Trade Treaty Denounced

Article excerpt

Some 600 advocacy groups from 67 nations yesterday held worldwide protests against a proposed treaty they fear could create multinational corporate monoliths that would answer only to themselves.

In Washington, about two dozen protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans dumped a box of handcuffs on the steps of the Capitol to protest the treaty.

"It would handcuff Uncle Sam," said Sierra Club President Michael McClosky. "This is the worst of all the bad trade deals."

Opponents from the left and right of the political spectrum are lining up against the treaty, known as the Multilateral Agreement on Investments, which they fear could undermine national sovereignty and give corporate interests precedence over environmental, labor and even constitutional issues.

The demonstrations took place in advance of a meeting set for next week in Paris at which negotiators will decide how to proceed with talks that already have dragged on a year longer than planned.

Demonstrators carried signs that read "MAI - License to Loot" and "MAI = NAFTA on Steroids," referring to a 1994 trade pact between the United States, Mexico and Canada that has been unpopular with labor, environmental and consumer groups.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, Oregon Democrat, joined the group, calling the MAI "a stealth attack on a diverse group of things people hold dear."

Top-level U.S. negotiators will travel to Paris this weekend, where they'll meet with other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group of wealthy nations. The organization will decide whether it can meet an April deadline for closing talks on the treaty.

"Our thinking in the United States is that, for a number of reasons, it's going to be difficult to do that," said a U.S. official involved in the talks.

The world's richest nations have been negotiating the MAI for about three years. The talks are part of an unprecedented undertaking that seeks to establish a set of international rules governing nearly every kind of business transaction, from buying land to sweeping chimneys.

The MAI, among other things, would require nations to abandon preferences for domestic companies and would set up a panel to rule on complaints by corporations of unfair government treatment.

The pact is of particular interest to American companies, which have about $3 trillion in overseas investments, more than any other country. Foreign governments often make it extremely difficult or impossible for nondomestic companies to do business. …