MAI: The Worst Is Yet To Come
In contrast, the Maastricht Treaty and NAFTA look like quaint historical footnotes. GATT is reduced to a mere amateur effort. If that scares you, it should, because the object of comparison constitutes the most complete and thorough attack on all of the gains made by the labour and socialist movement in history. The object of comparison is the MAI, the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, and perhaps the most fitting way to describe it would be to say that it has no comparison. If we thought we had seen the worst of such international trade agreements after GATT, we had better think again; the worst is yet to come.

What is MAI and where did it come from?

The MAI was 'hatched' in May of 1995 in the United States by a group known as the US Council for International Business (USCIB). The USCIB then gave it to the US government, for proposal to the Organisation for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD). The OECD is an international organisation headquartered in Paris, created in 1961 by the US and other industrialised nations as an attempt to create a 'Marshall Plan' for developing nations, which would set development goals and provide development assistance to those nations. Yet the actual role of the OECD has been far more politicised (no surprise it's actually the successor organisation to the OEEC, which did carry out the Marshall Plan), and the majority of its activity has been dedicated to finding ways to get the best angles on the global market for business interests in its 29 member countries (the world's most affluent ones), while giving lip service to the pursuit of a more 'stable' world for all. It is the OECD where the MAI is being discussed, and where it will be ratified by the member nations if it is approved.

This is where the story gets ugly. As mentioned before, the MAI goes well beyond Maastricht, NAFTA, and GATT. How bad can it be? Brace yourself.

MAI is a legally binding trade agreement made not by referendum or even by parliamentary vote, but at the ministerial level of government. This means it can be signed at a closed meeting, in the night, while you sleep, and then the next morning when you wake up, it's there. It seeks to eliminate all barriers to international investment in any way shape or form, without regard for labour laws, environmental regulations, or the intervention of the elected governments of sovereign states. Period.

Let's say this again, so that we all understand: this trade agreement will allow international corporate investors to do as they wish in any nation, region, or locality in the world, without regard for any domestic laws which are or would be designed to protect the citizens of a nation state. It will override all other legislation, and it will apply to all past present, and future investment, with the investors having the right to sue any government that tries to legislate against the actions of the investor. Governments however, will have no right to sue an investor, and once a nation signs on to MAI, it cannot revoke that decision for five years. Even then, the investments remain protected for fifteen years.

Are you scared yet? I thought you would be. I haven't even gotten to the related story about multinational corporations having a say in the decision-making and management of the United Nations. But what anyone can see at this point, without even tiptoeing near crazy conspiracy theories, is that this is the grand scheme of a international capitalist community that feels sure that it can go in for the kill on every last solidaristic, socialistic, and sustainable impulse in our society, all for the sake of higher profits.

Why haven't we heard about this before?

Because the negotiations until recently have been confidential, occurring at the highest levels of business and within the OECD. If you are not already sufficiently alarmed by this, consider that the agreement was initially supposed to be a done deal by last May, but for some reason, after a draft copy of the MAI was leaked to the public in January of 1997, the signing was postponed until May of this year. It could come sooner. The left itself has only just learned about this, much like waking up with your house on fire. This is precisely the kind of thing that goes on behind closed doors, that the powers that be tell us never goes on behind closed doors. They (and 'they' is not invisible here, it is the world's top bureaucrats, businessmen, and business organisations) had no intention of letting the rest of us know about this until it was a fait accompli.

For socialists, that brings up a question that we are compelled to ask of our world time and time again: how is it that an economic design of this magnitude, which would probably have an effect on every life on earth, could be slated for approval over six months ago without anyone except top-level officials from 29 nations knowing about it? Is the fate of our world, the world we all inhabit together, to be decided by a cabal of international businessmen while we are informed of it as an afterthought?

At this moment those of you who wondered if we still needed democratic socialism in this day and age, now have your answer.

From the United Nations to United Corporations

Probably one of the more horrifying side stories in relation to the MAI involves how it ties into the whole world of international development policy. The United Nations, a place we socialists are all supposed to see as an objective and future house of democratic global government, has an ongoing project known as the UNDP (United Nations Development Project). The stated purpose of the UNDP is, like the OECD, to provide development aid to developing countries in need, so that they can build up their societies and economies to a sustainable level of productivity. If you're looking for the problem in that sentence, it's in the last word.

Productivity is a very subjective concept, manifested in any number of ways. The way that many Third World nations are 'manifesting their productivity' is by entrusting it to First World multinational corporations who have told them that the way to build up their societies is by letting them buy up their domestic businesses and resources. After all, why does anyone need to own in order to consume and be productive? You can be just as productive with somebody else (for example a multinational corporation) calling the shots, right? Everyone knows that the Pyramids were built with slaves.

But seriously, let's go right to the heart of it: the UNDP's funds are being used to leverage private investment funds, which are in turn being used by multinationals to buyout the economies of developing nations. That means the UN is funding corporations who use their funds to control the global economy and undermine the very people the UNDP is supposed to be helping. And like any good capitalists, since they've put their money into this now, and are doing so much to 'stimulate' these economies, the multinationals want a dividend on their investment. They see this dividend being 'productively manifested' by their being given a seat of power in decision-making of the United Nations, alongside ambassadors of nations. When corporations end up taking part in the affairs and decisions of the UN, we will have taken a fatal step away from any semblance of democracy or representative government, and headed back to the Estates of the pre-revolutionary French court. In case this all still just sounds too mad to be believed.... the President of the General Assembly stated on 24 July 1997 that a plan to involve the corporate sector in the UN would be devised through the UN Commission on Sustainable Develoment. It's already underway.

What to do about it

Right now the move is on to publicise and protest against the MAI, its secrecy, and those parties responsible for discussing and deciding on it. You're not going to hear about this on the telly or read it on page one of the papers, unless a sufficient uproar is created in our parliaments and in our communities. Fortunately, some of the people on our side in the halls of power are beginning to wake up and take a good look at this agreement, and some of them do not at all like what they see. Consider this comment from a parliamentary report from Canada's socialist New Democratic Party:

'The NDP holds, therefore, that the MAI, from a social democratic point of view, is irredeemable, and that no combination of reservations and exemptions can make up for the overall unacceptability of the general provisions of the MAI, and the global corporate agenda of which it is the latest manifestation.'

Jim Anderton from New Zealand's New Labour Party has spoken out, as has British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn. And even in the belly of the beast, the United States, America's lone socialist in the House of Representatives Bernie Sanders has spoken out against the MAI, and successfully passed an amendment through the Congress that protects U.S. domestic laws from MAI-related actions by the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The American socialist group DSA is also beginning to organise against MAI, and more European socialist parties are now beginning to weigh in on the issue as well.

But what is as important as letting our government representatives know about this hideous proposal, is letting each other know about it. That means me passing this on to you, and you passing it on to your friends, and both of us passing it on to the media and in our communities to build public awareness and grassroots opposition to the agreement. Granted, this is not the sexiest of issues. It doesn't sell tickets, and there's not going to be any Mighty Morphin MAI Technocrat dolls out on the market. The parallel here is more like the public's attitude towards AIDS; we're not supposed to know or even think about it, but it is deadly serious, and everyone truly does need to know about it. Never mind the silly myth of socialism being dead; this kind of insane behaviour on the part of the world's elites 150 years ago is exactly what brought us to life in the first place.

Because it has been kept such a deep secret, the key on this issue is information. Luckily, resources on MAI are now abundant. On the internet (which for this issue of Socialist is probably where you're reading this anyway), the best site is the MAI Information Centre at It details not only the entire agreement itself, but all of the side issues that tie in to MAI (The WTO hijack of the Rio Summit, the UN/business connection, etc.). Fighting this kind of thing will not be easy, but it is precisely this kind of thing that we as socialists will be challenged with more and more in the years to come. If we thought we'd been around the ring with capital a few times already, we've not seen anything yet.

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