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


New report: Canadian companies behind nearly all of the dirty trade
Two Canadian companies, Agrium and PotashCorp, were behind two thirds of all imports of phosphates from occupied Western Sahara.
Human rights issues increase uncertainty for Morocco, Vietnam trade deals
EU trade agreements with Morocco and Vietnam could see rough times ahead after criticism of the lack of impact assessment on human rights.
Human rights, corruption and the Canada-Honduras free trade agreement: the assassination of activist Berta Caceres
Human rights leader Berta Caceres’ assassination now serves as a global symbol of the struggle for freedom and democracy as colonized peoples world-wide languish beneath the yoke of imperialism.
Diplomats want treaties: diplomatic agendas and perks in the investment regime
Strategic foreign policy considerations have driven some investment treaty negotiations. Secondly, some diplomats have been successful in promoting investment treaties to further their own individual interests.
Indigenous Peoples’ land and resource rights in Latin America
The impacts of free trade agreements.
Negotiations kick off on a binding treaty on business and human rights
The UNGPs set out a three-pillar framework: the state duty to protect human rights, the corporate responsibility to respect human rights, and access to remedy for victims of business-related abuses.
Hun Sen to join Asean leaders in US meeting with Obama
Prime Minister Hun Sen will join other Asean leaders for a special meeting with US President Barack Obama.
Eyeing Beijing, Obama plans summit with ASEAN leaders
The U.S. aims to build a unified front against China’s efforts to control the South China Sea. Obama is expected to call for ASEAN members’ cooperation and urge more of them to join the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.
Iran and Middle East Countries – Indications of reducing trade relations
Saudi Arabia Bans all flights to and from Iran The country cuts all commercial ties with Iran following attacks on its embassy in Tehran as tensions in the region grow. Sunni-led Saudi Arabia claims the killing was part of a war on terrorism – but it has sparked protests among Shia Muslims throughout the region. In response to attacks on its diplomatic missions, Saudi has ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave the country within 48 hours. Sunni allies Bahrain, Sudan and United Arab Emirates have also severed or reduced diplomatic ties with Iran. Their intervention represents another escalation in tension between the two branches of Islam.
Israel fumes over planned EU labelling of ‘settlement’ products
Few issues have caused more friction between Israel and the European Union than EU plans to impose labelling on goods produced in Jewish settlements on occupied land.