USCIB Vice President for Investment and Financial Services Shaun Donnelly was in Geneva last week (October 22-26) leading international business advocacy efforts at the annual World Investment Forum (WIF) hosted by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Donnelly led a small, but outspoken, group of business representatives, including the European Service Forum and BDI, Germany’s large business organization, and participated in a few sessions, being a constant business presence throughout the course of the week.
According to Donnelly, UNCTAD seems to remain a forum dominated by developing country representatives, academics, and non-government organization activists, often with anti-business orientations. UNCTAD did however include some leading CEOs from Novartis, Nestle, DeBeers and Ethiopian Airlines on opening plenary panels, all of whom provided excellent, candid remarks on why and how major businesses invest abroad. Donnelly and his colleagues followed suit.
“We spoke up forcefully the rest of the week on the important, indeed indispensable, role Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) plays in financing economic development and providing critical capital for achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in developing economies,” noted Donnelly.
Donnelly was included as one of the kickoff speakers (the only one representing business views) at the annual high-level experts meeting on International Investment Agreements (IIAs). “We all need strong, comprehensive investment agreements, including effective Investor-State Dispute Settlement (“ISDS”) enforcement provisions that are essential to support the required substantial FDI flows,” said Donnelly. “I also had the opportunity to directly challenge some European Union representatives pushing their bureaucratized ‘Multilateral Investment Court’ as an alternative to the proved ISDS systems.”
Donnelly also represented business on a side-event panel, alongside government representatives from Canada and Nigeria, that was organized by the UN Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the World Bank affiliate whose rules and procedures, currently being updated, have long governed most ISDS dispute processes. Additionally, Donnelly was able to speak privately with senior government officials at, and on, the margins of various plenary sessions, panels and side events.
“We need to be realistic,” said Donnelly, reflecting on his week on the front lines of international investment policy debates. “After all, it’s UNCTAD and there are a lot of pressures out there, helpful or otherwise, pressing for major reforms of established treaties, rules, and procedures for protecting and incentivizing FDI flows. ISDS is particularly under political attack. A week on the front lines at UNCTAD, while not always fun, is something we need to do as a business community to be taken seriously in the global debates on investment policies, protections and procedures. I can’t say we carried the day but I hope we were able to give some of the serious, open-minded government representatives a few different perspectives on these important investment and SDG issues. I emphasized that if the investment rules and procedures don’t work for business or aren’t perceived to fair and balanced, business isn’t going to invest. And no one wins. If they truly are seeking productive solutions, governments and international organizations need to include business as a true partner in these investment policy debates and decision-making. Frankly, at this point, the jury is still out on whether that will really happen as governments consider moves to revise or replace investment long-established agreements. But we at USCIB intend to continue speaking up assertively on these important issues.”