In a politically significant (albeit legally weak) move, the US city Seattle - where the US government has invited the World Trade Organisation to hold its coming Ministerial meeting - has followed in the footsteps of many other cities in the country and declared itself an 'MAI Free-Zone'.

By Chakravarthi Raghavan

April 1999

Geneva: The city of Seattle, where the US government has invited the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to hold its third Ministerial meeting, has declared itself an MAI Free-Zone!

To meet the costs of holding the WTO meeting, the US Federal Government has established a host committee, chaired by Microsoft's Bill Gates and having as members other big corporate names, all of whom support and push for an international trade regime that would enhance the property rights (very broadly defined) of foreign corporations and investors against governments of host countries.

But in a resolution adopted by a unanimous vote on 12 April, the Seattle City Council has expressed support for the city's right to regulate within its jurisdiction a variety of questions including how to spend its procurement funds, support local development, and pass laws to protect the environment and fair labour practices, and oppose the provisions of the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) that could restrict this ability.

Seattle city has joined other cities across the United States that have made or adopted similar resolutions which may have no legal value (in applicable US domestic law or international rules), but are a political statement coming from communities across the world. Other cities and sub-federal authorities in the US and Canada that have taken a similar stand include Olympia, Turnwater, San Francisco, Oakland, Houston, Boulder, Berkeley and Vancouver (British Columbia, in Canada), the Western Governors Association, the Association of Washington Cities, the Washington State Association of Counties and the National Association of Countries.

The coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning against international investment rules, in a press release, noted that ever since the collapse of the negotiations for an MAI at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), proponents of such an agreement have been looking for new avenues for negotiations. Several have cast their eyes on the WTO and want to see investment issues included in the upcoming round.

'The opposition to an MAI is based on substance, not the venue where it was being negotiated,' the NGOs said. The opposition 'will grow until politicians realise that the MAI-model is fundamentally flawed, and start listening to the concerns of labour unions, environmental groups, human rights activists, consumer organisations, women's groups and all other parts of the broad coalition that helped stop the MAI in the OECD.' - Third World Network Features


About the writer: Chakravarthi Raghavan is Chief Editor of SUNS (South-North Development Monitor), a daily bulletin, and Third World Network's representative in Geneva. Copyright by SUNS.