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With international trade and investment disputes rising, the finance ministry is hiring global law firms for representing India in arbitrations under Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreements (CEPA) and Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECA).
The ministry has shortlisted 12 law firms specialising in this area based on technical bids. Among the companies in the reckoning are the US-based Amold & Porter LLP, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, Cabinet Joubin Bret, Dubai-based Clyde & Co, DLA Piper France LLp, UK-based Fietta International Law, US-based Foley Hoag LLP, Canada-based J Cameron Mowatt Law Corporation, Switzerland-based Lalive, Paris-based Mayer Brown, Omnia Strategy LLP and Volterra Fietta.
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The government will finalise the firms that will represent India after scrutinising their financial bids. India has so far signed 83 BITs (also known as BIPA or Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements), beginning with the first agreement that was signed with the UK on March 14, 1994.
Of these 83 BITs, 73 have already been enforced. Besides attracting foreign direct investment, BITs are aimed to create an institutional legal framework for dealing with claims of international investors.
The selected law firms will represent the government in legal including arbitration proceedings under ICSID or UNCITRAL Rules under Indian BITs. ICSID is International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, while UNCITRAL refers to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.
The international firms are required to work in cooperation with any domestic/Indian legal adviser appointed by the government. The finance ministry had in January invited bids from global and domestic law firms to represent India on investment disputes under BITs and government-to-government trade agreements.
BITs contain a provision for settling disputes between an investors and the host government (Investor State Dispute Settlement Mechanism) as well as between the two governments. BITs signed by India also have provisions such as definition of investor/investment, fair and equitable treatment, national treatment, most favoured nation, compensation and transfer of funds, among others.
In March last year, British oil explorer Cairn Energy had sought arbitration under the India-UK Bilateral Investment Protection Agreement, disputing the tax demand of Rs 10,247 crore by the Indian tax department authorities. UK-based telecom firm Vodafone had in 2013 initiated arbitration under the India-Netherlands bilateral investment treaty, disputing a separate retrospective tax demand by Indian authorities.