Southeast Asia

Vietnam: ‘free trade’ advances; free speech retreats

The European Council announced that it has approved the European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hailed as the most ambitious trade pact between the EU and a developing country. Under EVFTA, upwards of 99% of tariffs on goods from both sides will be lifted. The deal was approved two weeks after a Vietnamese environmental activist was sentenced to six years in prison for “anti-state” Facebook posts. Nguyen Ngoc Anh, a shrimp farming engineer, is accused of writing posts that urged people to take part in peaceful protests over corporate pollution. The posts especially noted the Formosa Plastics disaster in 2016, in which a Taiwanese-owned steel plant dumped toxic waste into the ocean off the coast of central Vietnam, killing millions of fish. (Photo of Nguyen Ngoc Anh via Human Rights Watch. Sign reads: “Fish Need Clean Water, People Need Transparency.”)

Central America

Central America climate crisis fuels migration

Commentators have noted the roots of the current massive migration from Central America in the political economy of the free trade order. The US-led repression and counter-insurgency in the isthmus in the 1980s allowed the imposition of “free trade” or “neoliberal” regimes in the generation since then—culminating in the passage of CAFTA. This, in turn, has exacerbated the expropriation from the peasantry of their traditional lands by agribusiness and agro-export oligarchies. But this dynamic is now being augmented by factors related to political ecology—the degradation of the land itself due to climate destabilization. (Photo: IOM)

The Amazon

‘Silk Road’ to Peruvian Amazon?

Peru is to sign a memorandum of understanding to join China’s Belt & Road international infrastructure initiative, Beijing’s ambassador to Lima said. The announcement coincided with a Beijing summit to promote the initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, where Peru’s trade minister stated that a revision of Lima’s Free Trade Agreement with China will be implemented next year. These announcements come amid growing environmentalist concern over the Hidrovía Amazónica, a Chinese-backed mega-project aimed at further opening Peru’s eastern rainforests to resource exploitation. (Photo: Segundo Enfoque)

The Amazon

Peru: butcher of Bagua goes out by his own hand

The ongoing political crisis in Peru reached a grisly climax with the suicide of ex-president Alan García as he was being arrested over his suspected involvement in corruption surrounding troubled Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht. García’s last presidency was most significantly marked by Peru’s entrance into the Free Trade Agreement with Washington, and harsh repression against the indigenous protest wave that this set off. This repression was notoriously punctuated by the Bagua massacre of June 2009, when National Police troops attacked an indigenous roadblock—known as the “Amazon’s Tiananmen Square Massacre.” The grievances that animated the 2009 protests are still very much alive—and sparking renewed militant action by indigenous Amazonians. (Photo: La Mula)

The Amazon

US accuses Peru of violating FTA forestry provisions

The White House is accusing Peru of violating its commitment to protect the Amazon rainforest, threatening to hold Lima in violation of the US-Peru Free Trade Agreement . Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's top trade negotiator, announced that he is seeking consultations with Lima to address concerns about its recent move to curtail the authority of Peru's auditor for timber exports, the Organism for the Supervision of Forestry Resources (OSINFOR), established as a provision of the trade agreement. The move move had been demanded by Peru's logging industry following an OSINFOR seizure of illegal timber. The White House needs support from congressional Democrats to pass the pending US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Trump's replacement for NAFTA, which is supposed to have tougher labor protections. The forestry annex in the Peru agreement was conceived as a model for a new inspection system that could include confiscation at the border of goods found to violate treaty provisions, and the prosecution of companies that import noncompliant products. (Image via Sierra Club)

Mexico

Trump announces ‘termination’ of NAFTA

President Trump announced that the US and Mexico have reached an agreement on a new trade deal called the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement, which will ultimately terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump called Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto from the White House to announce the new deal. Among a number of changes to NAFTA, both parties agreed to a provision that would require a significant portion of vehicles to be made in high-wage factories, a measure aimed to discourage factory jobs from leaving the US. Trump said he is in communication with Canada about a new trade deal, but is unsure if it will be part of the US-Mexico Trade Agreement. The Trump administration expects the new pact to be signed by the end of November. (Map: CIA)

North America

Podcast: First they came for the immigrants….

In Episode 13 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg deconstructs Trump's executive order ostensibly ending the policy of family separation on the southern border, and demonstrates how it actually lays the groundwork for indefinite detention of migrants on military bases. The Central American peasantry, expropriated of its lands by state terror, CAFTA and narco-violence, is forced to flee north—now into the arms of Trump's new gulag. Immigrants are the proverbial canaries in the American coal-mine. The Trump crew are testing their methods on them because they are vulnerable, and banking on the likelihood that non-immigrants will say "not my problem." But if they get away with what they are doing now to a vulnerable and isolated population of non-citizens, it sets a precedent—and ultimately nobody is safe. Listen on SoundCloud, and support our podcast via Patreon.

Mexico

Mexico: AMLO-Trump populist convergence?

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador—known by his initials AMLO—will be Mexico's next president, following his victory in the July 1 election. This marks the first time a Mexican presidential candidate of the left has had his victory honored. An obvious question is how AMLO will deal with Donald Trump—who attained office by demonizing Mexicans and pledging to build a wall on the border (and make Mexico pay for it). Last year, AMLO actually filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights against Trump's proposed wall. But he also hired Trump's current crony Rudolph Giuliani as anti-crime czar when he was mayor of Mexico City in 2002. As populists and opponents of free-trade economics, there may be unlikely common ground between the two men. (Photo: El Txoro)

The Andes

Plunging potato prices provoke protests in Peru

Potato farmers across Peru's sierras blocked roads with their tractors and trucks for weeks, demanding a subsidized distribution system for the staple crop in the face of plummeting prices. The National Commission of Potato Producers (Conapropa) struck a deal with the government, but wildcat protests continued in Huancavelica, Huánuco, Junín, Ayacucho and Arequipa regions. Finally, farmers advanced on Lima in a cross-country motorcade. This forced Conapropa leader Fernando Gutiérrez back to the table, meeting with Agriculture Minister José Arista to strike a better deal. Huancavelica regional governor Glodoaldo Álvarez denied government claims of over-production by farmers, and pointed to massive imports since the 2009 Free Trade Agreement with the US. Farmers at the roadblocks carried banners with slogans such as "¡Abajo el TLC!" (Down with the FTA!). (Photo:  La República)

Southern Cone

Chileans protest signing of rebooted TPP

Chilean activists protested in Santiago against the signing of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, now rebranded as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), or TPP-11. Protesters outside La Moneda Palace, headquarters of the Chilean government, held banners reading "No to modern slavery, no to the TPP-11" and "The TPP and TPP-11 are the same!" Lucía Sepúlveda, leader of the organization Chile Mejor Sin TPP, said the agreement would "deliver full guarantees to foreign investors" at the expense of "rights and national interests." (Photo: Chile Mejor Sin TPP)

North America

Trump’s vision for USA: shithole of racism

With his "shithole" comment, Trump makes clear he would bring the United States back nearly a century to the 1920s, when immigration "quotas" were imposed for countries whose inhabitants were deemed undersirable, essentially cutting off immigration of Jews, Italians and Slavs. But deepening the insult, today Haitians and Salvadorans are being driven from their homelands by poverty and instability which is itself the bitter fruit of "free trade" policies foisted upon their governments by pressure from Washington. (Photo: Homeland Security's Otay Mesa Detention Center, BBC World Service via Flickr)

The Andes

Peru and Australia sign free trade pact

Peru and Australia signed a free trade pact that does away with 99% of tariffs on imported goods from Australia, while securing Peruvian exports greater access to Australian markets. The Peru-Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) was signed in Vietnam, at the 25th summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. Peru's President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski, speaking at the summit, reiterated his support for free trade and warned about the dangers of protectionism–comments seemingly aimed at the Donald Trump administration.