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Commentary: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in the Struggle Against Anti-Democratic Corporate Trade Rules

'One Step Forward, Two Steps Back in the Struggle Against Anti-Democratic Corporate Trade Rules', 23 July 2021

"In 1959, Pakistan and Germany signed the world’s first bilateral investment treaty (BIT), giving private corporations unprecedented power to sue these countries’ governments over alleged violations of a long list of so-called “investor protections.”

In the decades that followed, such investment rules proliferated in thousands of similar bilateral treaties, as well as the investment chapters of trade agreements. Policymakers, particularly in developing countries, found themselves caught in an inter-locking web of rules and institutions committed to promoting and protecting wealthy foreign investors — with little regard for the costs to democracy, the environment, and the public welfare.

Pakistan recently announced plans to break free of this web of excessive corporate power. This is a major milestone. But progress on this front is uneven. Ecuador, once a leading critic of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system, is regressing. And the United States is facing the largest lawsuit in its history by a Canadian pipeline company...

... Mexico is one of numerous countries that would benefit from the termination of these investment rules. Under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the government has adopted several policies that could provoke international lawsuits. The country already faces claims for more than $4 billion — and there are more claims for undisclosed amounts— most of which have been launched by mining companies. A continuation of the investor-state dispute settlement system is also in conflict with López Obrador’s stated goal of ending neoliberalism and defending the country’s energy resources.

More countries should follow the example of Pakistan. It’s time to put an end to ISDS and the excessive corporate powers it enables."

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