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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


The Honduran coup: Fiction and fact
Zelaya joined the Venezuelan proposed ALBA, a fair trade alternative to Washington’s now-defunct Free Trade Area of the Americas, but is no Chavez puppet, despite what the all-out PR war from Washington-based business groups claims
Peru’s cold war against Indigenous People
Besides a racist propaganda campaign and violent repression, the Pervian government has tried highly suspect legal mechanisms to disarticulate indigenous power.
Megaprojects and militarization: A perfect storm in Mexico
As Mexican security budgets inflate with US aid-to combat the rising power of drug trafficking and organized crime-rights groups say these funds are increasingly being used to protect the interests of multinational corporations.
Colombia commits "crimes against humanity" as free trade pacts are debated
Despite the claims of the Colombian government and those in the U.S., Canada and the EU eager to consummate "free trade" pacts with that regime, the human rights situation in that country is deteriorating fast. Indeed, by key measures — the killing of unionists, extra-judicial killings by the military, and the forced displacement of civilians — Colombia’s human rights situation is amongst the worst in the world and getting worse. In the case of union killings, it remains the very worst.
EFTA Free trade agreements: Norway asserts Human Rights, Switzerland supports companies
EFTA FTAs negotiations have taken a complicated turn, with Norway withdrawing from talks on intellectual property, which is a serious priority for Switzerland. In addition, Norway deferred the submission for ratification by the Norwegian Parliament of the FTA with Colombia, an act seen by many as a move on the part of the Norwegians to renegotiate many terms within the agreement.
The European Union and the Gaza war
The recent war in Gaza has served to highlight the European Union’s relations with Israel. Although the genocide in Gaza has embarrassed many EU officials, there are no signs that the European Union is going to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement signed in 2004.
Colombia: Social conflict replaces warfare
Broad sectors in Colombian society are beginning to understand that accusations by human rights organizations against the Uribe government were not exaggerated.
Israeli gunboats kidnap Gaza fisherman, peaceworkers
"The EU-Israel Association Agreement should be suspended until Israel complies with international law. It was only last week that I personally met with the fishermen whose boats were illegally water-cannoned and fired upon by Israeli gunboats as they peacefully fish in Gaza waters."
Global trade - Free for a wealthy few, costly for many
I have seen first-hand the effects of “free trade” in several countries, and it is not the fairy tale that the mainstream politicians would have us believe. I have seen men, women and children working 20 hours a day in deplorable conditions to keep up with the influx of foreign goods. I have seen farmers who used to trade corn for clothes struggle because they do not have the cash to participate in the new “free” economy.
Colombia as a Model for Latin America
The US free trade agreement and the state and paramilitary violence in Colombia are part of the same project