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The risks of investment treaties for the Colombian people

4 March, 2020Colombia is one of the 10 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean with the largest number of claims filed by foreign investors, amounting to billions of dollars.

According to a report by the Transnational Institute (TNI), from 2016 to 2019, foreign investors filed 13 claims against Colombia before international arbitral tribunals. These tribunals decide on what is most important, private profits or the public interest.

So far, only one of the 13 claims has been settled; a claim brought by Glencore, in 2016, in which the court ordered Colombia to pay US$19 million.

Bilateral investment treaties (BITs) are usually tied to Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a mechanism through which companies are able to sue a government deemed to have taken measures that harm their profits.

The Colombian government has concluded six BITs. It has also started the accession process to become a party to the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), considered the most dangerous investment protection treaty in the world. The ECT grants foreign investors in the energy sector extensive rights to directly sue states in international tribunals.

“In the case of Colombia, treaties such as the ECT could prevent the development of energy policies crucial to the transition from polluting to renewable energies. Worker involvement in trade agreement and treaty negotiations is urgently needed to ensure sustainable industry and a sustainable future with decent work,”

says IndustriALL’s regional secretary, Marino Vani.

“Our Colombian affiliates are participating in the broad-based mining and energy dialogue (Mesa Minero Energética), which has started to tackle this issue. Debating this matter is of strategic and vital importance.”

Colombia is not the only country in the region facing this challenge. Latin America and the Caribbean currently have the highest number of BITs, many of which were not the subject of consensus building and negotiation processes.

The region’s countries are also among those facing the most ISDS claims. The TNI, for example, reports that 267 cases have been filed against governments in the region, representing a third of all claims globally. The investor benefited from the outcome in 70 per cent of the 152 cases settled.

In 2018, IndustriALL’s Executive Committee adopted a global action plan for fair international trade and industrial policy, to encourage its affiliates around the world to play a role in the negotiation of multilateral trade agreements and treaties.

IndustriALL’s trade union representatives in Latin America and the Caribbean have adopted a regional action plan to put the global guidelines into practice. They have resolved to oppose ISDS provisions in all trade and investment agreements. They will urge their respective governments to withdraw from investment agreements with ISDS provisions and rewrite investment rules, with a view to promoting sustainable development.