Contingent Credibility: The Reputational Effects of Investment Treaty Disputes on Foreign Direct Investment

International Organization

July 2011

Author Names
Todd Allee, Clint Peinhardt


During the past few decades governments have signed nearly 2,700 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) with one another in an attempt to attract greater levels of foreign direct investment (FDI). By signing BITs, which contain strong enforcement provisions, investment-seeking governments are thought to more credibly commit to protecting whatever FDI they receive, which in turn should lead to increased confidence among investors and ultimately greater FDI inflows. Our unique argument is that the ability of BITs to increase FDI is contingent on the subsequent good behavior of the governments who sign them. BITs should increase FDI only if governments actually follow through on their BIT commitments; that is, if they comply with the treaties. BITs allow investors to pursue alleged treaty violations through arbitration venues like the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), a heavily utilized and widely observed arbitral institution that is part of the World Bank. Being taken before ICSID, then, conveys negative information about a host country's behavior to the broader investment community, which could result in a sizeable loss of future FDI into that country. We test these contingent effects of BITs using cross-sectional, time-series analyses on all non-OECD countries during a period spanning 1984--2007. We find that BITs do increase FDI into countries that sign them, but only if those countries are not subsequently challenged before ICSID. On the other hand, governments suffer notable losses of FDI when they are taken before ICSID and suffer even greater losses when they lose an ICSID dispute.
Allee, T., & Peinhardt, C. (2008). Contingent credibility: The reputational effects of investment treaty disputes on foreign direct investment. Urbana,51, 61801.

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