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OECD & Governments Launch "MAI Charm-Offensive"

Public Relations Campaign to Push for MAI Completion
May 1998


For the first three years of MAI talks, U.S. citizens, Congress and state and local governments were entirely omitted from the process. MAI negotiators operated under a stealth strategy of "what they don't know, won't hurt our agenda." But the MAI text they were negotiating was so audacious that when it was finally liberated onto the Internet, the sunshine of public opinion wilted their stealthy ambitions. In short order, MAI opposition campaigns began building worldwide. In the United States, the MAI became a contentious topic in Congress during the fall 1997 debate over "fast-track" trade authority.


When the MAI finally hit Congress' radar screen, many Members of Congress joined the opposition. In September 1997, after the first congressional debate on MAI, an amendment was resoundingly passed to fund research and protection of U.S. state and local sovereignty from threats by trade and investment pacts. Next, 25 Democrats and Republicans sent Pres. Clinton a letter attacking the Administration's leadership of secretive MAI talks and opposing the MAI as a threat to democratic governance worldwide.

As the word spread about the immense new powers the MAI would grant corporations over governments and workers, major U.S. labor unions came out in opposition -- the United Auto Workers, Teamsters, Steelworkers and the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees. Gradually the U.S. press began covering the MAI -- Business Week, Washington Post, National Public Radio, Newsweek, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and The Miami Herald.

Two anti-MAI rallies were held on the U.S. Capitol steps -- the first with Congress Members in handcuffs opposing the MAI's "handcuffing democracy" and the second featuring a corporate fat cat playing the "MAI shell game." The second ranking Democratic in Congress -- who led the victorious fight against fast track-- David Bonior (D-MI), delivered a rousing speech against the MAI to the demonstrators.

In March, the Clinton Administration was called before a congressional hearing on MAI. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Subcommittee on International Economic Policy and Trade Chair, opened with: "The fact is that for the last two years, there has been little, if any, substantive consultation with the Congress. A draft text has been developed, yet most of the Members of both chambers have limited knowledge of the MAI. Ironic, given recent claims that complex, multilateral agreements could not be negotiated without fast-track."


Once exposed, researchers, elected officials, citizens and NGOs discovered that the MAI posed dramatic threats to many U.S. federal, state and local laws and policies. Clinton Administration officials claimed the treaty would not impact the U.S. much because rules, such as national treatment for investors, already existed. In reality, the MAI would impose severe new limits on regular government regulation of corporations. The pro-business Western Governors Association commissioned an MAI impact study that revealed many typical state policies used to reap local benefit from investment, such as economic development policies, zoning regulations, incentives, land-use restrictions, environmental protections and business licensing, could be undermined by MAI. Their report, MAI: Potential Effects on State and Local Government, stated: "The MAI may be more than merely a tougher NAFTA or WTO. Unlike those agreements, the MAI may protect investors by curtailing both sovereign powers and sovereign immunity." An adviser to Nebraska Governor Ben Nelson said about the MAI in the Washington Times (12/15/97), "It strikes right to the heart of our state government... We may be destroying states' rights or states' abilities to govern themselves just to promote international business."

U.S. local governments have started fighting the MAI's looming threat to their local governance. U.S. city and county councils are passing MAI-Free Zone resolutions declaring opposition to MAI. So far, San Francisco, Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Arcata, California; Tumwater and Olympia, Washington; and Boulder, Colorado have passed resolutions, with resolutions pending in Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Dallas and a dozen other cities. After reviewing the draft MAI text, San Francisco deputy city attorney Christine Hayashi told the San Francisco Chronicle (4/10/98), "I found a lot to be alarmed by in the terms of the MAI," and County Supervisor Tom Ammiano warned: "The MAI is pernicious to any local sovereignty."


Thanks to the public sunshine, negotiators were forced to postpone completion from May 1997 to April 1998 and now at least until October 1998. The OECD Declaration from the April MAI Ministerial, which is the political document OECD countries negotiated over long and hard, is clear: "Ministers direct the negotiators to continue their work with the aim of reachinga successful and timely conclusion of the MAI..." The MAI is not dead. The Declaration calls for a period of "assessment and further consultations" -- negotiations to resolve outstanding issues before the next Ministerial. It also reaffirms the negotiators' commitment to complete a full-scope MAI at the OECD containing the very provisions targeted by NGOs as unacceptable. The document notes that there is agreement on most language already. Plus, the Declaration calls for parallel WTO negotiations on investment liberalization a la the "MAI shell game." (The MAI in IMF mess remains too...)


To avoid yet another delay in negotiations, "Plan B" was unveiled at the April MAI Ministerial meeting. Part public relations campaign and part seduction, "Plan B" is an "MAI charm offensive." Its goal is to lull with false satisfaction and pacify by presentation of seats near the "table" the MAI's critics who have been effectively demanding major substantive changes in trade and investment policies.

Beware the multifaceted charm offensive: OECD and many governments are asking for "consultation" while refusing to open, much less eliminate, the most objectionable aspects of text; promises of seats near the OECD table to observe already done deals to distract from meaningful substantive demands; and a multi-country book tour to tout OECD's new rhetorical treatise on the joys of capital liberalization. In an effort to spin the press and divert the relentless grassroots opposition, the U.S. Trade Representative has been aggressively spreading the word on Capitol Hill and to the press that the MAI is dead. Of course, it was the US Trade Rep. who pushed to set the next MAI Ministerial for July and Pres. Clinton who lectured the world's leaders at the recent WTO Ministerial that free trade was "the surest route to the greatest prosperity for the largest number of people."

Why the charm, the spin on the MAI's demise, the invitations to "consult" and the shell game multiple venues for capital liberalization? Considering the MAI was not signed on schedule due to critical campaigns and scrutiny in assorted countries, obviously the strategy for MAI proponents is to try to tone down the noise and create distractions so extreme investment deregulation terms can be completed -- for use in MAI, WTO, or wherever.

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