NAFTA arbitrators in environmental case agree to formal public input, a first for trade hearings

The decision by a NAFTA tribunal to accept and formally consider public submissions in a major environmental case represents a precedent-setting "triumph for openness" in international trade and investment arbitration, says the Canadian-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

IISD has won a 3 year battle to take part in NAFTA hearings this year into claims by Methanex Corporation that California violated guarantees of investors' rights when it banned a polluting gasoline additive manufactured in Canada. Methanex, of British Columbia, says its NAFTA Chapter 11 rights were violated when the state banned MTBE, a suspected carcinogen.

The breakthrough, communicated to IISD late Friday, was welcomed by the Institute's President David Runnalls as another new breach in the walls that have surrounded international trade and investment arbitration cases, until now conducted secretly "in-camera" with investors and governments as the sole participants.

Said Mr. Runnalls: "We set out in August 2000 to address the procedural deficiencies of the investor-state arbitrations, as well as concerns about rights accorded to investors under NAFTA's Chapter 11. This precedent-setting Tribunal decision builds on previous breakthroughs that opened the hearings to the public, thus making the process more transparent. Now the hearings are open for public input as well. The decision addresses almost all of our original procedural goals and we welcome this news.

"We look forward now to participating in the process of getting the interpretations of NAFTA's Chapter 11 right. Foreign investment is critical to achieving sustainable development today. But foreign investor rights that take priority over the right of policy-makers to govern and legislate in the area of sustainable development are self-defeating.

"Our goal is to leave the Tribunal with a strong and clear impression of what is at stake, and how appropriate interpretatio

Contact: Terry Collins
International Institute for Sustainable Development

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