5.5: Other Regional Organizations
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Countries in the Andes, Central America and Caribbean formed free trade blocs, and the U.S. recently signed the CAFTA free trade agreement with several countries in Central America. But the strongest regional trade group is Mercosur, originally composed of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile. There is also the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States and several others.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) started as an independent economic development alliance, and has lowered tariffs and increased trade under the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA). China, India and Australia have joined as affiliate members. ASEAN has become an important independent regional political and economic forum working on trade and security issues such as piracy in the Straits of Malacca. Starting in 2010, it declared free trade between its members and China.
To counteract U.S. influence in Central Asia, China’s and Russia’s back yard, China started the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, consisting of China, Russia and most of the Central Asian countries,
Also, in 2016 China set up the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank (AIIB). The World Bank does not have sufficient funds for all of Asian’s infrastructure needs, and operates very slowly. In contrast, China has trillions of dollars to spend (thanks to export profits from the U.S. and others) and can finish a project in less time than it takes the World Bank to start. The U.S. tried to prevent anyone from joining the AIIB, but even such close allies as Britain did so. It now has more than 50 members and is approving its initial projects.
As in Europe, Asia and the Americas, there are several overlapping African organizations, including the African Union (AU), which includes all African countries. It is the AU that sent observer troops to Darfur. In 2019, all 55 African countries in the AU also agreed to set up a free trade union. Earlier, thirteen southern African states established the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), thereby gaining access to the rich market of South Africa. And sixteen countries previously formed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in which Nigeria is the largest member. They reduced tariffs, built infrastructure and supplied troops for UN peacekeeping missions. In 2016, ECOWAS even threatened to send troops to ensure that the legally-elected President of Gambia was able to take power.
There are dozens of other regional organizations, such as the Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council (Saudi Arabia and the small states vs. Iran), and the Arctic Council. There are more than a dozen regional organizations just for free trade.
NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations)
When we use the term NGO, we usually mean human rights, social welfare and economic development organizations. NGOs have done some amazing good things. The French group Doctors Without Borders has given medical treatment to hundreds of thousands of people in war and disaster zones all over the world. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch helped get thousands of political prisoners freed. Greenpeace was instrumental in stopping French nuclear testing in the Pacific. Sea Shepherd protests reduced Japanese whaling. Oxfam and other groups help poor farmers increase their crops with cheap water pumps and irrigation hoses. Groups of doctors from Hawaii go to the Philippines and other countries to provide free medical services for the poor. In 2019, Hawaii’s Lieutenant Governor, a licensed doctor, led a large group of volunteer health workers to Samoa to vaccinate the population during a measles epidemic. Other groups work against the arms trade, sweat shops and exploitative child labor; protect the environment; help stop trafficking in endangered species; and help prevent honor killings of women. A network of NGOs even got an international treaty against anti-personnel landmines approved by the UN.
The civil wars in Congo and Sierra Leone were fueled by the illicit diamond trade. NGOs pressured the diamond industry to set up a system for registering diamonds by point of origin, so that there would be less of a market for these "conflict diamonds." Unfortunately, some dealers found ways around the system. NGOs are also pressuring jewelers not to use ‘dirty gold’ from mines that cause pollution. NGOs pressured drug companies to allow cheap generics or provide cheap drugs to be given to millions of patients in the poor countries in the Global South who cannot afford the usual high costs. Some drug companies implemented some programs. Millions of people are still left out, however.