The MAI and Australia [Stop MAI, updated 28
- Alerted by Canadian internet disclosure of
the MAI's contents, and by the ABC radio series "The Quiet Debate" transcribed on a website, the Australian Stop
MAI Coalition was formed in January 1998 with the
support of unionists, environmentalists, lawyers and
academics. Our first enquiries to the Government resulted
in a reluctant trickle of information from Treasury but
Australia's list of reservations was kept secret
from the public and Parliament alike.
- On 5 March 1998, Foreign Affairs Minister
Alexander Downer referred the matter of the MAI
(Multilateral Agreement on Investment), to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) to investigate whether it was in
Australia's national interest to sign the MAI. The minor
parties and ALP in the Senate laid down much more
demanding terms of reference.
- With little publicity, 792 submissions,
mostly opposing, were received in a month.
- The Inquirys Interim Report
tabled in both Houses on June 1st damned
Treasury and the Federal Department of Industry,
Science and Tourism which lists investment promotion as
part of its portfolio. Neither department was able to
present evidence, research or analysis to demonstrate
that the MAI was good for Australia. The report also
condemned the style of consultation in these terms:
1.28 The Committee acknowledges
that briefing sessions have been provided for
parliamentarians and their staff, but questions whether
these were an attempt at genuine consultation with the
Parliament by the Treasury in the development of the MAI
or whether they were merely information-providing in
response to the mounting public and political criticisms
of the agreement. We note that, up until
31 March 1998, certain select bodies were in the
privileged position of 'being consulted' and were given
access to the draft negotiating text and other material
at a time when it was denied to the Australian Parliament
and the public."
- The OECD was unable to complete the MAI
negotiations to its May 1998 deadline owing to
unresolved difficulties and concerns raised by opponents
over the lack of public consultation. Further talks of
the full negotiating committee were put off until 20-21
October, 1998, with a view to getting the treaty
signed in May, 1999. An OECD ministerial statement (ref.
nw98-50a, later annexed at the foot of nw98-51a)
announced that consultation would take place with civil
society and foreshadowed that investment rules would also
be pursued in the World Trade Organisation
- Negotiations continued between groups of
countries in an effort to resolve problems and, in the
case of France, citizens representatives were
- Australias senior Treasury official
responsible for negotiating the MAI, Mr Tony Hinton,
declined to attend JSCOT's May 6 public hearing on the MAI and, instead, flew to Paris
to attend the abortive MAI negotiations. (JSCOT proceedings are
listed on the web.)
- Stop MAI campaigners rallied popular
opinion through public meetings and media statements, but
were accorded little or no publicity by media, except the
ABC, throughout their campaign.
- In October 1998, a letter endorsed by
representatives of 140 Australian organisations and hundreds of individuals was delivered to
Prime Minister Howard and the chairman of the OECD Mai
Committee, urging suspension of negotiations and action
toward a more acceptable alternative. This was heavily
supported by churches, unions and academia.
- The host French Prime Minister, M.
Lionel Jospin, withdrew his team from the talks
on 14 October, saying the MAI unduly compromised national
sovereignty in favour of private interests. This action
removed any possibility of united European Union support.
- The remaining ministers were unable to
progress the MAI negotiations. UK Trade Minister, Brian
Wilson, stated that "the intention . . .to
present an agreement for signature in May
looked most unlikely and that the UK and
the European Union would seek further negotiations
through the World Trade Organisation.
- On 30 October, Australia's Cabinet
Secretary issued a statement that, at the OECD meeting
"it became clear that the MAI in its current form
will not go ahead." The Government had "agreed
to continue work on developing an international framework
of rules for investment. The MAI text. . . will now only
be a reference point for any further work."
- On November 11, representatives of
Australian civil society published an advertisement in The
Australian newspaper, calling on the Government to
withdraw from the MAI and not resume the negotiations in
any other forum.
The European Union is now laying foundations
for the negotiations to move in 1999 from the OECD to the World
Trade Organization (WTO), favoured also by Japan and the UK.
In May, 1999, Australia's Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade issued a manifesto, Global Trade Reform - supporting immediate
moves for trade liberalisation.