[Documents menu] Economic and environmental history of Aotearoa - New Zealand
Date: Sun, 15 Feb 98 17:34:13 +1200
Organization: PlaNet Gaia Otautahi
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GATT Watchdog

Government Social Irresponsibility, Insincerity, Slammed Over Paris Investment Negotiations

Media release from GATT Watchdog
15 February 1998

This week, negotiations on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) reach a critical point as senior officials from 29 OECD countries meet in Paris on 16 and 17 February to assess whether and how to complete the controversial treaty by its current April deadline*(see footnote). This is the time that governments will be formulating their final negotiating positions. New Zealand fair trade coalition GATT Watchdog condemns the New Zealand government's behaviour in relation to the MAI as insincere and so cially irresponsible. It is calling on the government to halt its involvement in negotiations on the MAI, which it describes as a bill of rights and freedoms for foreign investors.

"On the eve of Jenny Shipley's major announcement about the government's Code of Social Responsibility that it wants to impose on hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders it is outrageous that senior government officials will sneak off to this highlevel meeting in Paris which few people are even aware of. The government has still not completed its series of consultation hui with Maori, and has failed to honour its commitment to hold a Parliamentary debate on the subject," says Aziz Choudry, a spokesperson. (The next series of hui starts on 23 February).

"Some have already questioned the sincerity and real motives for setting up a consultation round with Maori and the promise of a Parliamentary debate on the MAI. It is now quite clear that these are merely meaningless stabs at domestic damage control."

"The MAI, if signed, will lock in the worst features of a dog-eat-dog deregulated, open economy which has already cost untold job losses and contributed to a rapidly-widening poverty gap. The fact that the New Zealand government thinks that it can push on regardless of public opinion at home or abroad, without any genuine attempt to consult with Maori or non-Maori, or a debate on the issues in Parliament calls into question its sincerity and intentions to ever engage in any open discussion about the issue. How dare it demand "social responsibility" of low-income New Zealanders when it still refuses to be accountable to the public in its international treaty negotiations on the MAI?"

The political, social and economic fallout of pushing on with MAI negotiations will have longterm repercussions for New Zealand, he said. "It would be far wiser instead to commit to a moratorium on further MAI negotiations at least until a genuine open public consultation process has taken place, not the insincere, half-hearted and belated efforts that it is trying to pass off as consultation even as it furtively prepares to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s on as much of the MAI text as possible this week".

He says that it is not only the many hundreds of non-governmental organisations, indigenous peoples, unions, and peoples' movements throughout the world which oppose the MAI.

"The provincial governments of British Columbia and Prince Edward Island have both called on the Canadian federal government not to ratify the MAI until full public consultations have been carried out across Canada. The BC provincial government has warned that the federal government should not assume that it will allow the MAI to be applied to the province in the event of it signing the agreement. Meanwhile, the US government, whose companies would be the largest beneficiaries of the MAI, is demanding an exemption from the agreement for all existing state and local government laws."

The New Zealand government has been singled out by observers of the negotiations as one of the very few governments opposing even token recognition of environmental and labour issues by the corporations who would gain from the MAI.

"Its position is quite clear," said Mr Choudry, "it wants social responsibility from the victims of its policies, but not from the corporations who benefit".

For further comment, contact: Aziz Choudry (GATT Watchdog) at (03) 3662803

*NOTE(It seems increasingly unlikely that the April deadline for a final signing of the MAI will be met. US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky last week publicly stated that the US cannot sign in April. There continue to be many tensions and differences in negotiating positions among OECD member countries which are unacceptable to the USA. But it is likely that there will be a push to lock in the provisions of the MAI on which there is consensus by April, and then to set up a work programme and deadline to resolve outstanding issues in negotiations.)

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