Pit Schultz on Tue, 19 May 1998 15:56:26 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> Madeleine Drohan: How the Net Killed the MAI


-Grassroots groups used their own globalization to derail deal-

 Wednesday, April 29, 1998

 By Madelaine Drohan

PARIS -- High-powered politicians had reams of statistics and analysis
on why a set of international investing rules would make the world a
better place.

They were no match, however, for a global band of grassroots
organizations, which, with little more than computers and access to the
Internet, helped derail a deal. 

Indeed, international negotiations have been transformed after this week's
successful rout of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) by
opposition groups, which -- alarmed by the trend toward economic
globalization -- used some globalization of their own to fight back. 

Using the Internet's capability to broadcast information instantly
worldwide, groups such as the Council of Canadians and Malaysia-based the
Third World Network have been able to keep each other informed of the
latest developments and supply information gleaned in one country that may
prove embarrassing to a government in another. By pooling their
information they have broken through the wall of secrecy that
traditionally surrounds international negotiations, forcing governments to
deal with their complaints. 

"We are in constant contact with our allies in other countries," said
Maude Barlow, the Council of Canadians' chairwoman. "If a negotiator says
something to someone over a glass of wine, we'll have it on the Internet
within an hour, all over the world." 

The success of that networking was clear this week when ministers from the
29 countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
admitted that the global wave of protest had swamped the deal. 

"This is the first successful Internet campaign by non-governmental
organizations," said one diplomat involved in the negotiations. "It's been
very effective." 

The OECD, which represents largely the major industrial economies,
yesterday halted the negotiations aimed at developing international rules
for foreign investment, similar to those for trade in goods. It is unclear
when, or even if, the OECD will try again. 

The irony in this outcome is that the OECD, which has been an ardent
advocate of globalization and has done much research into its effects, did
not recognize that advocacy groups would use cyber-globalization to
further their own ends. 

OECD secretary-general Donald Johnston conceded that the OECD was caught
flat-footed: "It's clear we needed a strategy on information,
communication and explication," he told a press conference. 

The OECD's efforts to harness the Internet have not caught up in colour,
content and consumer friendliness to those of the advocacy groups. 

For example, the OECD report released this week on the benefits of opening
markets to trade and investment is a compilation of statistics and
analysis written in language more readily understood by economists than by
the average person. Instead of finding examples of real people who have
benefited from globalization to help trade ministers make this case, the
report repeats many of the same statistics on economic growth, investment
and the dangers of protectionism. 

By comparison, hundreds of advocacy groups, in attempting to galvanize
opposition to the MAI, used terms and examples that brought their message
home to the public. Their sites on the Internet's Worldwide Web are
colourful and easy to use, offering primers on the MAI that anyone could

Canadian Trade Minister Sergio Marchi has taken the OECD to task for its
poor communications effort, although he agrees some of the blame must be
shared by the member governments. He said the lesson he has learned is
that "civil society" -- meaning public interest groups -- should be
engaged much sooner in a negotiating process, instead of governments
trying to negotiate around them.  Ms. Barlow of the Council of Canadians,
which says it has more than 100,000 members, called the OECD report on the
benefits of globalization "pathetic." In an interview in Paris, where she
was taking part in a protest against the MAI, Ms. Barlow said the
immediacy of the Internet has changed the dynamics of advocacy campaigns. 

She is a veteran of the campaigns against the Canada-U.S. free-trade
agreement and the North American free-trade agreement. The Internet was
not in widespread use when those campaigns were conducted. 

Today, however, advocacy groups make sure useful information ends up in
the right hands right away. "If we know something that is sensitive to one
government, we get it to our ally in that country instantly," she said. "I
don't think governments will ever be able to do these kind of secret trade
negotiations again." 

For example, when the Council of Canadians got its hands on a draft
version of the MAI last year, it immediately posted it on its Web site and
made sure allies around the world knew it was there through E-mail

The Internet also provides a low-cost way for groups in the Third World to
get their message out and keep on top of developments. "All they need is
one computer," Ms. Barlow said. 

The major Internet sites of these advocacy groups provide hyperlinks to
others involved in the campaign, as well as phone numbers and E-mail
addresses, and often bibliographies of relevant books. 

It adds up to a powerful tool that the advocacy groups are using to better
effect than governments and the OECD at the moment. Ms. Barlow predicts
that this advantage may not last now that the OECD members have seen its
potential. "They'll be revving up their PR machines." 

But so are the advocacy groups. The next stage, she said, is to start
making suggestions about what should be in trade agreements, rather than
just opposing what the negotiators propose. 

The groups are already trading ideas on solutions, and another aspect of
globalization -- the growing spread of English -- is easing their way.
"Pretty well everybody speaks English," said Ms. Barlow. 

"It's the universal language."

Tony Clarke, director of the Canadian Polaris Institute, stresses that
anti-MAI groups such as his are not against all aspects of globalization
-- their use of the Internet itself is proof of that. 

"We're against this model of economic globalization," he said, referring
to the MAI. "But the global village, the idea of coming together and
working together, is a great dream." 



related links:

Over 600 International Organizations opposing the multilateral
aggreement on investment (MAI)

Index of campaign sites:

a critical analysis of MAI:


another commentary:


Chairman of the Negotiating Group on MAI, Frans Engering, will
recommend OECD governments not to sign the MAI Treaty at the OECD
Ministerial Conference in Paris 27-28 April 1998.

According to Engering this means at least a year further delay for
negotiations until the next OECD Ministerial in the spring of 1999.

Engering made these statements this morning at a conference in Utrecht,
the Netherlands, on Development in Africa, organized by the
Evert Vermeer Foundation.

This is the first time that the Chairman of the Negotiation Group admits
that signing in April is not feasible.

Anti-MAI campaigners all over the world may prepare for festivities to
celebrate a major victory when the crisis in the MAI negotiations becomes
official at the OECD Ministerial next month.

Engering acknowledged the failure of the April deadline during a heated
debate about the development impacts of the MAI. Remarkable was his
repeated support for an multilateral investment treaty within the framework
of the World Trade Organisation.

This indicates that whether or not the MAI will be shelved, the pressure
for a MAI-like investment treaty will remain.

For more information, contact Olivier Hoedeman and Erik Wesselius at
Corporate Europe Observatory ceo@xs4all.nl

From: Corporate Europe Observatory

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