Could be a time-bomb!
Groups want more public debate on Multilateral Agreement on Investment

by Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Apr 22/98) - Yellowknife-based social and economic development groups say the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) could be a potential time-bomb.

And if it explodes, these groups wonder not only what the effects will be, but also if anyone will hear it.

MAI is a proposed international economic development agreement being negotiated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The OECD includes about 30 of the world's most developed nations, among them Canada, the US, Mexico, European countries, Australia and New Zealand.

The deadline for the agreement was last May but was extended one year.

Arguments for MAI include opening new markets and a more efficient global economy.

One of the big concerns in the North is local hiring, Suzette Montreuil and Aggie Brockman of Alternatives North said.

The agreement would "prevent governments from requiring foreign investors to hire locally," Montreuil said.

"The MAI will prevent governments from making foreign companies hire locally or meet job creation targets. Governments could no longer create jobs by forcing foreign companies to purchase local goods from local Canadian firms because this would discriminate against (foreign) corporations," she said.

Another concern is that subsidies given locally would have to be extended to foreign companies. MAI could affect affirmative action and the North's business incentive policy, she said.

MAI could also effect Northern impact and benefits agreements negotiated between resource companies and aboriginal groups.

Under MAI, these agreements could be in jeopardy because they favor local groups.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus wants Western Arctic MP Ethel Blondin-Andrew to set up a public meeting in the North so people can learn more about MAI.

"The Dene are at various tables negotiating their future relationship with Canada, including the economic independence of their communities, and want to be assured that the MAI will not adversely affect the outcome of their discussions," Erasmus said.

Other areas of concern include health care, preserving Canadian culture and the environment.

Montreuil also said in January she asked a GNWT cabinet member about the agreement and the answer was "the what?" She wouldn't say which cabinet member was unaware of MAI.

But if you are in the dark about MAI, maybe it is because the federal government is not saying much about it, Yellowknife alderman Kevin O'Reilly said.

O'Reilly said MAI is not part of any official government Web site.

Those interested in the controversial agreement have to find out about it through non-governmental organizations, he said.

Yellowknife city council has passed a resolution calling for public debate.

NWT Federation of Labor representative Dave Talbot said: "I see (MAI) as something brought about in a secretive manner."

Talbot said the agreement could override everything from the Canadian Constitution to municipal government.

"There are few occasions when business and labor agree on an issue so it must be serious," NWT Chamber of Commerce executive director Bob Brooks said.

The federal government has been in consultation with OECD with no consultation with anyone, Brooks, also a Yellowknife alderman, said.

Asked about MAI opening up opportunities abroad for Canadian companies, Brooks said Canada already does business in other countries. He added that just because this agreement would allow Canadian companies to "pillage" other markets, does not make it right.

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