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About Karl P. Sauvant

The reform of the international investment law and policy regime, the WTO discussions surrounding investment facilitation and the emergence of China as an important outward investor are my current research focus. I am also interested in policies meant to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and to increase its benefits. There are furthermore a few other topics I am interested in, as reflected in the references below.

I am the Editor-in-Chief of the Columbia FDI Perspectives (a bi-weekly publication of perspectives on important and topical FDI issues), published by the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) and available at

At Columbia University, I am Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School and Resident Senior Fellow at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI), a joint center of Columbia Law School and the Earth Institute at Columbia University ( I am also Guest Professor at Nankai University, China, and was the Theme Leader of the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development/World Economic Forum Task Force on Investment Policy. Until February 2012, I was the Executive Director of the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment (the predecessor of CCSI), which I had founded in January 2006 as the Columbia Program on International Investment. Until July 2005, I was Director of the Investment Division of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). While at the United Nations, I created the prestigious annual World Investment Report, of which I was the lead author until 2004. I have authored a substantial number of publications on issues related to economic development, FDI and services. (My recent publications are also available at ) I am a Fellow of the Academy of International Business and an Honorary Fellow of the European International Business Academy. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. I teach a seminar on “FDI and Public Policy” at Columbia Law School. Frequently, I present my research at conferences and other events.

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Areas of research: Improving the international investment law and policy regime, the WTO investment facilitation discussions, China's outward FDI, FDI and developing countries. 

The international investment regime faces many challenges. This is reflected especially in the discussions on the reform of the investor-state dispute-settlement mechanism i; the quest to make the international investment regime more oriented toward sustainable development objectives; and the efforts to strengthen guidelines for the conduct of multinational enterprises (MNEs). A number of options of how the regime can be improved were laid out in Sauvant and Ortino (2013), after a succinct review of the salient features of FDI, key features of the current regime, drivers for change, and critical issues facing the regime. 

Issues related to the international investment regime were also a topic of the E15 project, a non-partisan, expert-led multi-stakeholder dialogue aimed at exploring options for strengthening the governance and functioning of the global trade system. It was organized by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development in partnership with the World Economic Forum. As the Theme Leader for a Task Force on Investment Policy, I helped to guide this part of the project toward options that can be pursued to improve the international investment regime. The results are contained in "The Evolving International Investment Law and Policy Regime: Ways Forward" (below, under "Papers").

Learning from past experiences in investment rule-making 

Efforts are also being made to enshrine the responsibilities of MNEs in international instruments. This is reflected, e.g., in the voluntary “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights”, endorsed by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In June 2014, moreover, the Council initiated an effort, by majority vote, to strengthen these Principles by negotiating a binding international instrument. 

This is not the first time that the international community as a whole has sought to negotiate such an instrument: The first effort to arrive at comprehensive and balanced rules governing the rights and responsibilities of governments and MNEs was undertaken in the United Nations in the framework of the negotiations of a United Nations Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations. They began in 1977 against the background of the quest for a New International Economic Order, and they ended unsuccessfully in 1993, against the background of an accelerating trend to liberalize national FDI regulatory frameworks in order to attract such investment. Nevertheless, these negotiations crystallized the configuration of interests of developed and developing countries in the area of international investment agreements. Why did these negotiations start and how did they unfold? What were the underlying interests? What were the OECD, ILO and UNCTAD negotiating experiences on these issues? Why could negotiators not arrive tan agreement on a United Nations Code? Where do we stand today? What could bring about change? And what are lessons learned from these negotiations, as well as related ones in the OECD, the ILO and UNCTAD? These questions are analyzed in Sauvant (2015b), and the lessons are of immediate relevance to current international investment negotiations. 

China’s emergence as an important outward investor and implications for international investment law 

China has become one of the three most important outward foreign direct investors, complementing its role as one of the most important host countries world-wide and the most important one among developing countries. One of the drivers of this development has been the government’s “going out” policy, in the framework of which it provides its firms investing abroad a variety of incentives to do so. This framework was reviewed by Sauvant and Chen (2014a), and discussed in three conferences in Canberra and Sydney in July 2013, organized by The Australian National University. Against this background, key challenges facing China’s outward FDI were identified by Sauvant (2013). 

One of these challenges is for China to deal with the blowback that the rapid rise of the country’s outward FDI has experienced. A systematic review of the perception and reception of China’s outward FDI in the country’s principal host countries was undertaken to shed light on this question. This review was discussed at a Columbia Law School workshop in June 2014 and was published as Sauvant and Nolan (2015) in the framework of a Columbia Law School project on “Chinese State Capitalism and Institutional Change: Domestic and Global Implications”, led by Benjamin Liebman and Curtis J. Milhaupt. One possible response to dealing with this blowback is for China to complement its “going-out” policy with a “going-in” strategy, as suggested by Sauvant and Chen (2014b), and as discussed in a panel at the 2014 Academy of International Business annual meeting. 

The rise of China’s outward FDI also has implications for the international investment law and policy regime. The country has concluded the second highest number of bilateral investment treaties (BITs), in addition to free trade agreements with investment provisions. Reflecting the growth of China’s outward FDI, the content of its investment treaties has changed. The latest significant change was the acceptance of negotiating the China-United States BIT on the basis of pre-establishment national treatment and a negative list approach. The publication by Sauvant and Nolan (2015) mentioned earlier looks also at how China’s international investment treaties have evolved over time and what this change could mean for the future of the investment regime. 

One particular aspect of China’s outward FDI policy, namely the support that China gives to its firms going abroad, may well have repercussions that might be reflected in international investment law. The reason is that this support, together with the fact that the bulk of the country’s outward FDI is being undertaken by state-owned enterprises (SOEs), has led developed countries in particular to seek to enshrine the principle of “competitive neutrality” vis-à-vis support for SOEs in international investment agreements, e.g., in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and TTIP. However, as Sauvant, Economou, Gall, Lim, and Wilinski (2014) document and discuss, all developed countries support, to various degrees, their firms investing abroad, be they private firms or SOEs. (This topic was discussed at the December 2013 meeting of the European International Business Academy and the June 2014 meeting of the Academy of International Business, in panels moderated by Sauvant, or in which he participated as panelist.) This rises the question of whether separate disciplines for SOEs might lead to a splintering of the international investment regime. 

Helping the least developed countries to attract FDI and to benefit more from it 

The FDI regulatory framework is meant to help countries to attract FDI and to benefit from it, as all countries seek to obtain such investment to advance their economic growth and development. Given their weak FDI determinants, the least developed countries (LDCs) – a group of the world’s 48 poorest countries – have particular difficulties in doing so in the highly competitive world FDI market: during 2011-2013, they attracted an average of US$25 billion, about a quarter of what Ireland obtained during the same period. A paper by Sauvant and Mallampally (2015), after briefly reviewing the FDI performance of these countries, takes stock of what the LDCs have done to attract FDI and to benefit from it, before outlining a number of less common avenues as to what else LDCs could do in this respect. The paper ends with the recommendation that it would be worthwhile for the international community to consider launching an Action Plan for Promoting FDI in the LDCs to help these countries attract more FDI and strengthen host-country benefits that can be derived from such investment; a presentation on this subject was made to the United Nations’ Second Committee. One of the actions that would be of immediate relevance to helping LDCs (and other developing countries) in this respect would be the establishment of a negotiations support facility. Issues related to this question are currently being examined by the G-7 (Sauvant, 2014). 


Karl P. Sauvant and Michael Nolan (forthcoming), “China’s rising outward FDI, its reception in host countries and implications for international investment law and policy”, in Benjamin Liebman and Curtis Milhaupt, eds., Regulating the Visible Hand? The Institutional Implications of Chinese State Capitalism (New York: OUP, forthcoming). 

Karl P. Sauvant and Padma Mallampally (forthcoming), “Strengthening investment promotion regimes for foreign direct investment in the least developed countries”. An earlier version of this text was published as a United Nations document. 

Karl P. Sauvant (2015a), "AIM Investment Report 2015: Trends and policy challenges" (Dubai: Annual Investment Meeting, 2015), prepared for the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM), Dubai, 30 March to 1 April 2015. 

Karl P. Sauvant (2015b), “The negotiations of the United Nations Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations: Experience and lessons learned”, Journal of World Investment and Trade, vol. 16 (2015), pp. 11-87. An abbreviated excerpt was published under the title “Why the Code failure?” in Khalil Hamdani and Lorraine Ruffing, United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations: Corporate Conduct and the Public Interest (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 95-110. 

Karl P. Sauvant, Persephone Economou, Ksenia Gal, Shawn Lim, and Witold P. Wilinski (2014), “Trends in FDI, home country measures and competitive neutrality”, in Andrea K. Bjorklund, ed., Yearbook on International Investment Law and Policy, 2013/2014 (New York: OUP, 2014), pp. 3-107. 

Karl P. Sauvant (2014), “G7 move for fair and stable contracts can be a boon to developing economies”, Letter to the Editor, Financial Times, July 10, 2014. 

Karl P. Sauvant and Victor Z. Chen (2014a), "China's regulatory framework for outward foreign direct investment," China Economic Journal, vol. 7, pp. 141-163. An earlier version of this text was published on October 25, 2013 as Working Paper No. 88 of the East Asian Bureau of Economic Research of The Australian National University. 

Karl P. Sauvant and Victor Z. Chen (2014b), “China needs to complement its ‘going-out’ policy with a ‘going-in’ strategy”, Columbia FDI Perspectives, no. 121, May 12, 2014. This Perspective was also published as an op. ed. in the Shanghai Daily, June 23, 2014. 

Karl P. Sauvant and Victor Z. Chen (2013), “Encouraging outward FDI to advance domestic development”, East Asia Forum Quarterly, vol. 5, July-September 2013, pp. 32-33. Karl P. Sauvant (2013), “Three challenges for China’s outward FDI policy”, Columbia FDI Perspectives, no. 106, October 14, 2013. 

Karl P. Sauvant and Federico Ortino (2013), Improving the International Investment Law and Policy Regime: Options for the Future (Helsinki: Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2013). A Columbia FDI Perspective (no. 101) by the authors, entitled “The need for an international investment consensus-building process”, was published on August 12, 2013. A version of the options chapter of this booklet was published in Chinese and English, under the title "The future of the international investment law and policy regime: options for improvement", in the Journal of International Economic Law, vol. 21, no. 3 (2014), pp. 49-84 and 85-133, respectively. 

Additional publications 

Joachim Mueller and Karl P. Sauvant, eds., Annual Review of United Nations Affairs 2013/2014 (New York: OUP, forthcoming), 6 vols., including a Preface by the editors. 

Karl P. Sauvant, “Foreword”, in Andrea K. Bjorklund, ed., Yearbook on International Investment Law and Policy, 2013/2014 (New York: OUP, 2014), pp. xxxv-xxxvii. 

Karl P. Sauvant, “Investment to the fore in EU-US partnership”, Letter to the editor, Financial Times, June 20, 2013. 

Karl P. Sauvant, Padma Mallampally and Geraldine McAllister, eds., Inward and Outward FDI Country Profiles (New York: VCC, August 2013), 2nd edition, including an introduction by the editors entitled “Salient features of world FDI”, available at

Karl P. Sauvant, “The early days of the Group of 77”, UN Chronicle, The magazine of the United Nations, vol. LI, no. 1, May 2014, pp. 27-33, an issue dedicated to 50 years of the Group of 77. 


Presentation and resource person, "International trade, foreign direct investment and technology" at the UN_OHRLLS Consultative Meeting: LDC's priorities in the post-2015 development agenda and the FfD Conference, 8-9 May 2015, Palisades, NY. 

Presented the "AIM Investment Report 2015: Trends and policy challenges" at the opening of the Annual Investment Meeting, Dubai, 30 March 2015. Also moderated Plenary Session Five: Trends in national and international FDI policies and implications for national policy makers and IPAs, 31 March 2015. 

Moderated the First Task Force Workshop on Investment Policy, Geneva, 23-24 March 2015, as part of the E15 Initiative organized by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development and the World Economic Forum. 

Moderated a Working Session on "Working on the ground: Teams and cooperation" at the G7 CONNEX Consultative Conference: Delivering Values for Negotiation Support, Berlin, 9-10 March 2015. 

Moderated the opening panel on “Setting the scene: Home country support and home country responsibilities” of the Ninth Annual Columbia International Investment Conference: Raising the bar: Home country efforts to regulate foreign investment for sustainable development, New York, Columbia University, November 12-13, 2014. 

Invited expert at the G-7 CONNEX workshop, Berlin, October 30-31, 2014. 

Speaker in a Special Event on “Investment promotion regimes for foreign direct investment in LDCs”, of the Second Committee of the United Nations, New York, October 24, 2014. 

Panelist in the opening panel on "Tomorrow's world" of the World Forum for Foreign Direct Investment, Philadelphia, June 17, 2014. 

Moderated a panel on “Policies and instruments to support outward FDI: What are the challenges?”, conducted a Fellows Café on “What are the key issues regarding policies of home country governments supporting their firms investing abroad?”, was a panelist in a panel on “How do MNEs overcome distrust and build legitimacy in host countries”, and was a discussant on a panel on “The future of free trade agreements: Lessons from the Korea-US FTA” during the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Academy of International Business, Vancouver, June 23-26, 2014.

Spoke on “China's rising outward FDI: Implications for the international investment law and policy regime," at the Chinese State Capitalism Workshop, organized at Columbia Law School by the Center for Chinese Legal Studies and the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law, June 13-14, 2014. 

Moderated the Ministerial Roundtable on "Investment partnerships for sustainable and inclusive growth in frontier and emerging markets" and a plenary session on "The evolving international regulatory framework for FDI, new developments and implications for frontier and emerging markets" at the Annual Investment Meeting, Dubai (UAE), April 8-10, 2014. 

Moderated the panel on “The way forward: Policy options for the governance od FDI incentives” at the Eighth Annual Columbia International Investment Conference: “Investment incentives: The good, the bad, and the ugly: Assessing the costs, benefits, and options for policy reform”, New York, Columbia University, November 13-14, 2013. 

Keynote speaker on "The changing the regulatory framework for FDI: SOEs and government policy" at an international conference on "State capitalism in the new global political economy," hosted by the Institut quebecois des hautes etudes internationales, Quebec, November 21-24, 2013. 

Spoke about “Incentives for outward FDI" at an event organized jointly by the Impact Program and the Investment Policy Team of the World Bank, Washington, DC, November 26, 2014. 

Panelist at three conferences organized by the Australian National University to discuss the range of issues behind the performance of China’s outward FDI and its impact on host countries, Canberra and Sydney, July 10-12, 2013. 

Moderated a panel during the Fourth Workshop on Contract Negotiation Support for Host Developing Countries, Monrovia (Liberia), July 22-23, 2013, which established a task force to conceptualize and promote the establishment of a Negotiation Support Initiative.


Present Senior Research Scholar at the Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment and Lecturer-in-Law at Columbia Law School, Columbia University

Curriculum Vitae

Research Interests

Improving the international investment law and policy regime, Learning from past experiences in investment rule-making, China’s emergence as an important outward investor and implications for international investment law, and Helping the least developed countries to attract FDI and to benefit more from it

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Honors and Awards

  • 2010 Inducted as a Fellow of the Academy of International Business
  • 2006 European International Business Academy Distinguished Honorary Fellow of the Year Award
  • 2006 Chalfen Memorial Lecture, British Institute of International and Comparative Law, London, 27 April 2006, on "Transnational Corporations and the United Nations: The Evolution of the International Policy and Legal Debate over 30 Years”
  • 2003 Was named Guest Professor, Nankai University (China) and Honorary Chair of the University’s Centre on Transnational Corporations
  • 1982-1983 Ford Foundation grant
  • 1980-1981 Ford Foundation grant (with O. Jankowitsch)
  • 1978-1979 International Foundation for Development Alternatives and The Third World Forum research grant
  • 1977 Ford Foundation grant (with O. Jankowitsch)
  • 1972 Bourse de Recherche Universitaire from the Commission of the European Communities (with B. Mennis)
  • 1972 Research grant from the Sektion Internationale Politik of the German Political Science Association
  • 1971-1972 University of Pennsylvania Penfield Dissertation Fellowship
  • 1970-1972 Foreign Policy Research Institute Fellowship, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 1969-1970 University of Pennsylvania Fellowship
  • 1968-1969 Freie Universität Berlin - University of Pennsylvania exchange scholar
  • 1968 Fulbright Travel Grant
  • 1965 Humboldt Award for outstanding achievements in community affairs


  • FDI and Public Policy


1975 PhD, University of Pennsylvania ‐ International Relations
1972 Summer Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor ‐ Program of the Inter-University Consortium for Political Research
1969 M.A., University of Pennsylvania ‐ International Relations
1966 - 1968 Zwischenprüfung (B.A. equivalent), Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Federal Republic of Germany ‐ Political Science

Books (61)