Nearly all Bilateral Investment Treaties expressly stipulate a period of time during which the agreement is in force; most commonly, 10 years. Either Contracting State is then allowed to terminate the treaty after that initial period. If notice of termination is not given then, the treaty will provide for the agreement to remain in force for a further period. In the case of the Netherlands, its BITs usually provide for a further 10 year extension and require notice of termination to be given at least twelve months before the expiry of the current period of validity. However, under what is known as a 'sunset clause', existing investors are then still entitled to rely on the protections found in those BITs that have been terminated and remain able to do so for a period after the BIT’s termination. In the case of the Netherlands-Indonesia BIT the ‘sunset’ will last for a 15 year period.
It is not clear whether this move to terminate the Indonesia-Netherlands BIT is the first in a programme of terminations as the Netherlands Embassy suggests. The Indonesia-Netherlands BIT is the oldest of Indonesia’s BITs and the intention may simply be for Indonesia to negotiate a more “modern” Investment Treaty, providing for more clearly defined protections and dispute resolution provisions.
However, it would not be surprising if the Churchill Mining Plc v Indonesia cases (ICSID Cases ARB/12/14 and 12/40) have prompted more sweeping action by the Indonesian Government. Churchill and Planet Mining Pty began arbitration against the Indonesian government in May 2012 at ICSID in Washington. On 24 February 2014 the ICSID Tribunal rejected Indonesia’s jurisdictional challenges leaving Churchill free to proceed with a claim for damages of not less than US$1.05bn, excluding interest. This decision has caused outrage in Indonesia.
If the Indonesian government has decided to begin a programme of terminating its BITs, this would be a bold move. However, it would not be without precedent. South Africa has begun a similar programme of termination, terminating its BIT with Belgium-Luxembourg in 2012 and issuing cancellation notices for its BITs with Germany and Switzerland. Nor are these countries alone in expressing concern about the availability of investor-state dispute settlement. Australia has previously indicated its reluctance to agree to such mechanisms. Just last week, Germany announced that it did not want investor-state dispute settlement provisions included in a trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.
Termination of its BITs does not, however, indicate that Indonesia is withdrawing from all investment protection obligations and mechanisms. Even if all its BITs were terminated, Indonesia would still be subject to its obligations under ASEAN. Furthermore, Indonesia has also expressed interest in joining the Trans Pacific Partnership (or TPP), should that proceed.
In its 2013 report, UNCTAD noted the possible future trend away from bilateral arrangements and towards wider, regional, multilateral agreements involving greater economic integration and free trade obligations. It will be interesting to see whether Indonesia’s move prompts yet more nations to follow suit. If they do, we may well be looking at a dramatically different investment protection picture in future.