Research Institutes
Erasmus China Law Centre

International Conference

EU-China Bilateral Investment Treaty Negotiations: A Focus on Investor-State Dispute Settlement


Rotterdam, Thursday 19 April 2018
Erasmus China Law Centre 
Erasmus School of Law

The conference aims to exchange ideas within and beyond academic circles on key contentious and challenging topics concerning the EU-China BIT negotiations, with a particular emphasis on reforming the ISDS system.

Both China and the Member States of the European Union (EU) have been active in concluding Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). While China is at present a party to 126 BITs, the total number of BITs of the Member States of the EU has reached about 1500, which amounts to nearly half of the existing BITs at global level. There are 26 BITs in place between China and all Member States of the EU except for Ireland. However, there is not yet a single EU-China BIT. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty has granted the EU the competence to negotiate and conclude investment treaties on behalf of the member states. This led to the launch of EU-China negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) in November 2013.

As the term CAI reflects, the prospective treaty, which is different from traditional BITs that mainly contain substantive principles of investment protection and procedural provisions such as the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism, seeks to cover a more ambitious and comprehensive scope of topics. As illustrated in the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) and the EU-US Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations, the EU-China CAI can be expected to include mutual market access provisions for the pre-entry phase to ensure improved business opportunities for their respective investors. However, the European perception of China’s highly restricted model on foreign investment market entry and China’s growing concerns on European protectionist sentiments against takeovers by Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs), make the future deal arduous to seal. The EU and China are also determined to address key challenges pertaining to sustainable development initiatives by encouraging responsible investment and promoting core environmental and labor standards. Another topic at the center of the EU-China BIT negotiation process concerns the EU’s approach toward the establishment of the Investment Court System (ICS), which was formally proposed by the European Commission in the context of the TTIP negotiations in September 2015. The ICS is designed to be integrated into all ongoing and future EU investment negotiations. Moreover, the ICS at bilateral level is expected to lay the foundations for the eventual setting up of a Multilateral Investment Court (MIC), to ultimately replace the current ISDS mechanism. How China will react to this EU’s innovative approach to reform the current ISDS system remains highly uncertain at this stage. 

The conference will provide a timely venue for legal scholars, law practitioners, policy-makers and other interested stakeholders from both Europe and China to discuss and reconcile their understandings on issues of common concern. More importantly, the conference attempts to shed light on advancing certain policy proposals to the negotiators both in Brussels and in Beijing so as to provide a valuable reference for a framework on the establishment of an investment dispute resolution chapter in the future EU-China CAI. Conceivably, a progressive and balanced EU-China CAI will also yield significant impact on global investment treaty-making. 

The conference will include four sessions. Session one addresses the political, economic and social dimensions of the EU-China CAI. Session two examines European and Chinese perceptions on the topics of market access and the stance of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Sessions three and four focus on the most dynamic issues pertaining to investor-state dispute settlement, such as the EU’s approach on the establishment of ICS and the MIC, China’s WTO experience and its impact on reshaping China’s position on ISDS, transparency in dispute settlement, the relationship between national courts and the envisaged international investment court. 

Practical information

The conference will be held on Thursday 19 April 2018 from 9:00 to 17:00, at Campus Woudestein, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Registrations are open for potential participants who wish to join and contribute to the conference. The registration fee is 200 EURO. Upon request, young academics and ESL staff may obtain a waiver of this fee.

This conference forms part of a wider Project on Reforming the Investor-State Dispute Settlement System: Dutch and Chinese Perspectives which is funded by the Dutch Royal Academy of Science (KNAW).

Further information on practical matters, please contact:
Information on the conference, please contact: 
Professor Yuwen Li (, Director of Erasmus China Law Center, Erasmus School of Law, Erasmus University Rotterdam


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