The aim of this post is to illustrate how the MIC can be used as a tool for harmonising international investment law (IIL) with general international law and other branches of international law. The increase in investor state arbitrations has led to a growing increase in the overlap between investment obligations and environmental, human rights and other international obligations. This may cause conflicts between the different branches of international law where more than one branch of international law is implicated in the investment dispute. This has led to the fragmentation of international law with calls to rebalance the system to allow for the consideration of broader public international law in the settlement of investor-state disputes.
African Continental Free Trade Agreement
This essay discusses the opportunity the proposed multilateral investment court (‘MIC’) presents for states to holistically address the imbalances in international investment law by granting local communities a binding international remedy for corporate human rights violations and other investment-related harms. It argues that concerns about granting local communities such a right are overstated especially since it can be done with sufficient guardrails to prevent an upset to the ISDS system. For African states, this should be a priority in the MIC negotiations given corporate abuses of their local communities, especially in natural resource-rich areas, and their obligation under Article 21(5) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights 1981 (‘African Charter’) to prevent or remedy such exploitation.
In March 2018, African nations embarked on a historic journey to reshape their trade landscape through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Originally scheduled for implementation in mid-2020, a pandemic-induced delay pushed the launch to January 2021. Aggregating over 1.2 billion people, the AfCFTA promises to create a massive market with a combined GDP of over $3 trillion. With 54 signatories and 47 countries ratifying the agreement, the AfCFTA aims to foster a pan-African free trade zone, enhance regional development prospects, and promote intra-African trade. Key mechanisms are progressively dismantling trade barriers and promoting investment. This blog post delves into the current state of investment dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms across Africa, the potential of the AfCFTA and its investment protocol to catalyse change, and the need for a balanced multilateral approach. Through collaboration, innovation, and a commitment to equity, Africa can create a new paradigm for investment dispute resolution that truly reflects the continent's values and aspirations.
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system in its current form has been viewed as being malignant to the Global South. Africa in particular, has been a strong critic of the system with the most radical action against ISDS coming from South Africa, which has stated that investment arbitration awards are “directly opposed to the legitimate, constitutional and democratic policies of the country”. The United Nations Commission on Trade Law (UNCITRAL) has now mandated its Working Group III (WG3) to lead ISDS reform efforts. One of the key areas of reform under the purview of WG3 is the inconsistency, incoherency, unpredictability and incorrectness of investment arbitration awards.
This contribution has looked at the extent to which the MIC can improve the participation of African local communities in ISDS and ensure a better protection of their rights and interests. It started by discussing the current participation of these communities in ISDS with a view of identifying the challenges these communities are facing before analyzing how the MIC can address some of these challenges. Emphasis should be placed on the selection of MIC members and encourage the appointment of members with broad expertise in (public)international law and public issues and not experts with only commercial background. Indeed, most recent investment agreements contain provisions that protect local communities. The challenge therefore lies in how these agreements are interpreted and applied. In addition, the MIC investment advisory centre should extend its services to local communities and assist them in the drafting and submission of their briefs to investment tribunals.
The webinar brings two together the authors of two new books on the subject of international investment law in Africa and three expert panelists to interrogate thematic issues that arise from the books; their implication for contemporary practices of international investment law in Africa and beyond; and what insights we may draw on them for the future of the regimes on investment law in Africa.
The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the largest in the world by membership, aims to increase trade flows of African products and services within the continent by removing tariff and non-tariff barriers. The Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade included within the scope of the Agreement establishing the AfCFTA is a first of its kind for a regional trade agreement of this scale. The inclusion of the Protocol is a concrete realization of the commitment of the Assembly of African Heads of State and Government of the African Union (AU) to “broaden inclusiveness” in the operation of the AfCFTA, demonstrating a novel approach to addressing gender issues within trade agreements. This article will first discuss the relevance of including gender considerations in trade agreements in supporting women’s participation in their various trade roles and in maximising the potential benefits of trade agreements as a whole; second, it will propose considerations for determining the scope and focus of the AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade.
Akin to the proverbial new wine in old skins, the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade is an ingenious idea whose prospects stand to run afoul of entrenched and systemic forms of discrimination and exclusion. If successfully enacted, the instrument must find its way around economic nationalism (protectionism), vulnerabilities of infant markets in the South, dominance of neoliberal economic thinking, and State dysfunction. Short of far-reaching and deliberate institutional, policy, and legislative reforms at the individual country- and Regional Economic Community (REC) levels, the Protocol runs the risk of being another of those beautiful mechanisms printed on glossy paper, but with no tangible effects to the everyday lives of the billion Africans in whose name it was enacted.
One of the benefits of commenting or critiquing a drafting process and a draft protocol is that it gives you the freedom to question assumptions and offers a timely analysis that helps improve the zero draft. However, here I am, discussing and commenting on a draft protocol that I am yet to read because the draft is not available for public distribution. With that caveat, my thoughts here are general. The societal role of women cannot change without changing the position of men, and by the same token, concerns of women should not be confined to a separate protocol but rather ought to be at the heart of the AfCFTA. But here we are, and the question asked of us is to analyze what inclusive AfCFTA Protocol on Women and Youth means.
There have been many important developments on the continent since the official start of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in January 2021. Keen to stimulate discussion of the ambitious development objectives which have animated the AfCFTA project and their potential to be realized by the effort as currently conceived, the Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) at Harvard Law School, Afronomicslaw.org, and the Firoz Lalji Institute for Africa (FLIA) at the London School of Economics and Political Science came together in early 2023 to co-sponsor a discussion series entitled “Assessing Developments in the Negotiation and Implementation of the AfCFTA”. The first session of the series was convened online by the IGLP on April 17, 2023, and centered on the Protocol on Women and Youth in Trade (the Protocol) which is currently being negotiated.