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Action Alert - Make the MAI an issue in your local body elections

Peace Movement Aotearoa

PO Box 9314, Wellington. Tel (04) 382 8129, fax (04) 382 8173,

Issued 1 September 1998

This alert from GATT Watchdog gives you the facts and figures to act against the MAI now ...



After a frenzied year of campaigning to expose and oppose the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), described as a charter of freedoms for the transnational corporations which dominate the global (and local) economy, things seem to have gone quiet. NOT SO!

While the MAI talks might have "paused" with the calling of a six-month moratorium at the late April OECD Ministerial Meeting in Paris, suspending negotiations, and promising transparency and public consultations, it is far from dead. Now is the time to crank up the opposition once again...

Several US non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were briefed in Washington DC on July 15 by the State Department, confirming their suspicions that MAI negotiations have taken place on a bilateral level. While there won't be a multilateral negotiationg session at the OECD until October 19/20, MAI negotiators from the US, European Union (EU), and Canada have been meeting to discuss issues relating to the agreement, including exceptions.

The US seems to be hoping that not much will happen on the MAI until after November's Congressional elections, but that it will be concluded at the OECD rather than in the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at which it doubts it will be able to secure as comprehensive a set of investment protections. Some non-OECD countries, especially in the "Third World" oppose an agreement on investment taking place at the WTO. The EU, however, appears to favour moving the MAI negotiations to the WTO. Last month Leslie Swartman, press secretary for Canadian Trade Minister Sergio Marchi, said that Canada was definitely "still at the table" and anticipating talks to resume in October.

It also looks likely that the observer group of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and the Baltic states will become participants in the negotiation of the text, although none are OECD members. No doubt these countries will be used to say that "developing" countries are now being involved in MAI talks.

New Zealand Involvement In The MAI

An Australian contact has alerted us to the fact that New Zealand Treasury officials have been in recent contact with their Canadian and Australian counterparts about the MAI. According to Australian Treasury sources, resumption of MAI negotiations in October is expected to lead to a further meeting in April 1999, with the aim of concluding the MAI before the WTO launches its next trade liberalisation round. Apparently New Zealand officials are pushing for a general exception of government procurement from the MAI's coverage. GATT Watchdog currently has an Official Information Act request in to Finance Minister Bill Birch in relation to recent and current New Zealand involvement in discussions on the MAI, and has also written to other government and opposition MPs on the issue.

Unresolved Differences

As you may recall, there remained a number of serious sticking points among OECD countries about the MAI. France, Canada and others wanted to exempt film and other cultural material from the MAI. European countries have criticised US trade sanctions laws like the Helms-Burton Act against companies investing in Cuba (investors in Iran and Libya are also targeted by US legislation). The US is critical of an EU proposal to allow EU countries to treat investors from other EU member countries more favourably than others. Other disputes include ones about wording relating to the environment and labour standards, and a long list of reservations setting out areas to which the MAI won't apply.

How much progress has been made in ironing out such differences among OECD member countries in bilaterals or other meetings since April remains to be seen. US negotiators have described recent bilateral discussions on the MAI as "clearing cobwebs" and working out how to move on to resolve different positions.


The New Zealand Government and other governments pushing ahead with the MAI show little sign of rethinking their economic direction in the wake of the Asian crisis which many critics of free trade and investment have predicted for some time. And a minority National government will be unconstrained from within in its push to conclude the MAI.

Back in April, we warned that the MAI should not be allowed to slink back into the darkness only to spring up again when we were least expecting it. With only a few weeks to go before the six-month "pause" is over, it is time to turn our attention back towards fighting the MAI. European opponents of the MAI are calling for an international week of action against the MAI from September 21st-28th. But GATT Watchdog believes that NOW is the time to be getting active on the MAI again!


  1. Write letters to the editor, ring up talkback using this update and what you already know about the MAI.
  2. Raise the matter in groups, organisations and unions which you belong to. Talk about the issue in your community. Talk to your local media. Copy and distribute this GATT Watchdog update.
  3. Visit and/or write to your MP. Ask what they know about NZ's current involvement in discussions on the MAI. If they don't know, ask them to find out for you.
  4. Raise the issue with local body candidates. Remember, Local Government New Zealand, and a number of Councils (including the Dunedin, Invercargill and Christchurch City Councils, and community boards in Waikato) have already put out statements critical of the MAI and the anti-democratic way in which the Government has participated in MAI negotiations. Make this a local body election issue.
For more information contact GATT Watchdog ph: (03) 3662803

GATT Watchdog
PO Box 1905,
Aotearoa (New Zealand)

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