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Free trade agreements

Mapping investment agreements

Published 15 March 2018

International investment agreements have been a remarkably successful policy innovation: today, there are over 3,000 of them in force worldwide.

Image: UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Hub website

3,000 Investment Agreements and Counting

International investment agreements have been a remarkably successful policy innovation: today, there are over 3,000 of them in force worldwide. That includes around 2,700 so-called “bilateral investment agreements” known by the acronym BITs, or similar stand-alone investment agreements, as well as free trade agreements that include investment chapters with similar types of commitments.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has developed an excellent web-based tool, the Investment Policy Hub, where you can search by country to learn what agreements they have in force that contain investment provisions. Here’s a snippet of one such chart showing bilateral investment agreements in the lefthand column and any international instrument with investment provisions (including BITs) in the righthand column. A quick look indicates that Turkey has 76 BITs or similar agreements in force, whereas the United States has just 40. The Investment Policy Hub also maintains a database of the agreements themselves where you can access the actual texts.


table of IIAs per country

UNCTAD is Keeping the Box Score

Most international investment agreements offer foreign investors specific guarantees regarding the treatment of their investments, and most also rely on a neutral set of international arbitration procedures accessible through the treaty’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism or ISDS.

Given the large number of international investment agreements in force, it’s a challenge to find a comprehensive overview of their application and usage. Fortunately, UNCTAD’s Investment Policy Hub also includes an investment dispute settlement page that shows a running total of all known investment arbitrations as well as the results of concluded arbitral proceedings. With a total of 817 known ISDS arbitrations, it’s safe to say that a majority of these investment agreements have operated without a single dispute. But if you want to see how those that did go to arbitration were resolved, the UNCTAD website has your box score.

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Scott Miller is a senior adviser with the Abshire-Inamori Leadership Academy, focusing on leadership development programs for public- and private-sector executives.

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