Monday, March 15, 2010

BITS, Fair and Equitable Treatment and the Cross-Pollination of GAL

I wanted to flag an interesting post by Roger Alford over on Opinio Juris, in which he notes that a New York court has given Chevron leave to bring an arbitration claim against Ecuador under the US-Ecuador Bilateral Investment Treaty, despite the fact that Chevron is currently fighting a 17 year old lawsuit in Ecuador over rain forest contamination (an issue that it acquired when it bought Texaco in 2001). Of key interest here is the fact that Chevron wants to go to arbitration over, inter alia, a claim that it has been denied due process in the Ecuadorean courts. More generally, they are seeking a finding that

...Ecuador has breached the 1194, 1995, 1996 and 1998 investment agreements and the Ecuador-United States BIT, including its obligations to afford fair and equitable treatment, full protection and security, an effective means of enforcing rights, non-arbitrary treatment, non-discriminatory treatment, national and most favoured nation treatment, and to observe obligations that it entered into under the investment agreements.

Of course, it is not certain that an arbitration proceeding would have any impact on the cae in Ecuador; or, indeed, that the panel would find that it had jurisdiction to hear the case. However, Alford notes that "In the hearing this week, counsel for plaintiffs in the underlying Ecuadorian litigation described the arbitration as 'a collateral attack' on a future Ecuadorian judgment"; and there would seem to be some risk of this, given that Chevron are also seeking a finding that

...Claimants have no liability or responsibility for environmental impact, including but not limited to any alleged liability for impact to human health, the ecosystem, indigenous cultures, the infrastructure, or liability for any unlawful profits, or for performing any further environmental remediation arising out of the former Consortium.

Of most interest to me here, however, is Alford's analysis of why Chevron is pursuing this course of action; which, if correct, provides an interesting insight into the way in which recourse to GAL mechanisms in one context can - at least, it is hoped - lead directly to improvements in administrative law protections at other levels of governance, and can also impact upon domestic implementation of awards from other jurisdictions:

My sense is that Chevron is bringing this action not only in an attempt to succeed on the merits of its due process claim, but also to send a signal to the Ecuadorian court that any future action that denies Chevron basic due process will be subject to international scrutiny. The Ecuadorian court now faces the unpleasant prospect of knowing that the Ecuadorian government may be on the hook financially for any improper judgment rendered against Chevron.

I also think it is quite plausible that the BIT arbitration is an opening salvo in future attempts by Chevron to challenge the enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment in foreign courts. If a BIT arbitration panel concludes that Chevron has been denied due process, this would significantly bolster arguments that the foreign judgment should not be enforced in the United States under the Hilton v. Guyot standard.

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