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The international investment regime is in crisis, nowhere more so than in regard to the investor–state dispute settlement system. While several developing countries have been critical of the system for some time, rich countries like the US and EU states—once the principal promoters of this regime—are now acknowledging problems and advancing reforms. This change of position has been fueled by the mobilization of civil society and the emergence of domestic populist movements on both the right and the left, reflecting widespread discontent with the past three decades of neoliberal globalization and its effects on job losses, lower wages, and increasing inequality. This article argues that this shift has opened up a unique opportunity for developing countries that want reform, as there is less pressure (real or imagined) from rich countries to continue with an old model that no longer serves. Two paths present a possible way forward: (a) Participating countries can disengage from investor–state dispute settlement and opt for the redomestication of international investment law, rekindling the Calvo doctrine, or (b) they can follow John G. Ruggie’s “embedded liberalism” to re-embed the international investment regime with values and social objectives that are now deemed politically indispensable. This article explores each of these paths, with a particular focus on Latin America. It argues that although populism creates pressures to change or abandon the regime, in developing countries it also generates constraints that may prolong the status quo.

Publication Citation

Politics and Governance, Vol. 11, Issue 1, 2023, Pp. 203–213.