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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


WPF motion on TNCs and human rights violations
The World Parliamentary Forum calls on national and regional Parliaments to reject both free trade agreements (FTAs) that benefit corporations and major international investors, as well as abusive bilateral investment treaties (BITs), that some governments have already cancelled.
The flaws in the geopolitical case for the TPP
There is an intuitive appeal to the geopolitical use of trade agreements. But quickly scanning the two main bilateral trade deals the US has signed over the past decade in the Asia-Pacific region, Australia and South Korea, it is hard to see much strategic impact.
Trans-Pacific pact will encourage sex trafficking
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement will open up 14 countries on the Pacific coastline for more exploitation
How EU-US trade deal could thwart “boycott Israel” campaign
Two members of the US Congress have introduced a bill that would turn a giant trade deal between the EU and US into a devastating weapon against the people of Palestine and all those seeking justice alongside them.
LGBT members of Congress object to free-trade deal with countries criminalizing LGBT people
Five out LGBT members of Congress objected to the inclusion of two countries with anti-LGBT laws in a free trade deal that the Obama administration is currently negotiating and seeking to fast-track it for adoption.
Debt: Yesterday Latin America, today Europe
Today’s crisis relates neither to trade nor the production of goods and services. It is the banks and the financial sector that are in crisis.
International peoples treaty on the control of transnational corporations
The main objective of this initiative is to subordinate the juridical-political architecture that sustains the power of transnational corporations to human rights norms and rules.
Can China and Russia squeeze Washington out of Eurasia?
There could soon be a trade alliance between Beijing, Moscow and Berlin—but you wouldn’t know it from the triumphal tone in Washington.
Maldives to boycott Israeli products, annul bilateral agreements
Explaining the boycott, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, minister at the President’s Office, said “Israeli investment is not important for us. We want investments from countries with human rights practices that are acceptable to us.”
How the Mexican drug trade thrives on free trade
US policy—specifically the militarization of the border since NAFTA—has strengthened cartels’ power and enabled them to diversify their operations deeper into the legal economy.