One Step Ahead

The European Roundtable of Industrialists63 has long been deeply involved in the push for investment liberalization, and has built a very comprehensive strategy to this end. While supporting the MAI, its main objective is an investment agreement at the WTO.64 As early as its 1993 report "European Industry - A Partner for the Developing World", the ERT had stressed the need for "a GATT for investment" and "an institution that could take stock of improvements and be able to lock in the process of liberalization".65 This point has been often repeated in the five reports on investment produced by the ERT North-South working group since 1993. ERT president Helmut Maucher, who also heads the International Chamber of Commerce and is the CEO of Nestlé, chairs this working group.

The ERT has long played an active role in setting the EU policy agenda. In making the case for investment deregulation, roundtable members are in direct contact with European leaders and the European Commission as well as with Third World governments. The Roundtable is jubilant about the positive effects achieved by two of its proposed tools to further economic globalization: competition on rules (the race to provide companies with the most favourable investment conditions) and benchmarking (encouraging countries to compare their investment climate, including levels of deregulation). "Competition on rules and benchmarking have proven to be among the most effective drivers of the present process of opening the economy, deregulating and modernizing the institutions for private business investments."66 These concepts, presented in a 1993 survey on investment67 have been eagerly adopted by decision makers: "In the developing world it positively influenced attitudes and policies ... it may have had an impact on the views and policies of the European Commission and European governments in external economic relations in many different ways."68

The ERT advocates an investment agreement within WTO which would include the main elements of the MAI but would extend even further. According to the ERT, a WTO treaty should ensure "continuous opening, also on the sub-federal level" through "rules and criteria for efficient public policy benchmarking and institutionalized peer review".69 The WTO treaty should be flexible in order to "extend the coverage of the framework to additional relevant areas". The ERT's dream treaty would also include international competition policy "able to address structural impediments" to market access which foreign investors might come across, "defining the relevant market as more and as global".

The ERT seems overly optimistic about the time frame for the completion of the WTO agreement they desire, proposing a "structured debate on strategy and concepts for a global agreement on investment at the next WTO Ministerial expected in June 1998," and the "rapid conclusion of an agreement of the new kind".70 No doubt they will receive full support from the European Commission, one of the main advocates of a MIA within the WTO. Trade Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan, in reaction to the 1996 ERT survey on conditions for foreign investment, said: "I was particularly struck by the message that we needed to think about the best role of international negotiation, and to strike a balance between using the WTO to establish agreed best practice and using the WTO process to create more modern and dynamic instruments such as public policy benchmarking. My own hope is that WTO can do both."71

The ERT has strategically facilitated the softening of developing country opposition to a WTO investment agreement. Many Third World countries have argued that discussion on investment should be held within the framework of the UNCTAD, so at the end of 1997 the ERT co-organized a meeting on investment with this organization. In attendance were 16 CEOs from ERT member companies (including ABB, British Petroleum, Krupp, Nestlé and Shell) ICC Secretary General Maria Livanos Cattaui, and 25 Geneva-based ambassadors. The meeting, focused on "dialogue on matters concerning FDI and the development dimension of the issues and concepts relevant to a possible multilateral framework on investment", used the June 1997 ERT investment report as a basis for discussions.72

Overview corporate lobby groups

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