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Sneaky treaty would entrench TNCs' rights, privileges

Alarmed by the secretive negotiations within the OECD to develop and impose a Multilateral Agreement on Investments, the International Forum on Globalization, a group of eminent economists and social and environmental activists, including Canadians Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, met recently in San Francisco to organize opposition to the MAI. They are calling on governments of the world to reject this treaty and ask concerned citizens to spread the word about the harmful effects it would have on their communities. Following is the statement they issued following their emergency meeting.

This year the industrialized nations of the world are quietly trying to finalize a treaty to create a corporate Utopia by restricting any local or governmental controls over transnational corporate investments throughout the world.

The treaty, which is called the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI), would first be approved by the industrialized countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and subsequently forced on the rest of the world. (A parallel exercise is ongoing in the World Trade Organization, where it is called the Multilateral Investment Agreement and would confer somewhat less sweeping rights on international investors.)

The MAI would give transnational corporations expansive new rights and powers, and burden nations with new obligations owed to corporations.

It would require nations to give foreign investors access to all economic sectors.

It would abolish the right of citizens and governments to control the entry, conditions, behaviour, and operations of TNCs in their country. (This right is especially vital for developing countries, since the MAI would effectively close the possibility of building domestic capacity.)

The adverse social, economic, environmental and cultural consequences of various transnational corporate investments, which now occur even when they are subject to government regulation, would be greatly magnified. In practice, this means that people anywhere on the globe could wake up one morning and find that a local business, forest, farm, or even an entire communications system or an entire employment sector, had been bought and was now controlled by a transnational company with no interest in the well-being of that community.

The power of national or local governments to screen the worst TNCs or to attach performance requirements to protect local people and their environment would be removed by this treaty. But the rights given to these corporations would not stop there. The MAI would give them the right to binding dispute resolution and enable them to initiate law-suits against governments to protect their interests. Thus, the TNCs would be able to challenge another country's laws as violating international investors' rights.

The MAI would prevent transnational investments from being treated differently from local or national investments. In practice, this could mean that recycling content laws, local hiring requirements, and other community-based regulations could be challenged by a transnational company on the grounds that, since it is harder for them to comply with such regulations, these regulations are discriminatory and therefore illegal.

In summary, the Multilateral Agreement on Investments would put into practice the ideology that the entire natural and social diversity of the planet are resources to be freely controlled and exploited by global companies.

Taken from The CCPA Monitor April 1997

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