Free. Trade. Agreements. In. Asia.
Following a brief attempt at making accessible the EU-South Korea FTA last fall, as well as the CARIFORUM EPA, the Canada CETA and bearing in mind the controversies around the US-Korea FTA (also cited as the reason why previous resistance groups of academics, independent artists and freedom activists didn’t make more resistance against the EU-Korea FTA :( ) and the slow pace of the EU-India negotiations (more here on access to medicines and agriculture among other issues), directorate-general of trade under the leadership of new Commissioner of Trade Karel de Gucht has gladly commenced the European trade and conquer ambitions in foreign territories.
Commissioner de Gucht has been visiting Asia this week to relaunch the India negotiations (they want to keep having access to medicines, not negotiate it away: deal with it). But perhaps the most worrying part about EU trade policies in Asia is the ”trade and divide” dogma that governs EUs actions.
The European Union is launching negotiations with individual members of ASEAN, a long-standing regional trade co-operation in south-east Asia. By making individual members of the regional cooperation sign up to different customs and trade regimes visavi the union, it becomes more difficult for the poor nations in the region to assert a joint force against EU demands. Divide and conquer.
Starting with Singapore is reasonable, and along the tendency of agreements with South Korea and Canada – we can expect the agreement to reach for something similar as that suspected from ACTA as regards IPR and internet issues. Singapore is also an ACTA negotiation partner, so provided an ACTA agreement can’t be concluded speedily, having an agreement with yet another partner could reinforce the union’s position in continued ACTA negotiations.
But, ASEAN is just a continuation of already bad bilateral trade policies of the Union. The trade, divide and conquer has previously been applied in the Andenean Community as well as in West Africa. The theory is, instead of making a trade agreement with a region, you make trade agreements with each constituent part of a region, thereby making it impossible for those parties to strengthen their region. The tactics are a perfect example of what bilateral trade negotiations actually boil down to: an unbalanced power relationship where the stronger party gets its way, while the weaker party suffers.
I still sometimes get e-mails from people who are upset that I once said on national television that laborious 9/11 activists should dedicate more time to investigating insidious trade relations and less time to investigating 9/11. Well, read the above text again and tell me I’m wrong.