A Contractual Approach to Investor-State Regulatory Disputes

41 Pages Posted: 13 May 2015

See all articles by Richard Chen

Richard Chen

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law

Date Written: May 12, 2015


International investment arbitral tribunals are increasingly tasked with resolving regulatory disputes. This relatively new form of dispute involves a challenge by a foreign investor to a host state’s generally applicable regulation, enacted in good faith to promote the public interest but resulting incidentally in harm to the investor’s business. Such claims typically invoke the “fair and equitable treatment” standard provided for in the bilateral investment treaty between the host state and the investor’s home state. The dominant view among commentators, and increasingly among the tribunals themselves, is that regulatory disputes should be analyzed within a public law framework, using tools derived from constitutional or administrative law. That means, for example, balancing the investor’s rights and host state’s regulatory concerns as part of a proportionality analysis. I argue that the public law approach is flawed because it requires tribunals to weigh incommensurable values and ultimately to make policy judgments when they lack the expertise and legitimacy to do so.

This Article proposes that tribunals instead draw on tools from contract law and theory to approximate what the contracting states intended when they agreed to a fair and equitable treatment standard. The investment treaties themselves give no guidance on how that standard should be applied to regulatory disputes. When courts confront similar gaps in contracts, they do not simply abandon the inquiry into the parties’ intent but instead apply additional tools or principles to form the best possible estimate. The Article explores three specific tools: a default rule approach and two default standards derived from contract law’s analysis of changed circumstances. More generally, I argue that a contractual approach, by focusing tribunals on the contracting states’ intent rather than requiring them to independently assess the substance of a host state’s policy, will facilitate more principled reasoning as well as enhance the tribunals’ legitimacy, and thereby better promote the goals of international investment in the long run.

Keywords: international investment law, international arbitration, international law, contract theory

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Chen, Richard, A Contractual Approach to Investor-State Regulatory Disputes (May 12, 2015). Yale Journal of International Law, Vol. 40, No. 2, 2015. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2605319

Richard Chen (Contact Author)

University of Hawaii at Manoa - William S. Richardson School of Law ( email )

2515 Dole Street
Honolulu, HI 96822-2350
United States

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