MAI okay?

By Julie Boulton

Wednesday,Nov. 18: the International Day of Action against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment. How many of you knew? How many of you cared?

The Council of Canadians, a leading public action organization against the MAI, defines the MAI as an agreement, which provides for “…the movement of money across international borders by imposing a new set of rules and restricting countries from using legislation, policies and programs seen as impediments to the free flow of capital. In other words, it is a constitution for the largest corporations to rule the world.”

So why is this agreement evil?

Typical right-wing rhetoric would have the public believe that all nations will benefit from the implementation of open trade policy, as it will lead to a surplus of investment.

Furthermore, the agreement will specifically benefit Canada because of the financial benefits of increased trade through an expanded common market. Canada, in typical fashion, is compelled to support the agreement for fear of compromising its favored position as number-one trading partner with its southern neighbor.

But analyzing the MAI solely on the issue of trade ignores the complete scope of its impact. The agreement includes a 20-year investment clause-once nations sign on to the MAI, they are required to wait five years before announcing an intention to leave, and 15 before they can actually leave. This locks developing countries into a situation where they are unable to effect their internal policies, as they relate to the MAI.

Most importantly, the agreement serves to stifle the democratic process, as the corporations become effectively empowered to make political decisions such as decisions relating to natural resources, union laws and trade policy. But as the corporations have not been elected, where is the accountability?

The corporation’s role as a political actor, minus the elections, has already demonstrated itself to be destructive. Under the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Ethyl Corporation, a large American company, has launched a $350 million lawsuit against the Canadian government. Why? Because the Canadian government banned the use of a fuel additive (MMT) which is considered a dangerous toxin linked to many respiratory problems.

Additionally, under the MAI, provinces will be prevented from prohibiting ownership of farmlands by non-resident citizens, and if protection of endangered species is at odds with investment policies, it’s not hard to guess which one would go.

Currently the MAI is at a standstill, with France deciding to pull out of negotiations. Despite the French government being highly in favor of such an agreement, citizen action groups forced the government to withdraw. The French government is now bowing to the desires of such interest groups, choosing not to resume negotiations despite pressures from the international community to rejoin OECD negotiations. Clearly citizens can make a difference.

Given that the potential effects of this agreement go far beyond the scope of simply increasing trade, shouldn’t we all be more concerned that this agreement is still being negotiated? It is in our best interests to make ourselves aware of such an agreement’s impact, domestically as well as internationally.

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