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Dutch trade minister backs UN Binding Treaty…..but also ISDS

Today we have some interesting developments in the Netherlands courtesy of Marieke van Doorn from the Dutch campaign Handel Anders:

Good news. Dutch trade minister Sigrid Kaag has backed the UN Binding Treaty on Business and Human Rights. The EU as a bloc has been blocking progress on the treaty that campaigners see as being vital to ensure that transnational corporations are held to account for human rights and environmental violations.

But this good news was tempered by the fact that she also backed the retention of ISDS ‘corporate courts’ in Dutch bilateral investment agreements (BITs). This is a clear step backwards from her predecessor’s position that ISDS was “dead and buried”.

The remarks were made by minister Kaag in the Dutch parliament and came as part of the review of model that the Dutch government uses to negotiate BITs with other countries. The fact that the Dutch are reviewing this policy is good news in itself and comes amid a strong campaign to get the Dutch government to junk ISDS.

Kaag also said that foreign companies would be stopped from using the Netherlands as a ‘flag of convenience’ in order to use ISDS clauses in Dutch BITs. But this would not fundamentally change the principle behind ISDS – that multinational companies can bully countries into getting their way.

Getting ISDS out of Dutch BITs while winning backing for a Binding UN treaty would be a major victory for the Rights for People, Rules for Corporations – Stop ISDS coalition of campaigners.

The Dutch process is especially important as the Netherlands is arguably the birthplace of ISDS – being the country which first put ISDS into its investment treaties 50 years ago. Since then Dutch BITs have led to claims  of over $100 billion from governments (mostly poor countries in the global south) .

For this reason killing off ISDS in the Netherlands would be both a major symbolic and material victory.

But the battle goes on. The Dutch parliament can still alter the model BIT.