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.