Rethinking IIAs to Advance Sustainable Development

In order to achieve the SDGs, it is essential that international economic law advances and does not undermine those goals. 

We have produced a three-part framework to assess whether international investment agreements (IIAs) are performing as required. This framework looks at how IIAs and their dispute settlement mechanisms influence (1) investment flows, (2) domestic governance of those flows, and (3) international cooperation. It asks whether IIAs’ effects in those three areas support or frustrate sustainable development within and across countries. This framework can be used to shape governments’ reform of existing treaties, and development of new agreements.

This three-part framework builds on the work and ideas of a distinguished group of interdisciplinary experts outlined in the online book, Rethinking International Investment Governance. It also informed by a series of research projects looking at implications of IIAs for the SDGs (e.g., Aligning Investment Treaties with Sustainable Development), as well as dialogues and conferences held on IIA reform.

We continue to develop practical dimensions of the three elements of this framework, including by examining how international cooperation can effectively catalyze SDG-advancing international investment, and how it can effectively support SDG-advancing domestic governance of international investment.

We, together with colleagues at Georgetown Law, have also suggested the development of a Framework Convention on Investment and Sustainable Development as one way of ensuring that past and future treaties comply with this three-part framework on SDG-alignment. Relatedly, we have argued that the SDGs need to be at the heart of and inform any reforms to IIAs and ISDS being pursued through the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL). 

In addition to steps states can take at the international level to align international economic law with the SDGs, there are also actions governments can take at the domestic level. This study, prepared for the Swiss government and looking at its IIAs, offers some examples of what a “home” or capital exporting state, can do.  

Related Pages:

See here for an overview of how our work on IIAs connects with the SDGs