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/* ---------- "How the Net killed the MAI" ---------- */
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
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
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 Web sites
The Council of Canadians and the Organization for Economic Co-operation
We welcome your comments.
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