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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).

last update: May 2012


Malawi’s ’free trade’ revolt
If bickering US presidential candidates are wondering why the Iraqi economy is in disarray, why Chavez is popular in much of Latin America and why so many people in the developing world see US-led globalization and free trade as a form of servitude, they might take a careful look at Malawi’s peaceful and successful economic revolution.
Joining the fold
The US since 2000 espoused even closer links between its strategic interests and trade liberalisation. Europe is not far behind.
Qualified industrial zones: Trade deal with the US and Israel boosts textiles
The deal allows Egyptians to export to the US tariff-free as long as they use a certain percentage of Israeli goods. The US initiative is intended to foster peace through trade. Qiz’s impact on thawing the political relations is questionable. But, for Egyptian garment producers, it has meant a chance to stand up to the competition posed by Asian producers.
Ambassador confirms US trade threat to Chile in runup to Iraq war
Current Chilean Ambassador to the United Nations, Heraldo Muñoz, confirmed Wednesday that, in the run up to the Iraq war, the US government made clear to Chile that it risked jeopardizing the Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries if it did not support a second resolution in the UN Security Council favoring the US invasion of Iraq.
The swell of boycott
The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has called for divestment from Israeli companies: a campaign aimed at the European Union, which accounts for two-thirds of Israel’s exports under an EU-Israel Association Agreement. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Jean Ziegler, has said that human rights conditions in the agreement should be invoked and Israel’s trading preferences suspended. This is unusual, for these were once distant voices.
Free trade is a prison
As the world prepares to celebrate the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition on August 23, a new book on the lessons learnt from that trade and how its “successor,” free trade is undermining democracy and justice in Africa has just been published.
Will security and prosperity partnerships end dissent as we know it?
Just about everyone on the Left knows what a free trade agreement is by now. But how many of us have heard of an SPP?
The militarization and annexation of North America
Besides the Bush administration’s imperial aims and permanent war on the world, add the one at home below the radar. It has a name: Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America.
The Jordan-Israel QIZs have been insignificant for peace
The impact of the Qualifying Industrial Zones — a concept proposed by the United States in 1996 to bolster cooperation between Jordan and Israel after the Jordan-Israel peace agreement was signed in 1995 — remains, after 10 years, difficult to determine. In spite of the tremendous growth of exports to the US market through these zones, QIZs continue to receive mixed reviews and their future is uncertain. Most importantly, the impact of the QIZs on the peace effort has been insignificant, to say the least.
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.