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One Alum’s Role in Mapping International Investment Treaties

By Jordan Poll
January 9, 2017

As the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has become a subject of national attention, the effectiveness of international investment agreements (IIAs), particularly bilateral investment treaties (BlTs), also has been in the spotlight. One of the more controversial aspects of the TPP allows foreign investors to take the United States to court outside of the U.S. legal system, causing many to argue that such an arbitration mechanism hinders U.S. BlTs from functioning as they were originally designed—to protect the United States and its native investors. In response to the increased attention drawn to BlTs, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) initiated the IIA Mapping Project to better understand the trends in IIA drafting.cree.jpg

"Bilateral investment treaties grant protections to the investors from one country who are investing in the other country that is party to the treaty. They are designed to make locations that are risky to invest in, less so, in order to promote investment and economic growth," explained Cree Jones, '13, who was first introduced to BlTs in 2011 during his internship with the U.S. Treasury's Office of International Affairs in Washington, D.C. Since that time, Jones's interest in international economics—specifically BlTs—has led him to be intricately involved in the mapping of these treaties with UNCTAD.

Jones's relationship with UNCTAD began his second year of law school. After having secured a summer internship with the IIA Section, Jones was able to work alongside staff to map BlTs. At that time, UNCTAD mapped all BlTs internally, which made progress incredibly slow—only a handful of BlTs being completed at a time. Seeing a need for change, Jones began making plans that would not only speed up the mapping process but would also create a meaningful educational experience for students around the world. As his internship drew to a close, Jones proposed the idea that he had been piecing together all summer. He called it the UNCTAD University IIA Mapping Project.

The central premise of the University Mapping Project lies in the UNCTAD bringing universities in on the mapping project—essentially outsourcing what was once an internal effort. Jones argued that it would not only be beneficial for staff, who had other responsibilities to juggle, but it would also be a great learning opportunity for postgraduate or PhD students interested in the field of international and economic law. "There is a substantive impact on students involved in this project, in being introduced in a really concrete way to this area of law," said Jones, who had experienced this impact firsthand during his summer internship with the IIA Section. "They also have the opportunity to collaborate on a global level." Jones proposed that while the IIA Section would coordinate and oversee the work being done, the mapping of each treaty would be run by two students who would choose their partner across universities. Together these students would read their assigned text and, using a 90-page instruction manual provided by UNCTAD, document the inclusion and variation of 150 different provisions. They would enter the information into an Excel table to later be reviewed and submitted into the UNCTAD’s searchable database online.

Jones's University Mapping Project would not only provide students with a strong foundation in international and economic law but also a professional network that spans continents. The UNCTAD took Jones up on his offer and appointed him lead consultant on the project.

As a 2L entering his third year of law school, Jones reached out to Michigan Law. In full support of Jones and the University Mapping Project, the Law School offered him the opportunity to move forward with his plans as an independent research project to be completed for credit. "My work during the 2012–13 academic year was only possible because the Law School recognized the value of the project," said Jones.

With the guidance of Steven Ratner, the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law, Jones began implementing his designs. "Professor Ratner was a great support to me as a thought partner on how to implement the project," said Jones. "He helped me set goals and held me accountable to make sure everything was moving forward as needed."

As a 3L, Jones recruited eight universities and 62 students from different countries to join the project. He trained professors and supported them in the training of their students, reviewed all student work for accuracy, compiled their research, and submitted it directly to the United Nations for publication. Together, they mapped 238 agreements, more than doubling the number of BITs mapped by UNCTAD.

Three years later and four years into the project, Jones has worked with 48 professors, 42 universities, 22 countries, and 550 students to map nearly every BlT in existence with publicly available text, with the exception of those written in niche languages such as Slovak or Slovenian. "To be involved in such a large-scale project and have so much autonomy over the creation and execution of the project has been really fun," said Jones.

Jones credits his work on the mapping project with helping him find his niche in the academic community and partially for his acceptance to the University of Chicago, where he is currently pursuing a PhD in economics. He hopes to continue his work with the mapping project by following his interest in creating similar databases at the intersection of law and economics. "I think there is an opportunity to use this network of professors I have created to try and work on similar projects in the future," said Jones.

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