The provisions of an international agreement to liberalize investment rules around the world are causing concern among not only social justice activists, but pro-life and pro-family supporters as well.

The concern is serious enough to warrant a former federal cabinet minister calling the pact “the most frightening proposal to come before the Canadian people in my lifetime.”

The Multi-lateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is being quietly hammered out in Paris by the 29 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, including Canada, the U.S., most European countries, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico and Korea. The process was begun in 1995 to create “a level playing field” for investors in signatory countries and remedy the supposed weaknesses of World Trade Organization provisions on investment issues.

Although the agreement was expected to be ratified by the May 1997 OECD ministerial meeting, various complexities and major, unresolved differences prompted the setting of a new deadline for May of this year. But a recent Toronto Star report suggests public fears have moved the federal government to take a second look at signing the deal.

And, significantly, most developing countries have not wanted to be part of the talks because they have major restrictions on foreign investment and are in no hurry to deregulate. The MAI’s advocates, however, hope that by having a large group of countries initially sign the deal, more will follow out of a fear that they won’t be able to remain competitive and attract investment.

Critics say blackmail may also be used to bully developing countries into signing. The scenario is that these poorer countries will be denied World Bank and IMF loans, investment or economic aid, thus ushering in another period of neo-colonialism for them.

The MAI’s supporters claim the pact will both promote and generate global wealth and prove to be an economic boon to Canada. “Powerful new trading and investing economies in Asia and Latin America have emerged to compete vigorously with North America and Europe,” the federal government said in a statement. According to International Trade Minister Sergio Marchi, MAI will “ensure that investment and trade continue to translate into jobs and prosperity for Canadians at home.”

During a phone-in program last May, former international trade minister Art Eggleton charged that opponents of the MAI are simply “fear mongering” and that the pact is “good for the country.” But opponents say the agreement serves as little more than a charter of rights for multi-national corporations – and such rights would supersede those of governments and individuals for a minimum of 20 years. It is this fact that most troubles pro-life and pro-family representatives.

Bill Mullally, an adviser with Campaign Life Coalition in Toronto, said the agreement has the makings of another, surreptitious United Nations initiative towards one-world government and population control. “Let’s say that at some point in the future, when a Canadian abortion law is in place, an international consortium tries to open up in Canada a multi-purpose clinic whose services include abortion.

“Under the MAI, the consortium could, through an international court based in Europe, sue a Canadian government if that government tried to restrict its activities in any way. And, there would be no recourse to appeal of the court’s decision.”

Winifride Prestwich, an Interim columnist and analyst of international affairs particularly when the United Nations is involved, said the fact that the UN has a hand in the MAI is reason enough for concern. “Anything at all connected with the United Nations is dangerous,” she said.

The MAI is based largely on a background paper written by University of Toronto business professor Alan Rugman – who also served on the international trade advisory committee that created the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement in 1988. According to a recent article in Canadian Dimension magazine, its roots lie in pressures exerted by the U.S. Council for International Business, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. State Department.

Canadian Dimension says the secrecy surrounding the negotiations is evident in the fact that the word “confidential” was stamped on every page of draft MAI documents that were obtained by social justice advocates.

Observers say the MAI essentially makes it illegal to discriminate against foreign corporations, and that government regulations on the environment, labour, social programs – and, one would assume, abortion – are only acceptable if they are not inconsistent with the “performance requirement” provisions of the agreement.

Those provisions prohibit a government from applying measures in “an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner” or from taking steps that disguise “restriction on investment.” But what that means is open to wide interpretation. The Canadian Environmental Law Association, for example, observes that rulings under disputes over the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade have consistently gone against national health standards, “leading to the systemic elimination of governmental options previously thought available.”

Tony Clarke, head of the Polaris Institute and former social affairs director for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, says the MAI gives corporations “quasi-diplomatic status,” thus putting corporate rights over those of citizens.

“What happens,” Clarke said, “is that corporations are in a position actually to take away the powers of governments to serve and protect the democratic rights of their citizens through legislation, with little or no recourse in return.”

Joe Gunn, director of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’  social affairs commission, says the CCCB is concerned about the MAI’s ability to weaken the ability of governments to protect their peoples. The CCCB in 1979 produced a document that observed multi-national corporations are “a new form of economic power and domination” that represents “a serious threat to the common good of peoples and nations.”

Paul Hellyer, who was a cabinet minister with federal Liberal governments during the 1960s, noted in a recent speech that the MAI is “the most frightening proposal to come before the Canadian people in my lifetime.” He currently serves as leader of the Canadian Action Party.

“Our very existence as a nation is at stake,” he said. “If the MAI is signed, there is a strong probability that within 10 years, we will have to lower the Maple Leaf flag and run up the Stars and Stripes in its stead.”

Hellyer said the agreement is “pure poison” for Canada and other small countries, because one of its goals is the systematic elimination of nation-specific exceptions.

“Nations are being asked to surrender their rights to legislate on behalf of their people and put their fate in the hands of multi-national corporations and international banks whose interests may be inimical to the welfare of citizens.”

Hellyer concluded that globalization is not a panacea that will lead to universal prosperity, but rather will create a world in which a few people will become very rich while the majority stagnates. “In the end, the (economic) system will crash one more time,” he predicted.