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As a journalist who covers geopolitics and global economics, there are times when even I find that it is difficult to understand news coverage of global trade and financial markets. For me, reporting on these topics is often a tedious exercise in decoding an onslaught of abbreviations and acronyms. And explaining this kind of subject matter is what I do for a living! For ordinary citizens who lack in-depth knowledge of geopolitics, I can only imagine the extent to which jargon makes economic diplomacy sound alien.

Do recent economic developments and Brexit-speak confuse you? These days, news broadcasts and articles are peppered with geopolitical jargon. As a helpful reference, I’ve defined a list of frequently-used foreign policy terms below. Perhaps this glossary can help you make sense of recent new analyses surrounding Brexit and the EU, or make it easier for you to grasp current events on a global scale.


  • Arab League – The League of Arab States, or LAS, is a voluntary association of countries whose populations are mainly Arabic speaking, or where Arabic is an official language.

    Arab League emblem

    Arab League emblem

    • The Arab League has 22 members (including Palestine) and aims to strengthen ties among member states, coordinate their policies, and direct their regional efforts toward a common good.
  • ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) – The Association of Southeast Asian Nations was officially formed in 1967 when Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand signed the Bangkok Declaration.
    • Since its formation, ASEAN has grown its membership to include other countries in southeast Asia.
    • ASEAN promotes cultural, economic and political development in its geographic region.
  • AU (African Union) – comprised of all 53 African countries in Africa, created for political and socio-economic integration and cooperation.
  • BREXIT – Portmanteau of “Britain” and “Exit.” Brexit refers to the United Kingdom (UK) vote to withdraw from the European Union (EU).
  • BRIC – BRIC is a grouping acronym that refers to the countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China. These countries (which also include South Africa among them, sometimes) are all deemed to be at a similar stage of newly advanced economic development.
  • CARICOM (Caribbean Community) – The Caribbean Community is a cooperative group comprised of Central American countries and islands in the Caribbean Sea. CARICOM promotes economic integration and cooperation among its members.
  • ECB (European Central Bank) – based in Frankfurt; responsible for implementing European monetary policy.
  • EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) – EEZs are defined zones within bodies of water over which a state or nation has special rights when it comes to exploration and the use of marine resources.
  • EU (European Union) – The EU is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries. The EU formed in the wake of WWII for purposes of promoting trade and economic cooperation.

    EU flag

    EU flag

  • Eurozone – the monetary union of 19 European Union (EU) member states that have adopted the Euro (€) as their common currency.
  • FTZ (Free Trade Zone) – A free trade zone is a geographic area where goods may be landed, handled, or manufactured without the intervention of the customs authorities.
  • G77 (The Group of 77) – G77 is the largest intergovernmental organization of developing nations in the United Nations. The organization, established in 1964, currently includes 130 member nations.
    • G77 functions like a union or sorts within the UN and allows developing nations to leverage their negotiating power on issues related to international commerce and development.
  • IMF (International Monetary Fund) – the IMF was created after World War II in order to prevent economic crises like the Great Depression. A specialized agency run by the 186 member countries of the United Nations, the IMF aims to facilitate foreign exchange transactions, foster investment, and promote balanced economic trade on a global scale.IMF
  • OAS (Organization of American States) – the OAS is a group of 35 independent countries in North and South America. OAS is the main political, juridical, and social governmental forum within the Western Hemisphere.
  • OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) – OPEC was established in 1960 to coordinate the petroleum policies of its member nations and provides members with technical and economic aid.
    • OPEC functions as a cartel and attempts to limit price fluctuations in crude oil.
    • As of 2016, OPEC has 12 members: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Venezuela, Algeria, Angola, Ecuador, Libya, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

      opec-logo

      OPEC logo

  • NAFTA (North American Free-Trade Agreement) – agreement between Canada, USA, and Mexico to promote free trade and eliminate tariffs on imports and exports among these nations.
    • NAFTA was implemented on January 1, 1994 and effectively eliminated tariffs on trade between and among Mexico, Canada and the United States. The three countries phased out numerous tariffs (with a particular focus on those related to agriculture, textiles and automobiles) between the agreement’s implementation in 1994 and January 1, 2008.
    • NAFTA’s overarching purpose is to encourage economic activity between the United States, Mexico and Canada.
  • NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) – intergovernmental military alliance created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several Western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.
    • NATO currently consists of 28 member nations.

      NATO flag

      NATO flag

  • TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) – Ten years in the making, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a trade agreement among 12 countries that geographically located around the Pacific Rim.
    • In addition to the U.S., TPP member nations include: Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Chile, and Peru.
    • The TPP aims to open new markets and address 21st century issues in the global economy, such as the free flow of electronic data across borders.
  • UN (United Nations): International peacekeeping body. Oversees International Criminal Court (a.k.a. “The Hague”) and has power to pass economic sanctions).

    UN flag

    UN flag

  • U.N. LAW OF THE SEAS (UNCLOS) – Negotiated in the 1970s at the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, UNCLOS is a treaty setting forth regulations and economic provisions to control pollution of oceans and marine environments.
    • UNCLOS also establishes specific jurisdictional limits on coastline and ocean areas that countries may claim.
    • Of late, UNCLOS is relevant in discussions related to the ongoing South China Sea dispute.
  • WTO (World Trade Organization) – The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an international organization that deals with the rules and laws governing trade between world nations. The WTO agreements have been signed by most of the world’s trading nations; its main function is to help producers of goods and services protect and manage their import-export businesses.
    • The WTO has become the driving force underlying globalization during the past few decades.