Aligning Investment Treaties with Sustainable Development

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Policy makers and other stakeholders are currently asking fundamental questions about whether and to what extent international investment agreements (IIAs) are consistent with and are helping to advance sustainable development objectives at home and abroad.

A CCSI study commissioned by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation provides a framework to help answer those questions about whether and to what extent IIAs can and do support sustainable development, and applies that framework to a review of Swiss IIAs.

The framework identifies five principles that should guide the content and application of IIAs (if and when the treaties are concluded) in order to align them with sustainable development objectives:

  1. Maintain legitimate policy space and allow legal and regulatory frameworks to evolve over time to address new challenges and changing circumstances;
  2. Do no harm;
  3. Advance labor standards, human rights, and environmental protection;
  4. Increase cross-border investment flows; and
  5. Ensure coherence across relevant government policy spheres.

The study reviews 40 Swiss IIAs – agreements concluded over roughly the past 50 years – in light of those five principles. Based on that review, the report concludes both that Swiss IIAs often risk frustrating sustainable development outcomes, and represent missed opportunities to proactively advance progress on sustainable development goals. At the same time, the report identifies feasible, concrete steps that the government can take to address these issues in both their existing and future treaties.

The Swiss Government’s initiative to analyze IIAs from a sustainable development perspective offers a framework that other governments – particularly governments of capital exporting states – can use to conduct similar reviews.