is very large, indeed greater than the volume of world trade. There are approximately 80,000 multinational enterprises, which are by definition foreign direct investors. These entities have some 100,000 affiliates. If these 180,000 potential claimants are factored by the number of BITs, bearing in mind that many of these entities are multiple foreign direct investors and that not every foreign direct investor is a multinational enterprise, then the number of actual disputes going to arbitration seems to be a miniscule fraction of the universe of foreign direct investment.

Presidential Reference to Cover BIT Disputes

Meanwhile, in the presedential reference filed before the Supreme Court of India it appears that the government has sought the “the Supreme Court’s direction on how to deal with foreign investors who have invoked bilateral treaties to protect their investment in 2G licences.”

Weekly Update: Investment Arbitration, BRICS, WTO, Tulbul and More….

Here are some of the major international legal developments of relevance to India and South Asia for the week ending 31 March 2012:

Investment Arbitration

  • Vodafone may file a claim against India under the India-Netherlands BIT for the capital gains tax sought to be retrospectively imposed by India against it: Indian Express, Independent, DNA, Wall Street Journal (paywalled).
  • Norwegian telecom operator Telenor, faced with the prospect of its Indian joint venture losing 22 2G mobile licences due to the Supreme Court judgment in the 2G case, has filed a notice of dispute  against India under the India-Singapore BIT seeking damages to the tune of USD 14 billion: Economic Times. [With a notice of dispute already filed by the Russian company Sistema against India, this makes it two investment treaty disputes arising out of the Supreme Court’s 2G judgment]

WTO Disputes

  • India is preparing to file a dispute against the US at the WTO over the visa fee charged by the latter for Indian software companies. The claim: “discrimination” against the Indian software companies which are being asked to pay higher H1B and L1 visa fee for their employees than the American firms for bringing more number of skilled immigrants to their country at lesser costs:  Economic Times.
  • The US called upon India to accede to the government procurement agreement — a plurilateral WTO agreement.
  • The US and EU have come out against the local content requirements in India’s Jawaharlal Nehru Solar Mission, which requires requires solar mission investors to use Indian manufactured solar modules and source 30 percent of their inputs from India: Hindustan Times. The Indian government is already reported to be preparing its strategy in case a dispute is filed at the WTO.

International River Water Disputes

EU Emissions Scheme

  • The Indian government has confirmed that it will be directing Indian airlines not to participate in the EU’s controversial aviation emissions rule. (Recall that China has already boycotted the EU scheme, as well): ICTSD.

India-Pakistan Trade

UN Special Rapporteur on AFSPA in Kashmir

  • After a visit to Kashmir, rhe UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions stated that the Indian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act has become a symbol of “excessive state power” and has “no role to play in a democracy”: NDTV, Hindustan Times. The official press release can be found here.

BRICS

  • The past week saw the leaders from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa assemble in Delhi for the fourth BRICS Summit. The theme of the summit was “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Security and Prosperity”.
  • The countries were called upon to support a common developing country candidate as the successor of DG Lamy.
  • In addition, the heads of state of the BRICS countries signed two agreements supporting trade in local currencies between them. The two agreements are: (i) the Master Agreement on Extending Credit Facility in Local Currencies; and, (ii) the BRICS Multilateral Letter of Credit Confirmation Facility Agreement. More details can be found in a MEA document here.
  • In culmination of the summit, the BRICS countries issued the “Delhi Declaration“. Here are some excerpts from the Declaration:
  • On the Doha Round at the WTO:

16. We will continue our efforts for the successful conclusion of the Doha Round, based on the progress made and in keeping with its mandate. Towards this end, we will explore outcomes in specific areas where progress is possible while preserving the centrality of development and within the overall framework of the single undertaking. We do not support plurilateral initiatives that go against the fundamental principles of transparency, inclusiveness and multilateralism. We believe that such initiatives not only distract members from striving for a collective outcome but also fail to address the development deficit inherited from previous negotiating rounds. Once the ratification process is completed, Russia intends to participate in an active and constructive manner for a balanced outcome of the Doha Round that will help strengthen and develop the multilateral trade system.

  • On Syria:

21. We express our deep concern at the current situation in Syria and call for an immediate end to all violence and violations of human rights in that country. Global interests would best be served by dealing with the crisis through peaceful means that encourage broad national dialogues that reflect the legitimate aspirations of all sections of Syrian society and respect Syrian independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty. Our objective is to facilitate a Syrian-led inclusive political process, and we welcome the joint efforts of the United Nations and the Arab League to this end. We encourage the Syrian government and all sections of Syrian society to demonstrate the political will to initiate such a process, which alone can create a new environment for peace. We welcome the appointment of Mr. Kofi Annan as the Joint Special Envoy on the Syrian crisis and the progress made so far, and support him in continuing to play a constructive role in bringing about the political resolution of the crisis.

  • On Iran:

22. The situation concerning Iran cannot be allowed to escalate into conflict, the disastrous consequences of which will be in no one’s interest. Iran has a crucial role to play for the peaceful development and prosperity of a region of high political and economic relevance, and we look to it to play its part as a responsible member of the global community. We are concerned about the situation that is emerging around Iran’s nuclear issue. We recognize Iran’s right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy consistent with its international obligations, and support resolution of the issues involved through political and diplomatic means and dialogue between the parties concerned, including between the IAEA and Iran and in accordance with the provisions of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.

Foreign Law Firms Practising in India

The Madras High Court rendered its judgment on legality of foreign law firms and lawyers practicing in India on 21 February 2012. The judgment is available here and has been covered on Legally India and Bar & Bench, amongst other news services. In short, the judgment permits foreign lawyers to “fly in and fly out” for arbitration proceedings and advising clients on foreign law matters. Participation in litigious or advisory work in India is otherwise prohibited for all foreign law firms and lawyers. Aditya Singh, an Indian LL.M. student at Yale Law School, points out the following important paragraphs in the judgment:

Extracts from AK Balaji v The Government of India, Ashurst LLP, White & Case et al (WP5614/2010) (emphasis added)

Para 3: The 1st respondent in his counter warns that if the foreign law firms are not allowed to take part in negotiations, settling up documents and arbitrations in India, it will have a counter productive effect on the aim of the government to make India a hub of International Arbitration. In this connection, it is stated that many arbitrations with Indian Judges and Lawyers as Arbitrators are held outside India, where both foreign and Indian Law Firms advise their clients. If foreign law firms are denied entry to deal with arbitrations in India, then India will lose many of the arbitrations to Singapore, Paris and London. It will be contrary to the declared policy of the government and against the national interest.

Para 25: The learned counsel referred to the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 where a specific provision is contained in Section 2(1)(f) which provides for international commercial arbitration for resolving disputes arising out of legal relationships where at least one of the parties is an individual or a body corporate of a foreign origin.  Even the Preamble to the aforesaid Act states that the General Assembly of the United Nations having recommended that all countries give due consideration to the UNCITRAL Model Law on International Commercial Arbitration adopted by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) and the UNCITRAL Conciliation Rules, the parties are required to seek amicable settlement of disputes arising in the context of international commercial relations by recourse to conciliation. According to the learned counsel, this necessitates the involvement of foreign legal experts having knowledge of foreign law. Learned counsel referred to the judgment rendered by the Supreme Court in the case ofVodafone International Holdings B.V. vs. Union of India in S.L.P. (C) No.26529 of 2010, which extensively dealt with issues relating to the impact of foreign investment and inflow of foreign currency on Indian economy, as also other issues involving fiscal implications on the economic development of the country vis-`-vis international commercial transactions.

Para 51:We find force in the submission made by the learned counsel appearing for the foreign law firms that if foreign law firms are not allowed to take part in negotiations, for settling up documents and conduct arbitrations in India, it will have a counter productive effect on the aim of the Government to make India a hub of International Arbitration. According to the learned counsel, many arbitrations with Indian Judges and Lawyers as Arbitrators are held outside India, where both foreign and Indian law firms advise their clients.  If foreign law firms are denied entry to deal with arbitrations in India, then India will lose many of the arbitrations to foreign countries. It will be contrary to the declared policy of the Government and against the national interest. Some of the companies have been carrying on consultancy/support services in the field of protection and management of intellectual, business and industrial proprietary rights, carrying out market surveys and market research and publication of reports, journals, etc. without rendering any legal service, including advice in the form of opinion, but they do not appear before any courts or tribunals anywhere in India. Such activities cannot at all be considered as practising law in India. It has not been controverted that in England, foreign lawyers are free to advice on their own system of law or on English Law or any other system of law without any nationality requirement or need to be qualified in England.

Para 55: International arbitration is growing big time in India and in almost all the countries across the globe.  India is a signatory to the World Trade Agreement, which has opened up the gates for many international business establishments based in different parts of the world to come and set up their respective businesses in India.

Para 57: Institutional Arbitration has been defined to be an arbitration conducted by an arbitral institution in accordance with the rules of the institution. The Indian Council of Arbitration is one such body. It is reported that in several cases of International Commercial Arbitration, foreign contracting party prefers to arbitrate in India and several reasons have been stated to choose India as the seat of arbitration. Therefore, when there is liberalization of economic policies, throwing the doors open to foreign investments, it cannot be denied that disputes and differences are bound to arise in such International contracts. When one of the contracting party is a foreign entity and there is a binding arbitration agreement between the parties and India is chosen as the seat of arbitration, it is but natural that the foreign contracting party would seek the assistance of their own solicitors or lawyers to advice them on the impact of the laws of their country on the said contract, and they may accompany their clients to visit India for the purpose of the Arbitration. Therefore, if a party to an International Commercial Arbitration engages a foreign lawyer and if such lawyers come to India to advice their clients on the foreign law, we see there could be no prohibition for such foreign lawyers to advise their clients on foreign law in India in the course of a International Commercial transaction or an International Commercial Arbitration or matters akin thereto. Therefore, to advocate a proposition that foreign lawyers or foreign law firms cannot come into India to advice their clients on foreign law would be a far fetched and dangerous proposition and in our opinion, would be to take a step backward, when India is becoming a preferred seat for arbitration in International Commercial Arbitrations. It cannot be denied that we have a comprehensive and progressive legal frame work to support International Arbitration and the 1996 Act, provides for maximum judicial support of arbitration and minimal intervention. That apart, it is not in all cases, a foreign company conducting an International Commercial Arbitration in India would solicit the assistance of their foreign lawyers. The legal expertise available in India is of International standard and such foreign companies would not hesitate to avail the services of Indian lawyers. Therefore, the need to make India as a preferred seat for International Commercial Arbitration would benefit the economy of the country.

Para 63: After giving our anxious consideration to the matter, both on facts and on law, we come to the following conclusion :-

(i) Foreign law firms or foreign lawyers cannot practice the profession of law in India either on the litigation or non-litigation side, unless they fulfil the requirement of the Advocates Act, 1961 and the Bar Council of India Rules.

(ii) However, there is no bar either in the Act or the Rules for the foreign law firms or foreign lawyers to visit India for a temporary period on a fly in and fly out basis, for the purpose of giving legal advise to their clients in India regarding foreign law or their own system of law and on diverse international legal issues.

(iii) Moreover, having regard to the aim and object of the International Commercial Arbitration introduced in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, foreign lawyers cannot be debarred to come to India and conduct arbitration proceedings in respect of disputes arising out of a contract relating to international commercial arbitration.

(iv) The B.P.O. Companies providing wide range of customised and integrated services and functions to its customers like word-processing, secretarial support, transcription services, proof-reading services, travel desk support services, etc. do not come within the purview of the Advocates Act, 1961 or the Bar Council of India Rules.  However, in the event of any complaint made against these B.P.O. Companies violating the provisions of the Act, the Bar Council of India may take appropriate action against such erring companies.

For my part, without commenting on the substantive aspects, I would only express my reservations with respect to the Court’s observation that “India is becoming a preferred seat for arbitration in International Commercial Arbitrations” and that “[i]t cannot be denied that we have a comprehensive and progressive legal frame work to support International Arbitration and the 1996 Act, provides for maximum judicial support of arbitration and minimal intervention.” As of now, this seems quite a utopian view, far removed from reality, in my opinion. There is a long way to before India becomes a “preferred” seat for arbitration with a “progressive” legal framework.