Announcing www.bilaterals.org

ANNOUNCING WWW.BILATERALS.ORG

A NEW WEBSITE AGAINST BILATERAL FREE TRADE & INVESTMENT AGREEMENTS

A rash of bilateral free trade and investment agreements is spreading
quietly and quickly across the planet. But peoples’ movements in a growing
number of countries are mobilising to fight and neutralise them.

September 2004

Dear friends and colleagues,

We would like to invite you to participate in a new collaborative website to
support the struggle against bilateral free trade and investment agreements:
www.bilaterals.org.

Bilaterals?

Since the early 1990s, well before the collapse of the World Trade
Organisation (WTO) talks in Cancun, the US has been aggressively pushing
bilateral free trade and investment agreements on countries in Latin
America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific. Other powerful
governments, like the European Union, Canada, Switzerland and Japan, are
doing the same, especially as the direction and pace of WTO talks remain
uncertain. Meanwhile, a number of governments in the global South, like
India and Thailand, are pursuing bilateral trade and investment agreements
with each other.

Bilateral deals create specific obligations on a range of issues, from
investment to intellectual property rights. They are used to get faster,
deeper and more comprehensive commitments than is possible in a slow and
fractious global forum like the WTO. Many so-called free trade agreements
(FTA) have little to do with trade and much to do with politics. The US
recently signed a trade pact with Morocco not so much to open markets there,
but to gain political leverage in the Arab world. Corporate lobby groups
call the shots in these "negotiations", which are conducted in secret. While
bilaterals have attracted far less attention than multilateral trade talks,
their provisions often go much further and better resemble the radical
blueprint of the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). There
are over 2,000 bilateral investment treaties (BITs) in force and the number
of FTAs is rising by the month.

The impacts are severe. For example, a growing number of companies are now
using BITs to sue governments for actions or omissions which they claim
interfere with their right to make a profit. Former Enron subsidiary Azurix
is leaning on a US-Argentina BIT to sue Argentina for US$550 million over a
dispute involving a contract to run a privatised water system in Buenos
Aires province. In Bolivia, after a people’s struggle reversed the
privatisation of Cochabamba’s water supply, Bechtel/Aguas del Tunari is
claiming US$25 million from the government under a Netherlands-Bolivia BIT.

Be they free trade agreements, investment treaties, economic partnership
pacts or others, bilateral agreements are effective, hidden tools to secure
new privileges and wealth for large corporations outside the control of the
multilateral system. And they are being used to advance the geopolitical
interests of powerful governments at the expense of social, political,
economic and ecological justice for the majority of the world’s peoples.

Why bilaterals.org?

From Australia to Ecuador to Thailand, people’s movements, NGOs, indigenous
peoples and trade unions have mounted strong opposition to bilateral trade
and investment agreements. In Korea earlier this year, farmers clashed with
riot police over an impending FTA with Chile, which they saw leading to the
destruction of their livelihoods through a flood of cheap Chilean produce
benefiting only transnational agribusiness. In Australia, the public has
been enraged by the government’s "selling out" of the national generic drug
system under the new US-Australia FTA for the benefit of US companies.
Whether the issue is food, water, health, job security, the environment, the
future of the media or national sovereignty, these deals are creating
dangerous new rules and realities. We need to deepen our understanding of
these processes and learn from each others’ experiences in different
countries in order to build stronger movements against these instruments of
neoliberal globalisation.

Those campaigning against bilateral trade and investment deals have often
found it difficult but necessary to link up with others to compare notes,
share analysis and develop broader strategies. With that in mind, several
organisations agreed to start a collaborative and open website as a space
where people with access to the internet can do that. This website is
collective, meaning no one owns it and everyone is welcome to participate.
It is an open-publishing site, so anyone can post their own materials to it.
It is really meant to be used by anyone interested in confronting these
bilateral agreements and analysing their implications, and strategising on
what can be done.

Bilaterals.org is structured simply. It has three main sections: news and
reflections about specific negotiations; background analyses of key thematic
issues; and access to the texts of bilateral treaties themselves. It also
has sections for online discussions, sharing action alerts and links for
going further. At present, the site just carries basic starting materials,
which we hope will grow with your involvement.

How to participate

To participate, all you need to do is to register as a member of the site.
This will allow you to post documents, photos or links, participate in the
discussion forums and be listed as a contact person if you wish. While the
site is structured in English, you can post materials in any language. For
more details, please go to www.bilaterals.org.

We hope that you will join this initiative and share this message with
others in your movements and networks who might be interested.

On behalf of the website initiators,

Aziz Choudry
GATT Watchdog
Member, Board of Convenors, Asia-Pacific Research Network

Renée Vellvé
GRAIN

The groups that have jointly initiated this website are:

- Asia-Pacific Research Network
- GATT Watchdog, Aotearoa/New Zealand (mailto:notoapec[at]clear.net.nz)
- Global Justice Ecology Project, USA
- GRAIN, international
- IBON, Philippines
- XminY, Netherlands

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