On 9 May 2017, a 2-day conference on Sustainable Market Actors for Responsible Trade and Investment (SMART) was held in Oslo, Norway. This event was organised in collaboration between Beate Sjafjell (University of Oslo), Tonia Novitz and Clair Gammage (University of Bristol), who chaired the conference, which was held at the University of Oslo. A series of papers were presented by notable academics within this field; a number of topics were covered. These topics range from: renewable energy under WTO law; using WTO law to limit child labour; sovereign debt issues, and promotion of human rights through international investment agreements.

On 10 May 2017, Amy Man, PhD Candidate and Associate Lecturer at UWE Bristol presented her paper on ‘New Players and Old Rules: A Critique of the China-Ethiopia and China-Tanzania Bilateral Investment Treaties’. Amy Man’s presentation argued that international investment law is not best placed to reflect the economic interests of developing host states. This is because it is underpinned by a neo-liberal assumption that welcoming foreign direct investment (FDI) will automatically boost economic development and improve the standard of living within a developing host state context. Furthermore, international investment law originates from a post-colonial context which traditionally favours the interests and rights of foreign investors and capital-exporting states. Amy Man stressed that although there are new players in this regime, such as China, which has taken some positive steps in the right direction but these changes are minimal because the overall legal framework needs reform.

Academics attending the conference questioned whether inserting social clauses into investment agreements was an appropriate venue to do so. Amy Man highlighted that there is a degree of overlap between different international law regimes and to ensure protection for the public interest, such provisions in international investment agreements are needed. Additionally, she highlighted that the current international human rights framework lacks adequate mechanisms to address this overlap. Other scholars questioned Amy Man as to whether China’s positive adaptation of the rules within international investment law was simply a token gesture, which cannot be evidenced in practice.

In ICSID (International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes) arbitration, there have been few cases initiated by Chinese investors. Notable examples include Ping An v. Belgium or Tza Yap Tsum v. Peru. The few number of Chinese cases is partly due to China is still an emerging actor in this field, so it is still navigating the legal and institutional frameworks. It is also based on Chinese Confucian values of ‘fa’ and ‘li’ that guide its value system and its reluctance to engage in arbitration. This is an area that is a developing area within legal scholarship and one that Amy Man is researching on for her PhD.

To watch video streams of the conference and Amy’s presentation, see: https://www.facebook.com/UniOsloSMART