Dead or underground?

By Krista Malden

Since 1995, the Multilateral Agreement on Investments has been in negotiation under the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The MAI is an agreement that creates a corporate bill of rights for investors and investments around the world. The agreement will enforce a new set of rules that seek to protect and expand the power of corporations and wealthy international investors.

In April 1998, the second deadline for the MAI to be signed was suspended until this month. On Oct. 20, the OECD negotiating group met to discuss what should be done about the MAI.

"Negotiations have been ceased," said spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Andre Lemey. "Canada would like to have an agreement like the MAI, but negotiations have stopped."

Opinions on the status of the MAI vary.

"The MAI is not dead, it’s just been set back," said the MAI Campaign officer for the Council of Canadians Anna Dashtgard.

According to Dashtgard, the OECD is trying to move the MAI negotiations to the World Trade Organization next fall, and indicated that there might be a change in the name of the MAI.

"It’s moving underground," said Dashtgard, whose group does not support the MAI.

The Council of Canadians is a public interest organization, whose duties include safeguarding social programs and promoting alternatives to corporate style free trade.

The OECD and wto both deal with global trade and investment agreements.

The OECD is a Paris-based alliance consisting of the 29 richest countries. The research organization provides member countries with information and advice about economic policy and is leading negotiations on the MAI. The wto is a Geneva-based organization of 130 member countries and is a principle organization for managing global trade and investment.

According to Lemey, it is too complicated to transfer the MAI from the OECD to the WTO.

"There is no mechanism to accept the MAI at the wto," said Lemey.

The wto, OECD, International Monetary Fund, General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and other organizations develop and negotiate agreements like the MAI.

"It’s not only the MAI we have to focus on, we have to broaden our focus on other agreements as well," said Dashtgard. "Halting the MAI is just a step, we have to find alternatives. We have to work together."

Negotiations have stopped according to Lemey, but others say the agreement is just being put behind closed doors.

"The MAI is becoming harder to stop," said Dashtgard. "Citizens can make a difference."

The MAI and other global trade and investment agreements are under investigation by oprgantications such as the Council for Canadians.

According to Lemey, there are no MAI negotiations, therefore there is no more MAI, but there are agreements similar to the MAI.

"There are no secrets," said Lemey.

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