Editorials, GS-3, Indian Economy, Uncategorized

Sensitise States, don’t intimidate them

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The finance ministry is preparing a model Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA), for effective implementation of the Bilateral Investment Treaty it is set to sign with other countries. The draft will shortly be presented to the Cabinet for approval.

What are BITs?

BITs protect investments made by an investor of one country into another by regulating the host nation’s treatment of the investment. BIT replaces the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements (BIPPA) that India had signed with 83 countries since 1994.

Background:

In his budget speech, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had proposed the CSIA, to be signed between the central and state governments. This will ensure fulfilment of the obligations of state governments under BITs. States which opt to sign these will be seen as more attractive destinations by foreign investors.

Main features of CSIA:

Some of the features include an enterprise-based definition of investment, non-discriminatory treatment, protection against expropriation, an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision requiring investors to exhaust local remedies before commencing international arbitration, and limiting the power of tribunals to awarding of monetary compensation.

The Centre will also not make it mandatory for states to sign these agreements but if any don’t, counter-parties (other nations) will be informed.

Issues associated with CSIA:

  1. Obligations under international law.

According to some experts the Centre-State Investment Agreement (CSIA) does not make any sense from the perspective of international law. It is because whether a central government enters into any such agreement with states or not, the actions of state governments will continue to bind the Indian state. Irrespective of a foreign company running into trouble with any state, the liability will be on the Centre.

Also, the Centre’s proposal to warn their counter parties about non-compliant States before they make their investment in the State does not carry much legal significance.

  1. Cooperative federalism.

There are also practical considerations in this proposal. India is a quasi-federal structure with a multiparty system. The Centre and State governments are often politically non-aligned. In this context, a proposal by the Centre to enter into investment agreements with States as an optional arrangement may further sour fragile Centre-State relations for two reasons. First, the State governments will not like the shifting of the blame for violation of a BIT from New Delhi to State capitals. Second, the State governments will also not like the Centre informing India’s BIT partner country that a particular State government has not signed the agreement and thus, by implication, is not a safe destination for foreign investment.

Conclusion:

One of the objectives of the proposal could be to sensitise State governments about India’s BIT obligations given the fact that many regulations of State governments directly impact foreign investors. However, this objective would be better served by institutionalising the involvement of State governments in the process of treaty-making. A forum such as the NITI Aayog, which has all the Chief Ministers as members of the governing council, could be used to create a Centre-State consultative process on treaty-making. Also, this sensitisation should not be restricted to BITs but also extend to other international agreements like the World Trade Organisation treaty, numerous Free Trade Agreements, and Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements. Cooperative federalism requires that Centre and States work together, which in turn would ensure better implementation of international treaties.

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