- Instead of governments regulating transnational
corporations, under the MAI, it would be the other way around.
- Business Week calls it "the most
explosive trade deal you've never heard of." Ralph Nader's Public
Citizen brands it "NAFTA on steroids." And Sierra Club Executive
Director Carl Pope calls it "an assault on the local," under
which, theoretically, "Oscar Meyer could sue Saudi Arabia for the
right to sell hot dogs in Mecca."
- What inspires this poetry? And what does
it have to do with protecting forests and wetlands and clean water?
- It's the MAI - the Multilateral Agreement
on Investment - currently being hammered out by trade negotiators from
the 29 industrialized countries of the OECD (Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development) in a basement conference room in Paris. And
if you haven't heard of it, you're not alone.
- Whereas treaties like GATT - the General
Agreement on Tariffs and Trade - made it easier to move goods and services
between nations, the MAI would make it easier, cheaper and safer for foreign
investors to buy tangible assets - like factories, timberland or mining
- It would create new rights and privileges
for international investors. Proponents say they are needed to protect
investors against excessive regulation.
- But opponents see it as a threat to environmental
and labor standards, as well as federal and state sovereignty. Instead
of governments regulating transnational corporations, under the MAI it
would be the other way around. It would severely restrict the rights of
the nation-state to control foreign investment in its economy. The guiding
principle of the MAI is that there should be no distinction between foreign
and domestic investors. For environmentalists, says Dan Seligman, the Club's
Responsible Trade Campaign director, the most threatening provision is
the "takings" clause, under which foreign investors could sue
taxpayers for compensation when any local, state or federal law hurts the
corporate bottom line.
- Sound far-fetched? It's already happening.
Under an MAI-like provision of NAFTA, the Ethyl Corporation of Virginia
has sued Canada for $251 million in compensation. Canada's crime? It banned
the gasoline additive MMT, a suspected neurotoxin manufactured by Ethyl.
- The MAI would extend such provisions
to the 29 OECD nations, then to the rest of the world. Investors could
sue governments directly in international tribunals. Decisions would be
binding and final.
- These rules would allow foreign investors
to challenge existing land-use restrictions and reverse hard-won Club victories
here in the United States. For example, says Seligman, Citifor, a wholly-owned
subsidiary of the Chinese government and major timberland owner in Oregon
and Washington, could sue to block salmon recovery plans affecting its
lands. And Kjell Inge Rokke, a Norwegian factory-fishing operator, could
sue for compensation if local authorities reject his plans to build a new
city south of Washington, D.C., on Chapman's Forest in Maryland.
- In February, to draw attention to the
threats in the MAI, Seligman joined representatives of Public Citizen and
the Preamble Center for a Seattle-to-Santa Cruz "road show,"
which included editorial board visits, activist trainings, "town hall"
meetings, radio and TV interviews and debates with MAI advocates.
- One outcome of that trip was a March
31 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle which called for more public
discussion of the MAI.
- The Club also joined with the International
Forum on Globalization to expose the MAI through full-page ads in The New
York Times and the International Herald Tribune. At the local level, volunteers
like Richard Barish of Albuquerque, N.M., are spreading the word through
their chapter newsletters.
- Representatives of the OECD have been
secretly negotiating the MAI for the past three years. Deliberations had
reached an advanced stage before a draft of the proposed treaty was leaked
in January 1997. There has been virtually no participation by labor, environmental
or other non-business interests and minimal media coverage.
- The proposal was to be completed by May,
at which point, each member nation would decide whether to ratify it. (In
the United States, the Senate would have the opportunity to approve or
reject, but not modify the treaty.) But citizen outcry in the United States,
France, Canada and other OECD nations, combined with the U.S. Congress'
rejection of fast-track trade authority last fall, have slowed negotiations.
- "Alarmingly, most Americans still
don't know about the MAI or the broad powers it gives corporations,"
says Seligman. "Our job is to change that."
- To take action: Write a letter to the
editor of your local paper. Say that the MAI would gut protection for the
environment, labor and human rights, and that it would undermine national
and local sovereignty and participatory democracy by restricting government's
ability to regulate foreign investment and hold corporations accountable.
- For more information: Contact Dan Seligman
at (202) 675-2387 or email@example.com.
- Or check out our Web page at www.sierraclub.org/trade.
You can find a draft of the MAI on the Web page of Public Citizen: www.citizen.org/pctrade/mai.html.