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A Citizen Audit of Investment Protection Treaties and International Arbitration System on Investments has been created in Ecuador.
Meanwhile, UNASUR (Union of South American Nations) begins to see Bilateral Investment Protection Treaties (BIT) as a threat from transnational corporations to governments.
These two aspects were discussed at the international workshop “Alternatives to the International Investment Protection System and Dispute Settlement Mechanisms between Transnational Corporations and States” held last Thursday and Friday in Guayaquil, Ecuador.
Last Saturday, Real World Radio interviewed ecologist activist Alberto Villareal of REDES-Friends of the Earth Uruguay. Villareal participated in the event called by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Human Mobility, the National Secretariat of Planning and Development (SENPLADES) and the Council of Citizen Participation and Social Control. Other calling organizations include the Latin American Network on Debt, Development and Rights (LATINDADD), German foundation Friedrich Ebert, the Latin American Institute of Social Sciences (ILDIS), Ecuadorian Network Jubilee 2000 and the Hemispheric Social Alliance.
The participants and speakers of the different workshops included experts from social movements and organizations, governments and many Latin American countries.
The team of the Citizen’s Audit “will be made up of four members of State agencies, four international experts and four members of social movements and organizations of Ecuador”, plus 12 alternate members, Villareal told Real World Radio. “Right now the composition of the group is being decided. During the meeting there was a general sense that the selection of organizations of Ecuador should be made by the organizations themselves in order to replicate this process in other countries”. The aim is that the selection of civil society representatives is not done by the government.
One of the main outcomes of the meeting is to take this proposal for the Audit before the official summit of the Bolivarian Alternative of the Americas (ALBA) to be held on Tuesday in Guayaquil, so that all the countries in the alliance will follow suit.
In April, the Ecuadorian government called several governments and civil society organizations to talk about possible actions against the current investment protection model. The Citizen Audit and the International Observatory of Investor-State cases were two big outcomes of the meeting. There, over 10 countries created the Conference of the Countries of the South to help each other in conflicts with transnational corporations.
“The Audit in Ecuador is the process that has moved forward the most”, said Villareal, at the government’s initiative, but “in many countries the social movements will have to push this forward”. Taking this forward in different countries and promote it is one of the goals that came out of the international workshop.
Villareal said that one of the first official meetings of UNASUR identified BIT as potential threats with negative impacts on the States in international arbitration, as well as the need to review this policy.
Even though Ecuador and the ALBA countries question the BIT and international arbitration, the aim of social organizations in Latin America is that UNASUR will continue working on this issue despite the political differences between the member countries.
Meanwhile, the International Observatory of Investor-State Cases has not shown so much progress. “We were hoping that during these meetings we would hear the Ecuadorian government talk about its plans. But there is neither structure nor specific activities yet. We made proposals but we expected there would be more exchange. It was not possible this time”, regretted Villareal.
A recommendation that came out of the workshop was that the Observatory has to be a government body with direct participation of social movements. It should expose the problems of BIT and arbitration systems. The proposal is that the Observatory “is a joint defense of governments, social movements and communities affected against lawsuits, to expose how flawed these processes of lawsuits filed by transnational corporations against States are. Finally we want to discredit these processes, get rid of them”, said Villareal. The member of REDES-FoE called on the other countries to follow the example of Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela “which have taken a path of exposing and overturning BIT, reviewing their investment policies and of exposing ICSID and international arbitration mechanisms that grant transnational corporations extraordinary powers”.
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