Latham Secures Major Victory for Ukraine in US$6 Billion Arbitration

Latham & Watkins has secured a significant victory defending Ukraine in a landmark arbitration brought by three Cypriot companies – Littop Enterprises, Bridgemont Ventures, and Bordo Management – before the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) in connection with the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT).

The companies are minority shareholders in Ukrnafta, Ukraine’s largest producer of oil and associated gas, alongside the main shareholder, Naftogaz, a Ukrainian State-owned company. Despite holding only a minority stake, the Cypriot companies exercised operational control over Ukrnafta until 2015, when Ukraine adopted legislation that limited the ability of minority shareholders to exercise control of companies in Ukraine.

The Cypriot companies subsequently brought an ECT claim for payment of damages in excess of US$6 billion, believed to be the largest ever treaty claim brought against Ukraine. They claimed that the changes in Ukraine’s corporate governance legislation was unlawful, and alleged that Natftogaz and Ukraine’s energy regulator sought to fix the price at which Ukrnafta sells gas to Naftogaz at a level below Ukrnafta’s cost of production and had prevented Ukrnafta from selling its natural gas on the open market.

On February 4, 2021 the SCC Tribunal unanimously dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction and in doing so handed Ukraine the largest investment arbitration win in the country’s history.

“We are delighted to have supported Ukraine in this landmark arbitration,” said London partner Charles Claypoole. “The award sets a number of important new precedents in several controversial areas of investment arbitration.”

“This decision demonstrates the importance of protecting investment treaty arbitration from outside business influence, in particular those who have engaged in unlawful practices, in order to hamper legislative reforms.” added Hamburg partner Sebastian Seelmann-Eggebert.

The Latham & Watkins team was led by Hamburg partner Sebastian Seelmann-Eggebert and London partner Charles Claypoole, with London associates Tom Lane and Olivia Featherstone.

Does Arbitration fit Agribusiness?

The flexibility and duration of the proceedings are commonly appointed as advantages of arbitration as a dispute resolution method. However, as it is also known, not every dispute has in arbitration its best arena. That said, and noticing the little use of arbitration in conflicts related to the agribusiness, the question title of this article is posed.

It is important to stress that agribusiness involves much more than what is done on the farms. The whole chain of the agribusiness (term coined in 1957 by Goldberg and Davis) includes agrichemical, breeding, crop production, distribution, farm machinery, processing, seed supply, marketing and retail sales, not to mention the international commodities trade.

Analysing the diversity of legal and commercial relationships that can come from this complex chain, it turns clear that many of them fill the arbitrability condition. Besides this, specially nowadays, very specific knowledge is needed in order to resolve the issues arising from this field. For instance, contract farming has peculiarities that are not found in other type of contracts. It is enough to remember that UNIDROIT has already elaborated a document concerning this subject. Even diverse financial operations were created to fit this market, in which is not rare that the “currency’ is the farm production itself. All this meaning that there is a wide range of possibilities for the arbitration, and other ADRs methods, to be adopted in agribusiness, as an alternative to the State courts.

Furthermore, the agricultural production development is seasonal, what means that the duration and costs of the proceedings must be very well administrated. In conclusion, I would say that not only arbitration fits agribusiness, but also agribusiness needs arbitration, in order to reach better results in terms of dispute resolution.