The Multilateral Agreement on Investment is an international treaty for investor, corporate and property rights that was to be established under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). But when France withdrew from MAI negotiations in October 1998 it effectively scuttled efforts to establish this global regime in the OECD.
However, the MAI is far from dead, and Canada is already actively promoting similar initiatives at the World Trade Organization and other fora. In fact, the prototype for the MAI is alive and well in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) where it currently serves as an important weapon for attacking government efforts to achieve health and environmental protection, and other societal goals. Similar investor protections can also been found in dozens of bilateral investment agreements that Canada has quietly negotiated over the past few years.
It is also important to understand that the MAI and the investment rules of NAFTA are elements of a larger corporate strategy to establish the rules upon which global systems of production and trade depend. Often described as globalization, the common themes of this agenda — de-regulation, privatization and free trade — explicitly seek to reduce the authority of governments to regulate corporate activity in the public interest. For these reasons understanding the MAI, its origins and, the larger context within which it exists, is as relevant today as it was before the wheels recently came off the OECD-MAI cart.