Death to the MIA


that the agreement was not "reformable." According to the French daily Le
Monde
(October 22), the MAI, as had been originally conceived, is dead.

However, it’s not clear if the victory is absolute. The promoters of
the MAI don’t seem to have been swayed. OECD member Johanna Selton is quoted in the
aforementioned Le Monde article as stating that, what is "controversial"
in the MAI must be given due consideration, but still believes in "la necessite d’un
cadre multilateral pour des investisseurs [the necessity for a multilateral framework for
investors]"–in other words, exactly what MAI critics found controversial to begin
with.

The same article quotes Leon Brittan, the European Commisary for
International Relations. Addressing the parliament of Strasbourg, he adhered to the
already leveled criticisms that the OECD is an inadequate forum for economic negotiations
such as the MAI. Instead, according to Brittan, we must turn to the WTO, since it includes
developing countries, and hence allows them a voice in decisions that will ultimately
affect them. This is also the official position of the French government.

The proposition holds some significance: the MAI was moved to the OECD
after 15 countries of the WTO originally rejected it (including India, Sri-Lanka,
Indonesia, Malaysia, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda, and Haiti–see Le Monde Diplomatique, May
1997). But it’s also problematic. Developing countries, once involved, can potentially
offer resistance against OECD-interested deals like the MAI, but just how decisively so is
debatable. The WTO-OECD shift is indicative of developing countries’ influence over such
deals. It’s unlikely, though, that they ultimately carry much weight in changing the MAI.
The MAI is American-initiated and is intended to advantage the profits of American big
business (and other institutions of that ilk), as well as expand the policies and
practices that are in keeping with American neoliberal capitalism. Subsequent alternations
to the contract may give consideration to certain priorities of developing countries, but
probably won’t alter the essential dynamics of the system: corporate business investing
abroad and further concentrating the vast majority of the wealth among the higher sectors
of the socio-economic ladder.

The point isn’t that nothing can be done, but that the hierarchical
framework shouldn’t be taken for granted. A possible alternative to the above scenario is
that the MAI gets dismantled. Though that isn’t likely if one accepts the principle of
wealthy investors using a given country’s labor and natural resources to rake in profit.
Possible (low-wage) employment in the invested country isn’t enough, if the essential
socio-economic dynamics remain unalternable–that is, if developing countries are really
just a support for capitalist expansion. If anything, the effort to include developing
countries in the deal may just be another way to fast track them into neoliberal global
consideration.

Another point of contention is just how representative governments are
of their country’s interests. The opposition in Malaysia and Indonesia, for example,
doesn’t prevent them from having been involved in APEC, an equally problematic treaty on
globalization. Such (though definitely not all) countries that are marked with vast
inequalities of wealth and few social programs to their remedy probably aren’t opposed to
the MAI on the basis of any popular interests. Government impotence in the face of foreign
investors was undoubtedly an issue of concern, more so than the welfare of the rest of the
country’s populace. This too escapes the framework of Brittan, Jospin, Le Monde, et
al.

The French government’s withdrawal remains an undeniable step against
the MAI. Increasing awareness surrounding the MAI arises from the efforts of epople who
are fundamentally opposed to it. It’s significant (and ironic) that the reporting in Le
Monde
(October 16, 22) hasn’t directly turned to any opponents of the MAI other than
government members: the grievances of "la societe civile" are paraphrased, but
nobody gets quoted. One can’t begrudge the token democratic efforts of a Brittan or Jospin
(or Le Monde). The residing impression remains that in the press, be it French or
North American (which doesn’t fare much better), not all sides of the debate have been
properly voiced.