Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported a dramatic uptick in the number of corporate investor challenges being heard by the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) - a World Bank group charged with arbitrating investment disputes. So much so, that a new legal niche is growing to meet the demand:
Geography has been kind to the District law firms equipped to handle international dispute resolution. As the host city of the ICSID, which has seen its caseload grow from between one and four cases a year from 1972 to 1996 to an apogee of 37 cases in 2007 and 27 in the fiscal year of 2010, the attorneys here are in close proximity to the action. The nation's capital is also seen as a key connection point between Latin America, where nearly a third of ICSID cases originate, and the rest of the world. The Argentine economic crisis of the late 1990s and early 2000s prompted at least 40 ICSID cases on its own, prompting the country to open a special District office to oversee its interests here.
There must a better way to create jobs in Washington, DC - perhaps a way that doesn't also facilitate the trampling of local public health and environmental protecions or drain taxpayer resources in the United States and in trading partner countries? For more details about the kinds of cases multinational investors bring before ICSID, see Public Citizen's NAFTA Chapter 11 database. Also read up on El Salvador's struggle to preserve its environment in the face of two recent CAFTA cases challenging Salvadoran mining policy decisions.
In the coming months the U.S. Congress will decide whether to expand the ICSID party! If implemented, the Korea FTA would empower hundreds of U.S. and Korean multinational investors to bring suits against the U.S. and Korean governments at ICSID should they want to argue that their slew of new investor rights has been violated.