Investment Facilitation: History and the latest developments in the structured discussions

This negotiating brief was prepared for the Geneva Seminar on the Joint Statement Initiative (JSI) devoted to investment facilitation held on January 28, 2020. The brief outlines the history and developments of investment-related discussions in the World Trade Organization (WTO) context, looking specifically at investment facilitation at the WTO as well as in other forums and contexts.

The Twelfth Ministerial Conference (MC12) of the World Trade Organization (WTO), to be held in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, in June 2020, is slated to see significant updates on the joint initiatives launched just over two years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Among these processes are the structured discussions now underway to possibly develop a multilateral framework on investment facilitation, which currently involves 98 WTO Members as signatories. This framework, according to the joint statement that launched this process in December 2017, “shall not address market access, investment protection, and investor-state dispute settlement,” and would encompass a set of areas designed at “facilitating foreign direct investments” (WTO, 2017b).

Whether this framework will be completed in time for the Kazakhstan conference remains unclear at this stage. The signatories of the joint statement are instead looking to see a “meaningful outcome” in June 2020, according to an update provided by the coordinator of the structured discussions, Chilean Ambassador to the WTO Eduardo Gálvez, during the WTO Public Forum in October 2019 (WTO, 2019b). The exact nature of that outcome remains to be determined and will depend on the various substantive meetings planned from February to June 2020.

This negotiating brief provides an overview of the structured discussions on investment facilitation. It outlines the current state of play as of January 20, 2020, while providing a detailed description of the process and context.The brief is designed for trade negotiators and places these discussions within the wider WTO context, both on investment-related issues and in relation to other developments involving the multilateral trading system.

The investment facilitation discussions are also notable in how they could widen the scope of investment governance issues brought into the realm of international trade governance.This negotiating brief therefore examines which investment-related issues are already captured in current WTO rules and how. It also notes the work underway at the national, regional and international levels on other areas of international investment governance, such as investment protection and market access, as well as investment facilitation efforts that have already taken place outside the WTO context.