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Despite the joint announcement of the United States and China that both countries would “expedite negotiation on a bilateral investment treaty” (abbreviated in English as a “BIT”), the notion of a BIT between the United States and China, two of the world’s five largest economies, remains inconceivable for some. On the U.S. side, there are significant political obstacles: free trade and foreign investment typically are not successful campaign platforms for U.S. politicians during an economic recession, especially in an election year. U.S. politicians would not likely accept a BIT while strong disagreement remains over China’s currency policies. China’s pegging of the yuan to the dollar remains an irritant (indeed, the only trade issue on President Obama’s agenda in Beijing in November), notwithstanding that it may have enabled critical flows of debt-financing while the United States endured the depths of a recession while still needing billions for military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are obstacles on Chinese protection and enforcement of U.S. intellectual property, controlled Chinese capital markets, and laws raising national treatment concerns for American investors trying to establish investments in China, according to Amy Tsui’s BNA Int’l Trade Daily article.  Political support for a BIT with China does not look promising, particularly with a Congress whose Democratic leadership is often openly suspicious of Chinese trade and investment intentions.

China has its own policy disagreements with the United States, including on trade issues such as the United States’ safeguard duties on Chinese tires. China also has been reluctant to embrace international arbitration of investor-state investment disputes to the degree that the United States would demand using the 2004 U.S. Model BIT as the basis for negotiations.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, there are reasons to believe that a U.S.-China BIT is not a question of “whether” but “when.” When the Bush Administration announced in June 2008 that the United States and China had been discussing a BIT as part of the Strategic Economic Dialogue, at least one observer wondered whether the announcement meant a deal had been completed. According to a U.S. official, talks of a U.S.-China BIT already had been going on for seventeen months. Under the Obama Administration, it appears that discussions are continuing “in technical stages [but] have not yet reached political decisions.” (“ACIEP Report on Model BIT Lacks Consensus on Critical Issues,” Inside U.S. Trade, Oct. 2, 2009.)

BITs are smaller in scope than free trade agreements (“FTAs”). The negotiations, therefore, are much more attainable, in terms of both the substance and the political capital expended to reach an agreement. BITs tend to favor the country in the agreement that is the larger exporter of capital, which usually has meant that the United States stood to benefit far more than its treaty partner. Of the approximately 60 countries with whom the United States previously has agreed on BITs or FTA investment chapters, Canada and South Korea are the only significant exporters of capital.

U.S. businesses see BITs as a way to open up access to foreign markets, and China would be no exception. For many years, U.S. industries have been looking for ways to improve access to China’s one billion consumers and to eliminate restrictions on or disincentives to foreign investment, particularly as, during recent years of high economic growth, the Chinese have accumulated unprecedented wealth for a developing country.

China, unlike most of the United States’ treaty partners in prior BITs, has become a significant exporter of capital, but this fact probably makes a BIT even more likely. Since 1998, China has been renegotiating BITs it had with many European countries in order to provide greater protection for its own investors doing business in Europe. Recently, China also has been in BIT negotiations with Canada. As China increases its investments in the United States, it becomes increasingly likely that China will want the same protections for its investors doing business there.

There have been critics in the United States fearing that BIT provisions for international investor-state arbitration circumvent U.S. judicial, legislative and regulatory processes, and many certainly would oppose a BIT with China given the implications for U.S. environmental and labor standards. And yet, there is little reason for anyone to believe that the United States would be overrun with foreign claims under a U.S.-China BIT. Notwithstanding Canada’s significant investments in the United States market, in the sixteen-year period since the adoption of NAFTA’s investment chapter no arbitration tribunal has required the United States to pay on a single claim.

Political concerns over U.S. national security restrictions on investment have subsided since 2005 when CNOOC’s bid to purchase UNOCAL was blocked, as discussed in our previous post in December. Specific transactions still may be blocked, but those decisions appear to be driven more by the national security analysis of a particular case than by reactionary measures to calm an agitated Congress, as discussed in our earlier post in January.

U.S. industry representatives have recommended that the United States should consider softening the “essential security” exception in its Model BIT language to allow foreign investors greater assurances that their investments will not be disrupted by disguised protectionist motivations.  (“ACIEP Report on Model BIT Lacks Consensus on Critical Issues,” Inside U.S. Trade, Oct. 2, 2009.)  While they plainly intend for the exception to be softened as to foreign countries’ restrictions on foreign U.S. investment, the reciprocal nature of such a provision would be appealing to the Chinese as well. There may not be enough sympathy in Congress, however, for such a departure.

Negotiation of a China-U.S. BIT will not be quick and easy, but it remains likely. China is an expanding market attracting foreign investment from around the globe. American enterprises want to invest there and would like more security for their investments. Such incentives historically have driven the United States to negotiate BITs.

This time, however, there is an added and critical dimension. China has amassed capital and is beginning to invest abroad. The United States not only is an attractive market; the United States also needs a substantial share of that investment for the growth of its own economy. Chinese businessmen, like Americans, want investment security. This time, therefore, the BIT partners share a common vision of an agreement that will attract investment to their own countries while protecting their citizens investing abroad. Such unusual balance may make the negotiations more difficult, but they also make a positive result more likely.
 

        尽管美国和中国共同宣布,两国将“加快双边投资条约”谈判(英文缩写为“BIT”),美国和中国——世界五大经济体中的两大国签订双边投资条约这一概念对一些人士而言仍然有些不可思议。在美国这一条约面临重大政治障碍:在经济衰退时期,尤其是选举年,自由贸易和外国投资通常不会成为美国政治家成功的竞选纲领。当美中在中国的货币政策问题上仍存在重大分歧时,美国政治家不可能接受双边投资条约。中国把人民币汇率与美元挂钩仍然让美国不满,(事实上,这是奥巴马总统11月北京之行议程上唯一的贸易问题),尽管它为经历经济衰退、同时为在伊拉克和阿富汗的军事行动支付数十亿美元的美国的债务融资、资金流动起到关键作用。中国在保护美国知识产权方面仍面临重重困难、严格控制本国资本市场、是否给予试图在华投资的美国投资者国民待遇这一法律问题等等。因此赢得支持双边投资条约的政治资本不容乐观,特别是美国国会的民主党领导经常公开对中国贸易和投资意向提出质疑。

        中国也存在对美政策分歧,包括就中国轮胎征收特保税等贸易问题。美国要求以2004年双边投资条约范文作为国际投资者与国家间投资争端仲裁谈判的基础,中国一直不愿妥协至这一程度。

        尽管存在这些障碍,但有理由相信美中签订双边投资条约不是“是否”,而是“何时”的问题。当布什政府于2008年6月宣布美国和中国把讨论双边投资条约作为战略经济对话的一部分,至少有一名观察员猜想这一宣布是否意味着已经基本达成协议。据美国官员,美中会谈已经进行了17个月。在奥巴马政府任内,“谈判仍在技术层面,还没有达到政治决定层面”。(“ACIEP Report on Model BIT Lacks Consensus on Critical Issues,” Inside U.S. Trade, 2009年10月2日.)

        双边投资条约比自由贸易协定范围较小。因此,就实质内容和政治资本支出而言,双边投资条约谈判更容易达成协议。双边投资条约倾向于在该协议中较大的资本输出国,这通常意味着美国得到的好处远远超过它的条约伙伴。已与美国达成双边投资条约或是自由贸易条约投资章节的60多个国家中,加拿大和韩国是仅有的重要资本输出国。

        美国企业认为双边投资条约是开放外国市场的方式,中国也不例外。多年来,美国企业一直在寻找途径,更好地接触中国10亿消费者,并消除或抑制限制外国投资的措施。特别是近几年来中国经历了高速经济增长,已经积累了对一个发展中国家来说前所未有的财富。

        不像大多数已经与美国达成双边投资条约的条约伙伴,中国已成为重要的资本出口国,但这一事实很可能使双边投资条约更有可能实现。从1998年以来,中国已与许多欧洲国家重新谈判双边投资条约,以便为她在欧洲经商的投资者提供更好的保障。最近,中国也与加拿大展开双边投资条约谈判。随着中国增加在美投资,中国可能也越来越希望保护在美经商的投资者的利益。

        目前在美国已有批评者担心双边投资条约中的国际投资者与国家间投资争端仲裁条规将规避美国司法、立法和行政监管程序;由于牵涉美国环境和劳工标准,还有许多人肯定会反对与中国签订双边投资条约。然而没有人有理由相信美国将被美中双边投资条约下的对外索赔淹没。尽管加拿大在美国市场投资数额巨大,自《北美自由贸易协定》投资章采纳16年以来,仲裁庭没有一次要求美国支付索赔。

        正如我们在先前的帖子中讨论的,自2005年中海油收购UNOCAL受阻以来,美国对外资进行国家安全审查带来的限制的政治担忧已经消退。本博客一月的文章指出:具体交易仍可能会被封锁,但这些决定似乎更是建立在国家安全分析基础之上,而不是对激动不已的国会的回应。

        美国产业界代表建议美国应考虑软化双边投资条约范本中的“重要安全”例外条款,给予外国投资者更大的投资不被伪装的保护主义中断的保证。(“ACIEP Report on Model BIT Lacks Consensus on Critical Issues,” Inside U.S. Trade, 2009年10月2日.) 这明显是为了减弱外国对美国对外投资的限制,这一互惠规定也一定对中国很有吸引力。但在国会,这种偏离可能不能赢得足够同情。

        谈判中美双边投资协定将不会简单快捷,但它仍然有可能实现。中国不断扩大的市场吸引了来自世界各地的外国投资。美国企业想要在华投资,并希望他们的投资更加安全。历史上,这种奖励驱使美国参与双边投资条约谈判。

        然而,这次谈判有一重要附加方面。中国积累了资本,并开始在国外投资。美国不仅是一个具有吸引力的市场,美国也需要这些投资大幅增长、促进自己的经济发展。和美国商人一样,华商想要确保投资安全。因此,谈判双方共享的一个目标:吸引投资流向本国,同时保护本国公民对外投资。这种不寻常的平衡可能使谈判更加困难,但同时更有可能促进实现积极结果。

(翻译:朱晶)