WHAT WILL THE MAI DO FOR CANADA'S LIBRARIES?
Absolutely nothing! Read on for more
WHAT IS THE MAI?
The MAI, or Multilateral Agreement on Investment,
is a treaty being
negotiated by the OECD countries to facilitate the flow of capital across
borders and around the world. Paving the way for the "global economy",
the MAI proposes to create a "level playing field" for investors by
drawing up investment guidelines and by standardizing the treatment of
foreign investment globally. Unfortunately, this treaty would be
devastating for the citizens of the signatory countries. All sectors of
society would be affected including labour, the environment, health care,
education and culture, as capital finds itself free to flow everywhere,
even into areas that are now considered public.
Often referred to as "NAFTA on steroids",
the MAI is a similar type of
treaty, but one that goes well beyond NAFTA in granting multinational
corporations incredible powers, most notably by preventing governments
from creating new laws, and enabling corporations to take governments to
court for trying to enforce existing laws, should these laws (new or
existing) conflict with the articles of the MAI.
Sound incredible? But it's true.
The MAI would affect countries all over
the world, starting with the OECD
member states, and working its way into the developing world. All sectors
of society would be affected. Contrary to popular belief, a belief
encouraged somewhat by mainstream media's reporting on the issue, the MAI
is not dead. It is very much alive, just resting.
WOULD LIBRARIES BE AFFECTED BY THE MAI?
Yes. Public libraries could disappear
Under the MAI's "national treatment" clause,
foreign corporations have the
right to the same treatment as national companies. They must not be
discriminated against and must receive the same perks as nationals.
Because libraries receive subsidies from
the government, and because
subsidies fall within shooting range of the MAI, libraries could find
themselves in jeopardy.
Consider the following scenario: A foreign
"information services" company
enters (in this case) Canada and sets up operation. The company defines
its services as similar to those offered by libraries here in Canada. It
then demands equal treatment with Canadian libraries under the articles of
the MAI. Equal treatment would include government subsidies, and the
government would then be faced with the following options in response to
1. Subsidize the information services companies
to the same degree as
2. Decrease subsidies to libraries, and then extend this decreased level
of assistance to the foreign corporations as well.
3. Cut funding to libraries altogether and thereby avoid subsidizing every
information services company that enters Canada.
Option #3 is the government's most probable
choice, or, less likely,
option #2. Libraries are already struggling under current funding levels.
The worst case scenario could be a complete closure of public libraries
due to lack of funds. Another possibility is that they would take the
initiative and start their own fund-raising, including fee-for-service
schemes, a trend that has already found roots in some library systems in
The end result would be reduced service
to the public. Potentially, they
could lose access through libraries and have to pay the information
services companies for the information they need, or, should libraries
survive, the public would be required to pay them for services that were
once free. Libraries would be in competition with corporations and
information would become a commodity in the marketplace.
At the moment, there is some assurance
of equitable access to information
for all citizens. If the above scenario were to play itself out,
information access could be restricted to all but the richest in our
Education and health care have been pin-pointed
as potential casualties
under the MAI. Consider the possibility of privatized education - schools
and post secondary institutions vying for paying "customers". How will
academic libraries fare? We could see the day when academic libraries
will serve only those who can prove they've paid the price of admission.
How about cooperation between libraries? Will interlibrary loan become a
thing of the past?
OTHER POTENTIAL THREATS
Copyright legislation could come under
fire. Specifically, the
fair dealings clause, which allows library users to make a copy of a part
of a work for personal use only. A corporation (such as a publisher)
could easily see such copying as an interference in their ability to make
a profit and could challenge it at an international tribunal at the World
Trade Organization. Under the MAI's "expropriation" clause, which states
that any obstruction of a corporation's ability to make a profit is
challengeable, they could be successful at such a bid.
Another concern stems from the MAI's lack
requirements for multinational corporations. At the moment, Canadian
libraries are required to use Canadian distributors to acquire their
materials. Given the above scenario, where information services companies
could be competing with libraries, the foreign corporations would not be
required to use local distributors, buy local materials, or support local
authors. Clearly, the collections in Canadian libraries could suffer, to
say nothing of the book trade and the health of our literary communities.
One dominant culture could emerge around the world.
The scenarios presented here could play
themselves out the world over,
differing in the details but having the same overall effect: a reduction
in the quality of life of the general population and the health and
vitality of the society, all in the name of the global corporation's
right to make a profit.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO VOICE YOUR CONCERN
To date, there has been no public input.
The British Columbia government
has openly opposed the MAI and will be holding public hearings in the fall
- Concerned citizens are welcome to submit briefs stating their concerns.
- If you are not a resident of BC, write
your provincial government,
demanding similar hearings in your province. Provinces that have spoken
out against the MAI include: PEI, British Columbia, the Yukon and
- On the federal level, voice your opposition
to the treaty by
contacting the Honourable Sergio Marchi, Minister for International Trade:
fax: (613) 947-4452; email: Marchi.S@parl.gc.ca and the Office of the
Prime Minister: fax: (613) 941-6900 or send an email through the following
Finally, stay informed on the issues of
globalization and the MAI. Spread
the word and educate others. Knowledge and public outcry are the world's
best weapons against this treaty and others like it. The following
websites contain up-to-date information on the MAI, including the draft
text of the actual agreement: http://www.canadians.org/mai.html and
In April 1998, the British Columbia Library
Association added its voice to
the growing number of organizations opposed to the treaty. We invite you
to take this information back to your home province and petition your own
association to take similar action.
BCLA Information Policy Committee
prepared by Fiona Hunt