Journal of Legal Pluralism and Unofficial Law

(1999) JLP 44: 33-51


Caught in the Cross-Hairs:

Liberalizing Trade (Post-M.A.I.) and Privatizing

the Right to Fish:

Implications for Canada's Native Fisheries


Melanie G. Wiber




This paper asks questions about the interaction between international law and the law of nations and localities. In particular, it explores the potential impact on property rights of a proposed rule-based, international agreement on the liberalization of global investment. While such investment agreements already exist in bilateral or multilateral form, a truly international level of rule-making for investors will have a tremendous impact on the property control options of governments, corporations and individuals. An illustration is provided by an agreement known as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), which until October 1998 was under negotiation among the 29 member countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Subsequent attempts at similar agreements are still proceeding, among the members of the OECD, the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and smaller blocks of regional cooperating nation states. The paper shows how such agreements and their attendant 'investor's rights', are reordering access globally to important natural resources, using fishing rights (particularly aboriginal fishing rights in Canada) as one example of the process. The primary concern is to explore how these expanding levels of law at the international level are having unforeseen negative effects on local-level access to productive resources.