Trade and investment agreements

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda focuses on ensuring that trade and investment agreements do not undermine countries’ ability to pursue public policy objectives.

Specifically, the Addis Agenda:

  • Endeavours to craft trade and investment agreements with appropriate safeguards so as not to constrain domestic policies and regulation in the public interest
  • Commits to implement such agreements in a transparent manner
  • Commits to support capacity building including through bilateral and multilateral channels, in particular to least developed countries, in order to benefit from opportunities in international trade and investment agreements
  • Requests UNCTAD to continue its existing programme of meetings and consultations with Member States on investment agreements


Latest developments

The surge in investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) cases continues. In 2018, investors initiated 71 publicly known ISDS cases pursuant to international investment agreements (IIAs), nearly as many as in each of the previous three years. As of 1 January 2019, the total number of publicly known ISDS claims had reached 942.


Trends in known treaty-based ISDS cases, 1987−2018

(Annual number of cases)

Trade and investment agreements

Source:UNCTAD, World Investment Report 2019, based on UNCTAD ISDS Navigator.

Almost all known ISDS cases have thus far been based on old generation investment treaties. To date, 117 countries have been respondents to one or more ISDS claims. As some arbitrations can be kept confidential, the actual number of disputes filed in 2018 and previous years is likely to be higher. Over two thirds of the publicly available arbitral decisions rendered in 2018 were decided in favour of the investor, either on jurisdictional grounds or on merits. By the end of the year, 602 ISDS proceedings had been concluded. 

Forward-looking IIA reform is well under way. All treaties concluded in 2018 contain several reforms that are in line with either the UNCTAD Reform Package for the International Investment Regime or the UNCTAD Investment Policy Framework for Sustainable Development. Modern treaties often include a sustainable development orientation, preservation of regulatory space, and improvements to or omissions of investment dispute settlement. The most frequent area of reform is the preservation of regulatory space. Some recent IIAs or treaty models also contain explicit references to gender equality.

Read more on bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements here.