USCIB and the International Chamber of Commerce brought a pro-business, pro-investment perspective to the three-day World Investment Forum, which took place this week in Geneva.
Organized by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the biennial forum gathers heads of state, global CEOs and civil society leaders for dialogues on the world’s emerging investment-related challenges. This year’s event had a special focus on leveraging investment to support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
On Tuesday, the forum’s first day, ICC leaders and Mukhisa Kituyi, the UNCTAD secretary general, co-chaired the 11th meeting of the Investment Advisory Council. During the open discussion, Shaun Donnelly, USCIB’s vice president for investment and financial services, made a strong pitch for bilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements, which was echoed by a range of business and government representatives. ICC and USCIB Chairman Terry McGraw and ICC Secretary General John Danilovich spoke at the forum’s opening plenary, where they were joined by senior government officials.
Also on Tuesday, McGraw, Danilovich and USCIB President and CEO Peter Robinson met with Roberto Azevedo, the director general of the World Trade Organization, to discuss ways to restart the stalled Trade Facilitation Agreement. At the meeting Robinson thanked Azevedo for his leadership and said he looked forward to honoring him at USCIB’s annual award dinner in Washington, DC on November 19.
Mobilizing the Private Sector
On the forum’s second day, Robinson delivered plenary remarks, in which he discussed the four key elements that would crystallize private-sector support for sustainable development: good governance, economic growth, innovation and infrastructure. He noted that governments and businesses must work together to facilitate initial investments in least developing countries that lack basic infrastructure. Initial infrastructure funding can then help leverage further investments, leading to a “virtuous cycle.” He also made the case for investment protection.
“Let’s continue the dialogue and partnership to harness investment as a key driver of economic, sustainable and inclusive development,” Robinson concluded. “And work together to create the virtuous investment circle, particularly in those countries that need it the most.”
Given the forum’s focus on investment for the SDGs, Robinson also emphasized that “taken together, open international trade and investment are important inter-related fundamentals and key drivers for engaging the private sector in achieving global economic growth that is inclusive, and environmentally and socially sustainable.”
On Thursday Robinson and Donnelly took part in key panel discussions on the role of bilateral and multilateral investment agreements and on investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), where they spent over four hours defending investment agreements and ISDS in a morning-long Investment Agreement session, the centerpiece session during the final day of UNCTAD’s World Investment Forum.
With over 50 speakers limited to three-minute interventions, government and NGO representatives were often critical of investment agreements and ISDS in particular, whereas business voices were scarce. Robinson explained the overall importance of international investment agreements, while Shaun tackled the sensitive ISDS issue, emphasizing the need for effective enforcement measures to truly incentivize and protect FDI flows that are vital for economic growth, development and job creation. Donnely also highlighted USCIB’s strong opposition to any sectoral carve-outs from ISDS protections.
Although too many government participants opposed ISDS, Michael Tracton, director of the investment office at the U.S. Department of State, voiced support for strong investment agreements and ISDS, citing the high standards and balance of the USG’s Bilateral Investment Treaty and free trade agreement investment chapters.
Unfortunately, opposition to ISDS from NGOs has shown no signs of letting up. “USCIB will continue to confront these pressures internationally at forums like UNCTAD and in free trade agreement negotiations, voicing our strong support for common-sense, pro-business investment policies,” Donnelly said. “We will continue to leverage our international networks BIAC and ICC to mobilize international business support for these policies.”