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In Trade Talks, It's Countries vs. Companies

A fight over how to resolve disputes between nations and corporations could derail a global treaty
In Trade Talks, It's Countries vs. Companies
Illustration by 731

Beginning in the 1950s, trade negotiators evolved an elegant solution to a vexing problem: the risk that poor countries would seize the oil fields, mines, and factories of Western corporations that operated within their borders. Fearful of nationalization or other harsh treatment, multinationals were holding back on investment. Everyone lost.

The answer was to include language in treaties specifying that disputes between investors and governments would be settled by independent arbitrators, not courts in the country where a disagreement arose. That gave corporations confidence that their projects were safe and helped unleash trillions of dollars’ worth of cross-border investment. Today there are about 3,000 treaties between countries that provide for such arbitration.