bilaterals.org logo
bilaterals.org logo

Geopolitics & human rights

Bilateral free trade and investment agreements are not only economic instruments. They are tools to advance corporate and state geopolitical and “security” interests. Pro-free market journalist Thomas Friedman wrote: “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist — McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the builder of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies is called the United States Army, AirForce and Marine Corps.”

Neoliberal globalization and war are two sides of the same coin. Throughout many parts of the world there has been little “hidden” about the links between corporate interests, globalization, and militarization. Under the guise of the war on terror, the war on drugs and “humanitarian” missions, U.S. military forces continue to back U.S. corporate and geopolitical interests from Iraq to Colombia, from Honduras to the Philippines. We can see it in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and how the US Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded “reconstruction” contracts to corporate backers of the Bush Administration. We see it in plans for a U.S. free trade agreement with the Middle East by 2013, based on imposing a network of bilateral FTAs on individual Middle Eastern governments. We can see it in the renewed U.S. military presence in South East Asia, especially in their joint exercises with the Philippine military alongside a continued wave of killings of hundreds of activists linked to movements resisting imperialism. Their mission is to make the world safe for capitalism and the U.S. empire and to crush communities and economies organized around different values and principles. Free trade and free market policies are frequently accompanied by repression of dissent.

Meanwhile human rights is invoked cynically by governments to stave off criticism of FTA negotiations with countries whose human rights record is widely denounced as appalling. Canada, for example, claims that its controversial FTA with Colombia will help strengthen its social foundations “and contribute to a domestic environment where individual rights and the rule of law are respected”. Opponents argue that this deal will benefit Canadian mining and agribusiness TNCs, at the expense of the majority of Colombians who live with daily killings of trade unionists and other activists by paramilitaries linked to the state, while adding legitimacy to the pro-US, neoliberal Uribe regime (see Canada-Colombia section).

While US economic, trade and foreign policy invokes the “war on drugs” in relation to Central America and the Andean countries, Washington has "rewarded" its allies in the "war on terror" (e.g. Australia and Thailand) by negotiating FTAs with them while trumpeting its FTA with Morocco as proof of its support for “tolerant and open” Muslim societies. And it has demanded that the governments of Gulf countries scrap their boycotts of Israeli goods as part of FTA negotiations. Other governments also explicitly link their international trade and economic policy with security and geopolitical interests. For example, the EU-Syria agreement has a special provision committing Damascus to the pursuit of a “verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological and chemical, and their delivery systems”.

Besides the obvious ways in which US geopolitical concerns are embedded in Washington’s pursuit of bilateral trade and investment deals, other countries are also pursuing bilateral free trade and investment agreements to further geopolitical goals. Increasingly, we can see access to energy resources (eg. oil, gas, uranium, agrofuels and water) as a factor in determining the priorities of signing bilateral FTAs for countries such as China and Japan (see Energy & environment).

Photo: Limam Bachir / Western Sahara Resource Watch

last update: May 2012


The SPPNA or “deep integration”
It’s really not a secret accord. On March 23, 2005, presidents George W. Bush of the United States, Vicente Fox of Mexico, and Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada issued a joint declaration giving life to the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America (SPPNA), also known as NAFTA-plus, or North American Free Trade Agreement plus other accords.
The politics of Asia’s big deals
The US-South Korea free trade agreement comes at precisely the moment when America’s military presence on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly diminishing, anti-US nationalism in South Korea is growing and China is playing an ever more important leadership role in the region. "This FTA is about countering China," says Yang Sung Chul, a former US ambassador to South Korea, now professor at Korea University in Seoul. "It’s much more significant in strategic than economic terms."
NAFTA: Kicked up a notch
The expansion of NAFTA into the Security and Prosperity Partnership reveals the road ahead for other nations entering into free trade agreements. It is not a road most nations — or the US public — would take if they knew where it led.
Japan revs up its Indochina diplomacy
Amid intensifying rivalry between Tokyo and Beijing over influence in Asia, Japan is revving up its drive to strengthen relations with countries in Indochina, an economically backward but geopolitically important part of the region. The target countries are Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which are collectively referred to as the "CLV" countries.
Raw deal between Washington and Seoul
The US-Korea FTA cannot be seen apart from US-South Korean security ties, the presence in South Korea of more than 30,000 US troops and a 50-year economic relationship that has been heavily weighted towards American interests. From this perspective, the FTA is the fourth attempt by the United States to force its economic will on South Korea over the past half-century. By rejecting it, we can reject the flawed policies of corporate globalization while embracing a new relationship with the Korean people at the same time.
“Trade for Peace with Israel” falls short
The next time your Wal-Mart sweatpants read “Made in Jordan QIZ” on the label, consider the relationship between economic integration and peace. The truth might not be what you expect.
S Korea-US FTA may encourage North Korea to choose non-nuclear path: paper
A US-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) could show North Korea that economic liberalization would be a better guarantee of prosperity than nuclear brinkmanship, according to a paper re-issued by a conservative think tank on Tuesday.
Time to get serious about Israel
The UK House of Commons international development committee is calling on the Labour government to press for sanctions against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinian people. As a first step in putting pressure on the Israeli government to end this oppression, the UK should now urge its fellow members in the EU to consider suspending the EU-Israel association agreement, the cross-party committee says.
China vs Japan: FTAs, oil and Taiwan
China and Japan are locked in a rivalry over at least three flashpoints: Free trade agreements, particularly in the region; oil energy; and Taiwan.
Corporate complicity in Israel’s crimes
Originating as it does from illegally occupied land, settlement produce is supposed to be excluded from the preferential treatment which Israeli exports to the UK enjoy under the EU-Israel Association Agreement.