Stopping the Juggernaut

"Public Interest Versus the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment"
Edited by James Goodman and Patricia Ranald.
Pluto Press Australia Ltd $A24.95

- Review by Liz Griffiths

The now infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) was an attempt by the world's richest to make legitimate, in binding international law, their freedoms to invest and operate businesses globally - with least possible local or national government interference.

"Stopping The Juggernaut" documents the role played by Australians in opposing this most draconian piece of legislation ever drafted. It is a stranger than fiction story about the secrecy of the negotiators and the amazing compliance of too many publicly elected officials in Australia (and we can name several in New Zealand also) who seemed so willing to endorse the aims of the MAI, and uphold the wish of its architects to keep the negotiations from exposure to the light of day and good old democratic public debate.

This is about the globalisation of capital - an unfettered right, without obligation or responsibility, to do as one wishes for profit, power or whatever - wherever and whenever and however. A global process of strip mining local economies for profit. Purest capitalism; undiluted stuff that dreams of gold really are made of. Heady and greedy stuff. Exponential growth of greed stuff.

Just as 'free trade' advocates, with their persistent rhetoric and perseverance and much secrecy, had gained much of the freedoms sought with the signing of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in Morocco, and increased power gained for the World Trade Organisation (WTO), so too was the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) used in an attempt to further institutionalise corporate power. Investor interests were to supercede powers of government and of local communities. Public policy was on a fast track to private policy. The MAI was about 'privatising' everything.

Any assurances for most people's needs, including basic living and wage standards, local business and employment options, indigenous rights, and environmental protection were to be considerably weakened.

Had it been implemented all OECD member nations would have been bound by its terms for up to 20 years and non-OECD countries were to be forced to comply, one by one, under bully boy tactics (IMF'd) or be cut from world trade and capital.

Fortunately opposition to the MAI and internal dissension within the OECD members saw the demise of the agreement in October 1998.

So, why the book? Because of continuing secrecy.

The designing and implementing of the MAI was to be secret until it could be imposed on governments to ratify with a rubber stamp - another of those fait accompli tactics that we are becoming so used to. The advocates of the MAI have not simply agreed to disappear, defeated. These are people with a mission. Their goals and objectives are not well understood by the general public, nor the implications should such policy be enacted. The WTO and the World Economic Forum held at Davos, Switzerland, in January 2000 are merely examples of where the discussion now continues - still in secret. The desire to liberalise the globalisation of production, trade, investment and finance has not gone away.

"Stopping the Juggernaut" is a valuable addition to a growing body of well researched and presented material about the changing structures of power, especially the "growing imbalance between the private economic power wielded by transnational corporations (TNCs) and the power of public institutions within nation states" (p3). The book begins with three excellent essays about the nature of globalisation and its dimensions, particularly the globalisation of capital; the background to the rise of the MAI, and description of the main features of the draft MAI and its goal to restrict powers of government from any future readjustment against corporate freedoms; and, thirdly, an outline of the contest in Australia both within government and among NGOs once the salient features of the MAI became publicly known early in 1997.

Although this is an Australian story its message is globally applicable. How do publicly elected govern-ment ministers bow to these external pressures and almost seem to fall over themselves to comply, when so many seem to be saying that these measures do not appear to be in the wider public interest?

This Book Is The Voice Of Our Opposition.

The introductory essays are clearly written accounts of many of the issues that are of wide public concern, and the remainder of the book is a selection of key submissions from groups of concerned Australians who were opposed to, and/or had specific concerns about, the MAI. These include the Australian Local Government Association, the Australian Business Chamber, the Australian Industry Group, Amnesty International Australia, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australian Council of Social Services, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, and the Communications Law Centre. Seventeen submissions in all are included and give a widely representative view.

This is textbook stuff for any person with an interest to gain fuller understanding of dangers of endorsing a "single global economy". The book gives good background and historical perspectives, and from the broad selection of submissions included in this text, the reader can gain an accessible and well compiled introduction to the damaging effects these arrogant and megalomaniac elites can and do foist on the people and environment of this world.

Opposition grass roots globalisation is emerging as a force to be reckoned with. The debate on international trade and issues relating to internationalisation of production, investment and finance is far from over. Public policy makers, and parliamentary researchers and political journalists are among the many who could gain a valuable insight from a careful reading of this book. The subject involves us all. Eternal vigilance is indeed the price. In this book you will be introduced to many of these special "watch dogs" who perform such a great service for us all (yes - as does CAFCA!).

Thanks to references such as this book, and to the value of the Internet and email, the globalisation of opposition to secretive private policy makers is emerging and yet needs to expand still more and be vociferously supported. Rather than endorsing the already unfettered nature of global capital to be even further protected from any discrimination by "interfering nation states", the book raises the urgent need for debate about alternatives. Rather than further the current mobility of capital, is the need to re-regulate this excessive mobility and speculation, in order to ensure that TNCs genuinely contribute to local development and respect the environment for future sustainability. Yes indeed - just good old corporate responsibility.

Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. December 1999.


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