Ethyl Corporation of America & NAFTAFrom: "SchNEWS" (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Fri, 21 Aug 1998 16:09:19 +0000
Subject: SchNEWS 180, 21 August 1998
THE CORPORATIONS HAVE TAKEN OVER THE ASYLUM
"Their influence has grown so much that today, of the world's richest economies, 51 are multinational corporations, and the total sales of the top 200 firms in the world are now equivalent to nearly 30% of global gross domestic product. Indeed, corporations have gained so much power over international political and economic life that we may well be entering a 'Brave New Corporate World'." - Ambika Chawla, A SEED
Four weeks ago the Ethyl Corporation of America, received $13 million from the Canadian government. Well, so what? The Ethyl Corporation make a chemical called methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl, MMT for short. MMT is a fuel additive, which is mixed with petrol in order to prevent engine knocking. It is also a dangerous neurotoxin. Manganese entering the body through the lungs causing nerve damage which can lead to psychosis, memory loss, and early death. In April 1997 the Canadian government decided to ban it.
Had the vote taken place three years earlier, the Ethyl Corporation would have had to abide by the decision. But, since 1994, corporations in Canada, the United States and Mexico have enjoyed a powerful new tool over elected authorities. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allows companies to sue governments which, they believe, raise unfair barriers to trade.
"It is the butterfly's wings over North America that will cause a hurricane in Europe." - George Monbiot
Ethyl sued the Canadian government for the 'expropriation' of its 'property' (namely its anticipated profits) and the 'damage' to its 'good reputation' caused by the parliamentary debate. It took its suit to NAFTA, where a secret tribunal whose records are not disclosed and whose decisions cannot be appealed, began to assess the case. Last month, the Canadian government realising that its chances of success were approx zero, settled with Ethyl, agreed to allow the corporation to resume its sales of MMT and announced that "MMT poses no health risk".
So what has any of this got to do with us? Well, the NAFTA rules that allowed Ethyl to sue the Canadian government are almost identical to those in the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI - see SchNEWS 141).
The MAI is a multinationals wet dream. Discussed in secret for the past couple of ears before activists let the cat out of the bag, it will, like NAFTA, give corporations the right to sue governments for even debating issues which may harm their profits. As SchNEWS predicted in October last year, the MAI 'will force governments to respond to economic pressures by abolishing worker protections, public safety regulations and measures protecting the environment'.
The Canadian 'pay the polluter' case should have alarm bells ringing in all of us. The signing of the MAI has been delayed, but the mentality of the multinationals will mean that a similar agreement will no doubt be rearing its ugly corporate head in the very near future.
from SchNEWS 180, 21 August 1998