NGOs vow to stop investment treaty talks

Governments debate strengthening environmental safeguards in treaty today

Representatives of around 30 OECD governments met in Paris today to debate environmental safeguards in a new international treaty being drafted to govern global investment. A worldwide coalition of environment and development groups vowed yesterday to stop the treaty in its tracks after what has been described as a "lively" meeting with government delegations on Monday.

The treaty aims to encourage cross-border investment by regulating and reducing legal barriers, in the same way as the World Trade Organisation seeks to reduce barriers to trade. According to environmental groups, the more liberal investment regime envisaged could conflict with environmental protection.

If governments are forced to admit foreign investors, say World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Friends of the Earth, Consumers International, Greenpeace and tens of other environment and development groups, investing companies could attack environmental regulations as discriminatory. Conversely, some governments may be encouraged to compete for investment by lowering their environmental standards.

Governments were today expected to discuss ways to avoid such environmental harm.

One proposal is to affirm in the treaty governments' rights to protect human, animal or plant life, as long as the measures used are non-discriminatory. Another seeks to discourage governments from lowering their environmental standards in order to compete for investment.

A further proposal is to attach to the treaty an existing OECD code of conduct for multinational businesses requiring them to maintain appropriate environmental and labour standards in all their operations. Environmental groups say the measures are an afterthought, and that there has not been adequate discussion of these or other safeguards.

On Monday, an NGO coalition called on governments to delay adoption of the treaty next spring to give time for an independent review of its environmental implications. Governments refused both demands.

WWF campaigner Nick Mabey told ENDS Daily that the groups would now lobby their own governments to stop negotiating the treaty. He described it as "eminently defeatable". WWF has dubbed the treaty "suicidal", saying it will "severely restrict the ability of communities and governments to control and challenge the actions of multinational companies".

A government official who attended Monday's meeting said that the officials sent to negotiate the treaty did not have the authority to meet the NGOs' demands. Nevertheless, he said, the groups had succeeded in getting some of their messages across to delegations. He said some governments had expressed concern following the NGOs' claim that the draft treaty's dispute settlement mechanism could be abused to pressure governments into withdrawing environmental laws perceived as barriers to investment.

Follow Up:
OECD, tel: +33 1 45 24 82 00.

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