Thanks for tackling the trade/investment and human rights issue. From my experience with Canadian Friends of Burma, public debate and research into this dilemma lag far behind the policy contradictions that surround it.Thus, since Foreign Minister Axworthy imposed trade sanctions on Burma last August, several new Canadian investors, mainly in the mining sector, have gone into Burma. Robert Friedland's Indochina Goldfields is now the biggest foreign mining investor in the country. Despite our sanctions Canadian importers continue to bring in more than $10 million worth of cheap cotton clothes from Burma annually, to be sold in Canadian stores.
There are three interlocking factors: globalization, the place of human values in foreign and trade policy, and the current struggle between the nation state and international corporations. In a few brief years the world has become relatively tightly knit by money and information networks. Those same years have exposed the falsity of three myths: that the fruits of capitalism will inevitably trickle down to create a democracy-loving middle-class in the developing countries, that financial markets are self-correcting, and that so-called constructive engagement will work in Burma.
At the same time free-trade agreements have limited our capacity as a country to restrain those investors and traders who profit from their economic ties with reprehensible regimes. The Department of Foreign Affairs tells us there is nothing they can do about this unless we can prove imports are made by slave or child labor, or that Burma is a threat to Canada's peace and security. Sure, we can all refuse to buy pyjamas with Made in Myanmar labels. But how do you boycott a mining company or a stock exchange?
Margaret Doxey, whose remarks Hanna Newcombe reported, (Peace, Jan/ Feb 1998) has it right. Targeted sanctions and international isolation are much preferable to broad economic sanctions. Many believe that it was South Africa's imposed isolation from world sporting and cultural events that finally tipped the balance against the apartheid regime. But some regimes, such as Burma, resist the world's pleas for reform, and are kept in power only by fear and foreign money, so that only effective economic sanctions will work. At the moment Canada's sanctions are not effective. If the MAI happens, it will further prevent human values from influencing foreign and trade policy.
Penny Sanger, Ottawa
I enjoyed your article on the Taliban (October 1997) but didn't notice any linking of that group to the U.S. support that enabled their success. The support was laid out in a (Manchester) Guardian Weekly article a couple of years ago, and the support is evident when one looks at their friends and enemies; Afghans, I gather, believe there is that connection. But it is rarely pointed out. I don't know whether this support still exists but it certainly was there initially.
Your editorial (Jan/Feb 1998) asks whether the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is a peace issue. I believe it is certainly that, and more.
Wherever TNCs tread and demand new "rights and privileges" you can bet your bottom loonie that instability, tensions between countries, and war itself will follow. MAI would reinforce this inherent and historically proven characteristic of the march of capital in search of profits. Any opposition to MAI contributes towards challenging the real roots of war. In capitalism's imperialist form these now seek new powers through MAI for its TNCs and other agencies to recolonize (globalize) the world and maximize profits. To urge that "we stay more closely focused on weapons" rather than preoccupy ourselves with MAI is a sterile formula. It would separate and even oppose critical elements that together make up the struggle for a meaningful world peace and security.
This struggle surely includes weapons, and in particular mass destruction weapons, the urgent concern of a new international initiative to abolish nuclear weapons. Other components of an integrated goal are human rights, social and economic justice, and a clean environment. Pursued together they can win a lasting peace.
In a personal exchange with Tony Clarke, co-author of the important book "MAI" at the time of the recent U of T teach-in "Challenging Corporate Rule," Clarke agreed MAI-and-Peace was a vital issue and indicated he was considering another book to cover this theme. I look forward to its appearance.
Mark Frank Thornhill, ON