Similar to the investment chapters in US trade agreements, BITs give foreign investors the right to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in international arbitration tribunals.
The United States has been at limited risk of being the target of such "investor-state" lawsuits because its 40 current treaty partners are nearly all developing economies with little investment in the US market. This lopsidedness has created a one-way street in favour of US corporations operating abroad.
The China negotiations could change all that. Chinese investors have ploughed billions into the US economy, particularly in the financial industry.