WASHINGTON (July 23, 2004) -- The moral measure of any international trade agreement is how it impacts the poorest and most vulnerable, according to bishops from the United States and Central America, who expressed concerns about the recently signed U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement.
"The human person must be at the center of all economic activity," said representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Bishops' Secretariat of Central America (SEDAC). "Free trade agreements, such as CAFTA, should be a way of achieving authentic human development that upholds the basic values such as human dignity, solidarity, and subsidiarity. Whether such treaties are ethical or not depends on how these values are pursued."
The joint statement was signed by Bishop Alvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri of San Marcos, Guatemala, and Auxiliary Bishop Gregorio Rosa Chavez of San Salvador, El Salvador, representing SEDAC; and Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick of Washington and Bishop John H. Ricard, representing the USCCB. It follows a series of meetings in Washington between the bishops and congressional and administration officials, international financial institutions, and non-governmental organizations in late June.
"Because trade agreements are not a panacea for deep-seated problems of poverty and social and economic exclusion, they must be a part of a broader agenda of sustainable development," the bishops said. "It is essential that economic globalization be made more human by globalizing solidarity."
The agreement was signed in late May and includes the United States, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The bishops expressed concerns about the U.S.-CAFTA's ability to achieve sustainable human development. Specifically, they outlined concerns in four major areas:
· The lack of discussion and consensus within the countries affected, especially in Central America, on the impact of the agreement. "This troubles us deeply given the obvious imbalance in power and influence that exists between the United States and the Central American countries," they said.
- The potential impact of U.S. farm supports on Central American farm producers and the potential impact on small- and medium-sized farmers in the United States that would result from reform of those support programs.
- The need for clearer enforcement mechanisms with the agreement for the protection of worker rights and the environment.
- The effects of the treaty on intellectual property rights and the possibility of increased health care costs for Central Americans.
"The moral measure of any trade agreement should be how it affects the lives and dignity of poor families and vulnerable workers whose voice should receive special attention in this discussion," they said.
The full text of the bishops' joint statement can be found on the Web at www.usccb.org