The launch of www.bilaterals.org

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Freely translated by Anoosha Boralessa (December 2015). Not reviewed or revised by bilaterals.org or any other organization or person.

THE LAUNCH OF WWW.BILATERALS.ORG

A new website challenging bilateral free trade treaties and investment agreements

Silently, a wild fire of bilateral free trade and investment treaties is
spreading across the planet. But in more countries, popular movements are being mobilized to challenge these treaties and to neutralize their effect.

September 2004

Dear friends and colleagues,

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

Bilaterals?
From the beginning of the nineties, well before the collapse of Cancun negotiations for the World Trade Organization (WTO), the US has been aggressively pushing for bilateral free trade and investment agreements with countries in Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific. Other countries, powers such as the European Union, Canada, Switzerland and Japan, are doing the same, notably where the WTO negotiations’ direction and rhythm are not defined. In the meantime, other countries in the South, such as India and Thailand, are seeking to establish mutual bilateral trade and investment agreements.

Bilateral treaties create specific obligations on a number of issues which range from investment to intellectual property rights. They are used to obtain commitments that are clearer, go further and are more comprehensive than those that can be obtained, slowly and reluctantly, in a global forum such as the WTO. Many of the so-called free trade treaties (FTAs) have little to do with trade and are closely tied to politics. The United States has recently signed a trade agreement with Morocco, not so much to open markets in this country but to strengthen its political bargaining hand in the Arab World. Corporate lobby groups sit at the sidelines of these “negotiations” that are conducted in secret. Although bilateral trade negotiations have attracted far less attention than multilateral negotiations, as a general rule, their clauses are much more radical and their design is more akin to the failed Multilateral Investment Agreement (MAI). There are about 2,000 bilateral investment agreements (BITs) in force and the number of FTAs increases month after month.

Their impacts are serious. For example, today more businesses are using BITs as the basis for claims against governments for actions or omission that, they argue, interfere with their right to obtain profits. Azurix, a subsidiary of the former business Enron, is seeking to bring a claim under the US-Argentina BIT. The claim is for US$ 550 million and relates to a contractual dispute relating to the implementation of a privatized water system in the province of Buenos Aires. Today in Bolivia, where a popular resistance has been mobilized following the privatization of water supply in Cochabamba, Bechtel/Aguas del Tunari is claiming US$ 25 million from the government under the Netherlands – Bolivia BIT.

Whether in the form of free trade agreements, investment agreements, economic cooperation agreements or others, bilateral agreements are effective, covert instruments to guarantee new privileges and profits for big business, free from the monitoring and regulations of the multilateral system. They are being used to promote the interests of the most powerful governments at the expense of social, political, economic and ecological justice of most people in the world.

Why bilaterals.org?
From Australia to Ecuador, and passing through Thailand, different popular movements, NGOs, indigenous people and trade union associations have offered strong opposition to FTAs and investment agreements. At the beginning of this year, farmers in Korea had to confront a riot-control policy during a protest against an imminent FTA with Chile, which they understood, would trigger the destruction of their livelihood through an inundation of cheap Chilean products that would only benefit transnational agro-industrials. In Australia, people were enraged on account of the total bankruptcy of the national system of generic drugs that the government set up under the Australia-US FTA, to benefit US companies. Given that matters related to nutrition, water, health, job security, the environment, the future of media or the national sovereignty are at stake, these agreements are creating new rules and highly dangerous new realities. We need to deepen our capacity to understand these processes and to learn from experiences in each country to thus be able to build stronger movements against these instruments of neo-liberal globalization.

Those that struggle against bilateral treaties and investment agreements have proved that, while it has been difficult, it is essential to discuss our experiences inter se, share analysis and develop more comprehensive strategies. With this in mind, several organizations have agreed to set up an open and useful website that serves as a space allowing those with internet access to participate.

This is a collective website, which means no one owns it. All are welcome to participate. As this is a free publication site, anyone may post materials on it. Indeed, it is proposed as a space to be used by all who are interested in challenging bilateral agreements and analysing their consequences and in seeking strategies to act.

Bilaterals.org has a simple structure. It has three main sections:
notices and reflections on specific negotiations;
substantive analysis on key themes; and
access to the actual texts of bilateral treaties.

There are also sections for discussion forums, announcements of activities, actions and links to find more information. Currently the site only has primary research materials. We hope that, by each of you participating, these materials will be supplemented.

How to participate
To participate, all you need to do is register as a member of the site. This will allow you to post documents, photos or links, to participate in all the discussion forums and to become a member, if you so wish, of a list of contacts. Although the site is structured in English, you can post materials in any language. For more details, please visit the site www.bilaterals.org.

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

On behalf of those that launch the site,
Aziz Choudry
GATT Watchdog
Member, Commission of Coordinators, Asia-Pacific Research Network
Renée Vellvé
GRAIN
We launch this website in collaboration with the following groups:
Asia-Pacific Research Network
GATT Watchdog, Aotearoa/New Zealand (mailto:notoapec[at]clear.net.nz)
Global Justice Ecology Project, US
GRAIN, International
IBON, Philippines
XminY, Netherlands

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