An update from bilaterals.org and logo design contest announcement

10 December 2008

Dear friends

In 2009, bilaterals.org will turn five years old. Major changes are underway to expand and improve the website, which currently houses over 13,000 articles that are consulted by 6,000 different people a day. A major aspect of this restructuring, which should be complete by April next year, will be to incorporate the contents of the associated website fightingftas.org so that everything is under one roof. This means that bilaterals.org will finally become a multilingual, open-publishing multimedia website. As a result, activists engaged in work against bilateral “free trade” and investment agreements (FTAs) will be able to freely upload not only texts but videos, audio and photographs from the frontlines of their struggles. In fact, the new site will give much more prominence to people’s actions and resistance, and hopefully will be easier for you to publish to.

Supporting the struggle

For those who are new to it, bilaterals.org was set up in 2004 as an open-publishing site where people fighting FTAs could exchange information and analysis and build cooperation. At the time, there was no single tool to track the expanding global web of FTAs and investment treaties, and their interconnections. Those campaigning against bilateral deals had found it hard to link up with others around the world to compare notes, share analysis and experience, and develop broader and complementary strategies. bilaterals.org was set up by a number of groups to overcome this.

Since then, the site has become a useful resource for social movements, NGOs, researchers, journalists and the broader public as a global clearinghouse for media reports, texts of agreements, critical analyses, campaign materials and educational tools to understand, expose and mobilise against these agreements. It has also helped bring more visibility to bilateral deals as powerful instruments of privatisation, neoliberalism and corporate control.

With the continued failure to move WTO talks beyond the deadlock that they have been in for several years, and notwithstanding a change in government in the United States, the global web of free trade and investment agreements continues to expand, whether along North-South, North-North or South-South lines. Despite today’s global food and financial crises which demonstrate the failure of the neoliberal model once again, many governments, and the corporations and investors whose interests they primarily serve, continue to march us down the same dead-end street. With political, financial and corporate power growing among elites in China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other ”developing” countries, governments from the South are pushing free trade deals more than ever, often in the name of regional integration. Yet most of these deals entrench the same model of economic growth trumpeted by free market ideologues. This model means more agrofuel plantations, more GMOs, more mining operations, more industrial infrastructure projects, more rights for corporations and private investors, more pressures on people to migrate, weaker job security, no real sovereignty for local communities and increasing poverty. Meanwhile, newer forms of consolidation of power in corporate hands are emerging.

Still, people’s resistance movements against bilateral FTAs, sometimes disguised as “economic partnership” (EPAs) or "association" agreements, have been growing quite strongly. The struggle against the US-Korea FTA which has seen sustained mobilisation among many sectors of Korean society, the widespread resistance to the EU’s EPAs in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean, the hard battles fought against various deals in Colombia, the official opposition to both US and European FTAs in Bolivia and Ecuador, the amazing popular movements against CAFTA in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America, and the growing battles against Japanese, Chinese, US and EU trade and investment deals throughout Asia are testimony to that. While there is still a lot of scope for more sharing of learnings, new strategies and alliance-building, the anti-FTA movements have clearly grown. bilaterals.org hopes to play a continued role in this struggle.

"Fighting FTAs"

In July 2006, FTA Watch, a broad coalition in Thailand, invited bilaterals.org, GRAIN and Médecins Sans Frontières to help co-organise a global strategy meeting of anti-FTA movements. Dubbed "Fighting FTAs", the three-day workshop brought together 60 social movement activists from 20 countries of Africa, the Americas and the Asia-Pacific to share experiences in grassroots struggles against FTAs and to build international strategies and cooperation. Following this workshop, in February 2008, the bilaterals.org team, BIOTHAI and GRAIN published "Fighting FTAs: The growing resistance to bilateral free trade and investment agreements" with contributions from many people engaged in these struggles in different parts of the world. For those who have not seen it, it is available online with a large collection of audio interviews, anti-FTA videos and photo collections from people’s campaigns at www.fightingftas.org.

Logo design contest

As part of the revamp of the website for 2009 and beyond, we are opening a contest for a new logo design for bilaterals.org. The current logo (which we adapted from an IBON Foundation publication) has served us well, but it’s time for a change. The new logo should reflect the spirit of peoples’ resistance to bilateral free trade and investment agreements and should work well for a trilingual site. Please share your own proposals and tell artistic friends about it, too. The deadline for submissions is 1 March 2009. Although no remuneration is offered, you would win bragging rights to the logo, internet fame and eternal gratitude from the many users of bilaterals.org, as well as a free bilaterals.org T-shirt. Entries should be emailed to [email protected]. While only one of them will become the identity of the new site, all entries will be published for everyone to appreciate.

Growing participation

It’s very easy to get involved in bilaterals.org and to use it for your campaigns and education work:

- To publish materials yourself, all you need to do is to register as an editor of the site by clicking on the "publish" button. (A visual guide is available here: http://www.bilaterals.org/article.php3?id_article=881)
- If you want to take responsibility for any section, or if you want to make specific suggestions on how to improve the site, please get in touch.
- If you want to help out with translation work between Spanish, French and English, there are always small jobs to tackle on that front.

While no one owns or controls bilaterals.org, a small group of people collaborate informally to keep the site going on a day to day basis. You can join the group or simply get in touch with any questions or concerns by writing to [email protected].

in solidarity
the bilaterals.org team
(Aziz Choudry, Paul Pantastico, María Eugenia Jeria, Renée Vellvé, Carlos Vicente)

PS: The website was offline for several days in November due to technical difficulties associated with high demand on the servers. This also forced the interruption of the "bilaterals.org weekly" mailout service. We sincerely apologise for any inconvenience caused.

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