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Competing for Capital: The Diffusion of Bilateral Investment Treaties, 1960–2000

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 October 2006

Zachary Elkins
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,
Andrew T. Guzman
Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California, Berkeley,
Beth A. Simmons
Harvard University,
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Over the past forty-five years, bilateral investment treaties (BITs) have become the most important international legal mechanism for the encouragement and governance of foreign direct investment. The proliferation of BITs during the past two decades in particular has been phenomenal. These intergovernmental treaties typically grant extensive rights to foreign investors, including protection of contractual rights and the right to international arbitration in the event of an investment dispute. How can we explain the widespread adoption of BITs? We argue that the spread of BITs is driven by international competition among potential host countries—typically developing countries—for foreign direct investment. We propose a set of hypotheses that derive from such an explanation and develop a set of empirical tests that rely on network measures of economic competition as well as more indirect evidence of competitive pressures on the host to sign BITs. The evidence suggests that potential hosts are more likely to sign BITs when their competitors have done so. We find some evidence that coercion and learning play a role, but less support for cultural explanations based on emulation. Our main finding is that the diffusion of BITs is associated with competitive economic pressures among developing countries to capture a share of foreign investment. We are agnostic at this point about the benefits of this competition for development.For useful comments on earlier drafts of this article, we thank Bill Bernhard, Bear Braumoeller, Frank Dobbin, Robert Franzese, Jeffry Frieden, Geoffrey Garrett, Tom Ginsburg, Jude Hays, Lisa Martin, Bob Pahre, Mark Ramsayer, Steven Ratner, Susan Rose-Ackerman, and John Sides. For research assistance, we thank Elizabeth Burden, Raechel Groom, and Alexander Noonan.

© 2006 The IO Foundation and Cambridge University Press

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