Bilateral Investment Treaties in India: Unveiling Status

  Aug 11, 2023

Bilateral Investment Treaties and India: Status, Criteria, Motives, and Disputes

Status of BITs (Bilateral Investment Treaties) in India:

Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) are agreements between two countries that provide legal protection and framework for foreign investments. India has been engaged in signing BITs since 1994, aiming to attract foreign investment and promote economic growth. However, India's approach to BITs has evolved over time, leading to changes in its negotiation strategy and the model BIT text.

Criteria and Motives for Signing BITs:

India's criteria for signing BITs have historically included attracting foreign investment, ensuring legal protection for investors, promoting economic growth, and creating a stable investment environment. These treaties often encompass provisions related to investor protection, dispute resolution mechanisms (such as investor-state dispute settlement or ISDS), non-discrimination, expropriation, and repatriation of funds. The primary motives behind signing BITs include:
• Attracting Foreign Investment: BITs aim to create a favorable environment for foreign investors by providing legal safeguards against discriminatory treatment and expropriation.
• Promoting Economic Growth: BITs can encourage foreign direct investment (FDI) by assuring investors of fair and equitable treatment and protection against arbitrary actions by host countries.
• Enhancing Investor Confidence: By offering legal guarantees and mechanisms for dispute resolution, BITs can boost investor confidence in a host country's regulatory framework.

Issues and Concerns with BITs in India:

Despite the initial intentions, India's engagement with BITs has faced several issues and concerns:
1. Investor-State Disputes: BITs often include ISDS mechanisms that allow foreign investors to sue host countries for alleged violations. India has faced several ISDS cases, leading to financial liabilities and concerns about regulatory sovereignty.
2. Policy Space and Regulation: Some BITs have been criticized for limiting the policy space of host countries to regulate in the public interest, especially in areas like health, environment, and labor standards.
3. Revisions and Terminations: After adverse rulings in certain cases, India has reviewed and even terminated some BITs, leading to concerns about continuity and predictability for foreign investors.
4. Balancing Rights and Responsibilities: Negotiating BITs requires a balance between protecting investors' rights and safeguarding the host country's regulatory autonomy.
5. Rising Stature and Identity: As India's role in the global economy evolves, its approach to BITs must adapt to its identity as both a recipient and an investor of foreign capital.
6. New Model BIT: India released a revised model BIT in 2015, which includes provisions for more balanced dispute resolution, provisions related to responsible investment, and the government's ability to review investment approvals in the public interest.
7. Changing Global Trends: Global discussions on the effectiveness of ISDS and efforts to reform investment dispute resolution mechanisms influence India's negotiation stance.


India's engagement with BITs has evolved as it seeks to balance the promotion of foreign investment with maintaining policy flexibility and regulatory autonomy. The issues and concerns related to BITs reflect broader debates about the roles of investors, host countries, and the mechanisms for resolving disputes in a globalized economy. As India continues to negotiate and navigate BITs, its evolving approach will reflect a dynamic interplay of economic interests, regulatory considerations, and international legal norms.

Summary:India and BITs

• Recent BIT Changes:
Recent changes in India's Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) were prompted by high-profile international arbitration cases, notably involving companies like Vodafone and Cairn, challenging Indian tax disputes. India lost these cases, leading to a reevaluation of its BIT framework.
• Current Model BIT:
The current model BIT explicitly prohibits enterprises from treaty partner countries from seeking relief for tax disputes through arbitration. Disputes must be resolved within India's domestic judicial system, which can be time-consuming.
•BITs Till 2015:
Before 2015, India had signed and ratified BITs with 83 countries based on the 1993 Model BIT (amended in 2003). Of these, 68 BITs were suspended unilaterally for renegotiation based on the Model BIT 2015, and six remain in force.
• Post-2015 Model BIT:
India signed four BITs with smaller countries, including Cambodia, under the 2015 model, but only two are active.
• Concerns and Limited Acceptance:
India's new BIT approach is perceived as protectionist and lacks provisions for swift dispute resolution against policies that could harm foreign investors' interests. Consequently, major trade partners are hesitant to embrace India's new BIT model.


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