MAI: Trade Blueprint or Trojan Horse?
By Jim Porter, the Windsor Star, 21 January 1998
Perhaps the greatest frustration of our Windsor Area MAI-Day Coalition has been to get press coverage for the MAI. Although our forum with Maude Barlow (in December) received good coverage by the Windsor Star and brief coverage on the local CBC TV news , we received no coverage for public events featuring Tony Clarke (in October) and Paul Hellyer (this past week), and there has been virtually no mention of the MAI in general.
However, I was able to have a guest column published in the Windsor Star on January 21st. We are now following this up with letters to the editor, each focusing on one area of problems (environment, social programs, human rights, etc.).
Have others to tried the route of guest columns? How successful has this been? Below is the column as it appeared after the paper's editing. The title was changed, and edited out were locations where the reader could get further information and encouragement for readers to express their opposition to their MPs. However, the main points about the MAI were left essentially intact.
The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is currently being negotiated by Canada within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an organization of the world's 29 wealthiest countries. It is designed to liberalize international trade and investment. The plan is for OECD countries to sign this treaty in May, and for the rest of the world's countries to join after that.
You haven't heard of the MAI? Why bother to learn about some boring international investment treaty? The answer is that this treaty is a very big deal -- so big that the Director General of the World Trade Organization calls it "the constitution of a single global economy."
According to MAI proponents, we need this treaty because we need international regulation of global trade and investment. We certainly need the international regulation. Nations regulate domestic enterprises both to promote business interests and to protect the rights of their citizens. The international regulation of investment must protect the rights of citizens around the world, not just the interests of transnational enterprises. The MAI addresses only the interests of the transnationals.
The MAI would grant transnational enterprises unprecedented rights without obliging them to respect their employees' human rights, protect the environment, refrain from anti-competitive business practices, or protect the public interest in any way. It would prevent governments from insisting that foreign investors create jobs, renew the resources they exploit, or contribute to the local economy. Once a country signs on, it would be locked in for 20 years.
"So what," you might think. "Our governments are lousy anyway. Why should I care?" Let me be more specific. The MAI could put our environment, cultural institutions, universal health care, public education system, social programs, working standards and human rights around the world at risk. It would give foreign companies greater rights than domestic businesses.
* New laws to protect the environment could be challenged by foreign corporations (but not domestic businesses) before an international tribunal as "confiscation of future profits."
* Our universal health care could deteriorate into American-owned privately funded Cadillac care for the wealthy and publicly under-funded care for the rest of us.
* Foreign-owned (but not Canadian-owned) private schools in Canada could get the same access to public financing as our public schools, colleges, and universities.
Have I got your attention yet?
* We could lose the CBC, the National Film Board, and Canada Council funding for Canadian artists.
* Foreign (but not domestic) corporations could challenge provincial labour laws as "impediments to investment" before an international tribunal.
* Job creation programs, long-term investment strategies, and new social programs such as national child care and pharmacare could become impossible to implement.
* Measures to maintain some Canadian ownership over our natural resources would be illegal.
* Measures to protect our forests, lakes, and energy resources for future generations could become impossible.
"But," you might be thinking, "there are always critics claiming that the sky is falling, that something catastrophic is about to happen. Surely, a Liberal government would not do something so potentially devastating."
Last November, in response to public pressure, a parliamentary committee held public hearings into the MAI. Even Liberal members of the committee found that the latest draft of this treaty (being negotiated by their own leaders) left vital Canadian interests at risk.
Even the Liberal members concluded that more public input is needed and that, as currently drafted, the MAI would put international labour standards, environmental regulation, Canadian culture, universal health care, public education, and social programs at risk.
They agreed that the treaty should incorporate standards of responsible corporate behaviour.
Unfortunately, the committee's report ignores many of the treaty's risks -- to aboriginal rights, to Canadian control of our natural resources and to human rights around the world.
* It is silent on why a country signing the MAI should be locked in for 20 years, when previous trade agreements allow total withdrawal with six months notice.
* It fails to comment on the inappropriateness, some would say immorality, of the world's wealthiest countries writing the rules for the global economy without the participation of developing countries.
* It does not address the undemocratic and one-sided nature of the treaty's enforcement mechanism. Foreign investors could sue our government before an international tribunal that is permitted to ignore Canadian law, even the Canadian Constitution. Neither governments nor citizens could hold foreign investors accountable in any way before the tribunal.
* It ignores the inequity of foreign corporations having greater rights than domestic companies.
Furthermore, the government is under no obligation to adopt even the very limited recommendations made by its own parliamentary committee.
Participate in the public debate -- insist that governments retain the power to serve the interests of their citizens, not just those of transnational enterprises.
Jim Porter is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Windsor and a member of the Windsor Area MAI-Day Coalition.
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