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WTO Think-In

Remember the signals that came from Paris two years ago, indicating that the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment was "dead-in-the-water"? All those of us who opposed MAI celebrated, and rightly so! As we insisted throughout our campaigns, the MAI was essentially a "corporate rule treaty"?a bill of rights and freedoms for transnational corporations. Not only did the MAI contain a body of rules allowing foreign-based corporations to regulate governments (rather than the other way around), but it also gave these corporations the power to strike down unwanted environmental and social laws, policies, or programs originally put in place by democratically elected legislatures

It turns out that the MAI is not completely dead after all. Significant MAI features are about to resurface in the WTO. To be sure, attempts to kick-start negotiations in Seattle on a global investment treaty collapsed. But trade talks are now more than likely to proceed on the so-called "built-in agenda." It is important to realize that the mandate for the GATS [General Agreement on Trade in Services] negotiations includes MAI-like features such as the right for foreign-based corporations to own property and compete on equal terms with domestic corporations or even government programs.

Investment rules favoring trans-national corporations, built into the proposed GATS negotiations at the WTO, can have a direct impact on a broad range of public services that directly affect the daily lives of the vast majority of people on this planet?health care, education, social and postal services; culture, energy, environment, and water services, to name a few. If American Express, IBM, and a host of other big companies involved in the US Coalition on Services (their lobbying group) have their way, the GATS negotiations will give transnational corporations the right to bid on providing services such as education or national health programs. As the GATS negotiations proceed over the eighteen months leading up to the next trade summit meeting, let's beware of the MAI clones in the WTO!