The Guardian April 21, 1999


MAI by the backdoor

When the popular campaigns by citizen's groups all over Europe, Canada, 
Australia, the USA and much of the rest of the world brought the notorious 
MAI (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) negotiations to a halt in mid-
1998, big business and its political representatives did not give up.

They are still determined to impose on the world a binding agreement on 
investment that would put business interests ahead of national sovereignty 
and democratic rights. They merely changed their tactics.

The next round of World Trade Organisation (WTO) talks (the so-called 
"Millennium Round") is expected to see a strong push for a disguised MAI to 
be incorporated within the WTO's rules.

In August 1998, the European Commission (EC) invited selected chiefs of 
large European corporations to "be part of an eminent group of European 
businesses with key stakes in investment issues". The Commission explained: 
"The current discussions between WTO partners show us that it will be 
difficult to move forward on all fronts in regards to our interests in 
investment issues. 

"It is therefore crucial for European Union negotiators to know where the 
priorities of European businesses really lie, with a view of building up a 
negotiation strategy in the longer term." Represented in the discussions 
are such large corporations as Fiat, ICI, Daimler-Benz, Carlsberg, BP, 
Rhone-Poulenc and some 50 others.

Secret

The MAI was initially negotiated in secret and governments have 
subsequently been eloquent in their promises of "transparency" in future 
negotiations.

But citizens' groups participating in the European Commission's official 
"dialogue with civil society" are miffed that the EC failed to inform them 
about two meetings with the corporations held in the last six months.

The citizen's groups found that whereas business representatives attend all 
the meetings in the "dialogue with civil society" process, citizens' groups 
have not been invited to any meetings of the big business chiefs.

Furthermore, leaked EC documents on investment proposals show that the 
versions submitted to the "dialogue" meetings have been doctored to remove 
potentially "controversial elements". By the same token, a leaked official 
document for an EC committee reflected only the demands of European 
business groupings  the viewpoints of the citizens' groups were not even 
mentioned. So much for "dialogue".

The EC has ordered a survey among over 2000 European business leaders, "to 
give a clear picture of the way international liberalisation and 
international rule-making on investment are perceived by the business 
community".

The EC clearly aims to mobilise the active support of "the business 
community", selectively represented by European TNCs, for its pursuit of 
investment negotiations in the WTO. 

The close consultation with business enables the Commission to present the 
national governments with a negotiating strategy which is "pre-approved" by 
European industry and therefore harder to refuse. On top of that, the 
commission can rely upon business to lobby national governments directly to 
approve its proposals for multilateral investment rules in the WTO.

* * *
Based on material from Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, Washington.

Back to index page