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Amid celebrations for the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Kazakhstan, the U.S. is considering permanently normalizing trade relations between the two countries. But before we do so, the U.S. must first examine whether Kazakhstan’s recent behavior warrants such prized status. 

Securing strong trade relations with Central Asian states is certainly in our national interest, but we must not do it blindly. We have to ensure that every country we trade with will play by the rules, show the necessary respect for human rights, and not take advantage of American businesses. Right now, Kazakhstan can’t be trusted to meet that threshold. Here’s why.

For starters, the government of Kazakhstan is currently preying upon American investors and American businesses and abusing the American courts to do it. In one case, known as Tristangate, a U.S. investment firm put money into a company called Tristan Oil in 2006. Kazakhstan’s government forcibly expropriated the company’s assets, and the foreign owners went to arbitration in Sweden in 2010 and received an award of over $500 million to compensate for their losses in 2013.

Kazakhstan has refused to pay up even though it has exhausted its legal options in Sweden, and the award is recognized in the U.S. Instead, it has undertaken a no-holds-barred campaign using its full array of sovereign resources to undermine the award. This has even extended to a failed Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act suit and, more recently, a countersuit on the New York investment firm Argentem Creek to avoid accountability.

One of the hallmarks of free trade is fairness. Kazakhstan’s glaring disregard for the rights of small and midcap investors is why the country can’t be trusted with normalized trade just yet. If the U.S. opened our markets to them, we’d be putting countless American businesses at risk of similar anti-competitive tactics and wanton intimidation – a risk we cannot afford. Weaponizing American courts against rank-and-file Americans and American investors is well outside the behavior of normalized trade partners. 

But Kazakhstan’s troubles go deeper than shady business practices and frivolous lawsuits. In some cases, Kazakhstan is implementing anti-democratic policies that undermine human rights.

Last year, Kazakhstan’s government implemented a law cracking down on free assembly and political protest. Human rights groups warn that this law gives the government free rein to silence or imprison political opponents and critics of the governing regime.

The rights of a free and open press in Kazakhstan are also at risk. Earlier this year, the country passed a law that would adjust its journalist accreditation process. In this system, journalists would have to be chaperoned by a state-appointed “host” whenever they cover government events. Gulnoza Said of the Committee to Protect Journalists notes, “[t]hese regulations could prevent journalists from asking questions that are inconvenient for authorities, which deeply contradicts the very concept of a free press.”

Taken together, these instances are an indictment of Kazakhstan’s behavior. In just the last year, the country has attempted to bully American businesses and investors, crackdown on free assembly, and muzzle journalists. This should lead all of us to question whether Kazakhstan would be a fair trading partner.

Trading with the United States of America isn’t a right – it’s a privilege that we should reserve only for those countries that share our core values and do not abuse our courts and investors. If Kazakhstan wants access to our markets, they first must clean up their act.

Brendan Flanagan has served as an advisor to Democratic candidates nationwide and is a former Obama for America staff member. The views expressed are the author’s own.