(en) Report on MAI hearings

Jay Brown (jay@tdg.ca)
Fri, 7 Nov 1997 09:39:33 +0000


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One man's interpretation of the hearings on the MAI, on Thurs., Nov.6 3:30 - 5:30...

It was Bob White VS. Big Business sat the hearings yesterday, and an interesting experience. The CLC had some great statements, which they had compiled into a brief of course. He questioned the need for the the agreement in the first place, the rush to get it done, and who it was really for. (It is noteworthy that the committee chair pointed out that they will still be there after this initial report, and open to submissions throughout the negotiations.)

Then the business clan, represented by the Can. Chamber of Commerce, IBM, and some international trade lawyer, said how excited they are about this, how the deadline is super, and the "brave new world" we are entering. (I doubt he is referring to the book!) They said we need this to provide an "open, transparent framework" for international trade, and the need to "eliminate discrimination" for international investors. Ug!

The Bloc MP had some decent questions about countries reducing their standards to attract investors and how the labour and env clauses should be implemented. And over the course of the hearing, the business side said it had "matured" since the FTA and NAFTA, and now agreed that social clauses _should_ be in the MAI, and that it was just a matter of "how." Bob White took them up on this and there was even talk of coming together to produce some standards. *shrug*

The Reform MP was obviously for the agreement, stating that there was some "hysteria" back in BC "revolving around misinformation." I can't remember his question, but it was a jab at the CLC and their position.

One of the liberal MPs, Baker, raised this issue of 'transfer pricing' and multinationals simply moving to the country with the lowest taxes. He suggested that this results in a "race to the bottom" with countries competing to have the "best environment for big business." Even went as far to point out that "Walmart(!) would be in a better competitive position than the Lawton's Drug Store in Gander, NFLD." This seemed pretty progressive for a Liberal MP questioning/confronting the business clan.

The NDP MP pointed out that the business stance was "we don't want to dictate any social, labour, or env stipulations, but we want to ensure that investment is protected and regulated." This was a major point within the debate, putting the business on defence and strengthening the social arguments. He also pointed out the one-sidedness of the regulations, and suggested that workers should have as much rights as the corporations. Then he proposed that labour unions in these countries should be able to sue their governments for unfair practices! He also brought up the issue of exempting social services from the agreement all together, and the CLC pointed out that the terms must be specific, as some services are delivered via not-for-profits subsidized by the gov, or in a mixed environment, but should still be protected.

Another Liberal, Mr.Nault, had some questions for Mr.White about the negotiation process and why this should even be in the public, as most negotiations are behind closed doors. Mr.White challenged that there has be an air of secrecy around this issue, and the fact that it is 20 years long and affects the entire planet. The MP said that Canada could not enter the discussion, state its desires, then walk away if we didn't get our way. Mr.White argued that he believes that the OECD would not proceed without us as we have a fair amount of international respect and authority, but the MP did not think that we are that important and "tend to over-estimate our status."

That interesting discussion resulted in another Liberal MP, the only woman at the table, pursuing the scenario of "what if we walked away from the negotiations?". She asked the business what the cost of non-participation might be, pointing out that we already have trade agreements with most of these countries. The guy from IBM replied "if we can't agree on investment with these countries, what can we agree on?"!!! I snickered out loud, as did several others.

The last part of this discussion was led by Liberal Mr.Nault about an environmental position. He pointed out the current state of env. awareness and management in Canada (noting that we try to take the lead in env affairs), and asking why we don't have a position on this in the agreement. He said it should not be a big stretch to come up with something, and suggested that business, labour, and the provinces could come up with a reasonable position. Finally, he noted that if we don't come up with some env clauses, then who will.

My optimistic view of the day is that most of the MPs have concerns with the current state of the MAI. Obviously the NDP has some great arguments and even the Bloc had a decent question, and a few of the Liberals (of those who showed up) had some social/environmental/rejection tendencies. This gives us something to work on, and targets to influence.

Therefore, I encourage you to fax any and all of the members, as well as Mr.Marchi, with your concerns, responses to their aforementioned points, or questions on the whole thing!!!

Peace, Jason Brown jay@tdg.ca /~~-------~0~_~0~--------~~\ Live the life you love, and love the life you live.

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