NGOs reject any proposal for moving the MAI or an investment agreement to the WTO

On 17 May 1998, the eve of the WTO Ministerial Conference, about 50 NGO representatives met in Geneva to discuss their positions and activities relating to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) that is being negotiated at the OECD. In April, OECD Ministers decided to suspend official negotiations for six months, partly due to the strong upsurge of public protests.

Most of the NGOs that met in Geneva are of the view that the MAI process should be closed permanently in the OECD. Just as important, they are against moves by some major countries (particularly the EU) to move the negotiations to the WTO.

The NGOs prepared a joint statement calling on all WTO member governments not to initiate any negotiations in the WTO on an investment agreement. During the WTO Conference, many more NGOs signed on to the statement, printed below.

1. The Multilateral Agreement on Investment in the OECD has been temporarily stalled because of strong public protests in many OECD countries as well as objections from developing-country groups and governments. Objections from the public include that the MAI would grant new unprecedented rights for corporations (whilst removing the authority of states to place obligations or regulations on them), threaten national sovereignty and the viability of domestic firms and farms, remove conditions for development in the South and magnify environmental and social problems.

Since there is no sign that the OECD governments are willing to consider a basic change in the premises and framework of the MAI, we call for the termination of the negotiations and the treaty in the OECD.

2. We are very concerned by the moves of some OECD governments, including the European Union, to move the MAI process to the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Some of them claim this will make it fairer for developing countries and, moreover, environmental and labour concerns will be taken care of in the WTO. We reject these claims. Instead, shifting the investment issue to the WTO will place great pressure on developing countries to negotiate and eventually join an agreement that would have disastrous effects on their development prospects. Moreover, promises to include environmental and social concerns are likely to be only an eyewash to co-opt the public to accept the basic tenets of the MAI. The strong enforcement capability of the WTO through its dispute settlement system will also mean that all countries, especially developing countries, will be forced to comply.

Domestic laws and policies in a wide range of issues will have to be changed, even if these were to cause job losses, closure of local enterprises and farms, financial instability, balance of payments deficits and environmental deterioration.

3. We therefore call on all governments, OECD and non-OECD alike, to reject any proposal to negotiate an investment agreement in the WTO. The trade and investment working group in the WTO should be confined to only studying the trade and investment relation and should not be 'upgraded' into a negotiation forum for an investment agreement. The proposals by the EU and other major countries to start a 'Millennium Round' or a 'comprehensive future agenda' for the WTO should not be used as a device to sneak in an investment negotiation process in the WTO.

4. On principle, we are against the kind of assumptions and framework that the MAI represents. As public knowledge on the MAI increases, many more people are rejecting this approach. We call on governments, international agencies and NGOs not to accept the MAI or a similar investment approach as inevitable or a 'given' but instead to choose a basically different approach in dealing with the investment issue.

5. Towards this alternative approach, we call for global and national guidelines, rules and regulations to place obligations on investors and corporations so that their activities and products serve the needs of people within a framework of internationally fair, socially just and environmentally sound development.

NOTE: The above statement has been signed by over 60 NGOs from around the world.