The Church's social doctrine has time and again called attention to aberrations in the system of international trade, which often, owing to protectionist policies, discriminated against products coming from poorer countries and hinders the growth of industrial activity and the transfer of technology to these countries.
--Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 364
Global trade talks and negotiations involving the 148 member countries of the World Trade Organization (WTO) are conducted under the auspices of the WTO. The current series of trade negotiations are called the Doha Development Agenda (DDA). The DDA emphasizes a commitment by countries to link trade policy with development needs. These "multilateral" talks collapsed in Cancϊn in September 2003. They were put back on track in July 2004, but many of the major sticking points that led to the collapse of the talks remain. Chief among them is the issue of agriculture.
Since coming to an agreement in July 2004 on how to proceed in the current round of WTO negotiations, WTO members have held a series of meetings to discuss potential outcomes at Hong Kong. The United States and the European Union recently met to tackle the question of agricultural supports and to find a way to make reductions in their respective subsidy programs as promised by the G8 leaders in Gleneagles, Scotland in May. President Bush, in an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 14, 2005 expressed his hopes for a successful outcome in Hong Kong. He said:
A successful Doha Round will reduce and eliminate tariffs and other barriers on farm and industrial goods. It will end unfair agricultural subsidies. It will open up global markets for services. Under Doha, every nation will gain, and the developing world stands to gain the most. The United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Portman, has expressed reluctance for the U.S. to commit to reductions without other major agricultural producers doing likewise. Getting the developed countries to follow through on their initial commitments to make significant changes that will halt the trade-distorting subsidies that they offer their own producers will take sustained effort as the Sixth Hong Kong Ministerial Meeting approaches in December.
Following the collapse of multilateral trade talks in September 2003, the United States renewed its efforts to negotiate bilateral trade agreements. These agreements included the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) between the United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic that was recently signed into law by President Bush. The U.S. continues to negotiate a similar agreement with Ecuador, Colombia and Peru (the U.S.-Andean Free Trade Agreement or AFTA). Negotiations are also ongoing towards an agreement between the US and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) that includes the countries of Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and South Africa. The United States is still hoping to achieve progress in a regional trade agreement with the 34 countries of the Western hemisphere (excluding Cuba); it is called the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Negotiations on the FTAA are stalled awaiting progress on agriculture and intellectual property rights at the WTO.
Trade Agreement with Central America Passes
The U.S. Congress passed the US-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in July, 2005. The House of Representatives passed the legislation by a margin of only 2 votes. It was widely believed that several last-minute deals were made with key House members to secure CAFTA's passage. The USCCB sent a letter to all Members of Congress, inviting members to assess CAFTA according to key moral questions. The letter was accompanied by a Joint Declaration between U.S. and Central American Bishops on CAFTA that is available on the web at /sdwp/international/jointtradestatement.shtml. The statement focused on the likely impact the agreement would have on poor workers and vulnerable families, especially in rural areas, voicing anxiety over the "obvious imbalance in power" between the negotiating parties. It expressed concerns about the lack of adequate protections for workers in those countries and environmental safeguards, and criticized the lack of participation by those who may feel the impact of the agreement most severely. Without such provisions, the statement noted, the full potential of international trade policy would not be achieved, especially in relation to the poor.
|It is evident that, because of the great disparities between countries regarding access to technical and scientific knowledge and to the most recent products of technology, the process of globalization ends up increasing rather than decreasing the inequalities between countries in terms of economic and social development.
Budget Reconciliation and Payment Limitation Legislation
As part of the final budget resolution for 2006, the House and Senate Agriculture committees must make adjustments to the 2002 Farm Bill that will result in $3 billion in savings from FY06 to FY10. The Conference has long supported common-sense adjustments in the farm-subsidy program to protect America's family farmers while creating a more just marketplace for poor farmers in developing countries. Sen. Grassley (R-IA) introduced a bill called the Rural America Preservation Act (RAPA) which would place a real limit on the amount of direct federal funding any single entity can receive and would close loopholes that currently allow the largest farms to receive massive government payments. On April 1, 2005, Bishops DiMarzio and Ricard, Chairman of the Domestic and International Policy Committees, wrote to Senator Grassley endorsing S. 385. USCCB support for both RAPA and for the adjustments to domestic farm supports in the Budget Reconciliation process is aimed at assisting poor farmers in developing countries to be more competitive in selling their goods on international markets. Reducing domestic and export subsidies of developed countries is considered an essential step in the up-coming trade negotiations at the WTO
Trade Conference with Religious Leaders
As a sign of the growing appreciation of the importance of international trade to the Church's mission of fostering solidarity and promoting unity, bishops from almost every country in the Western Hemisphere gathered in Washington, DC September 7-9, 2005 to attend a Conference that looked at the moral and social demands of authentic integration in the Americas. The Conference was a response to the call of our beloved Pope John Paul II, in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in America, to build unity among the people of the hemisphere. The Bishops, led by Cardinal Francis George, OMI, Archbishop of Chicago and Vice-President of the U.S. Bishops' Conference, Cardinal Oscar Andrιs Rodrνguez Maradiaga, Archbishop of Tegucigalpa, Honduras and Chairman of the Latin American Bishops' Committee on Economic Solidarity, and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington met with leaders of the Inter-American Development Bank, members of the U.S. Administration and Congress, as well as other policy-makers and experts, to discuss the moral implications of economic integration. After the meeting, the Bishops issued a Joint Communiquι that will be posted at this website: /sdwp/
For over a decade, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has addressed aspects of international trade. Rather than take a position for or against complex trade agreements, the Conference has proposed a set of ethical criteria that should guide trade negotiations. In July 2004 these criteria were applied to the US-CAFTA agreement in the Bishops' Joint Declaration.
|The continuing deterioration in terms of the gap between rich and poor countries has prompted the social Magisterium to point out the importance of ethical criteria that should form the basis of international economic relations: the pursuit of the common good and the universal destination of goods; equity in trade relationships; and attention to the rights and needs of the poor in policies concerning trade and international cooperation. --Compendium # 364|
In November 2003, the US Catholic Bishops issued the statement For I Was Hungry and You Gave Me Food: Catholic Reflections on Food, Farmers and Farmworkers. It can be found at this website: /bishops/agricultural.shtml. This statement articulates the Conference's specific policy on trade, particularly as it applies to agriculture.
Domestic Farm Policy
- The United States should target and cap limited government subsidies to small and moderate-sized farms, especially minority-owned farms. Rather than simply rewarding production through these subsidies that can lead to surpluses and artificially low world prices, government resources should reward environmentally sound and sustainable farming practices.
- The subsidies, tariffs and quotas of richer countries that severely constrict poorer countries in their ability to sustain their own agriculture should be reduced.
- Developing countries should be given some flexibility (technically referred to as "special and differential treatment") in using appropriate subsidies, tariffs, quotas and other support measures to make sure they have sufficient food supplies, enhance rural incomes and promote rural development.
- Trade documents should be made available during the process of negotiation for review and public comment.
- Major elements of civil society, including groups representing the poor, business, labor and religious communities, should have greater access to participation in the process.
- Richer countries should provide technical assistance to help poorer countries be able to participate more fully in trade negotiations.
- Trade agreements should treat labor and environmental concerns as integral to trade agreements and not as peripheral matters.
- Trade agreements should lead to economic and social improvements at home and abroad, particularly for poor and vulnerable workers and their families; this can be accomplished by adopting internationally agreed upon labor standards.
- Trade agreements should foster the right to organize and bargain collectively.
- Trade agreements should encourage and not undermine the ability of poor countries to promote environmental protection and sustainable agricultural practices.
- The impact of trade on migration should be concretely addressed when trade measures are considered.
The poverty of billions of men and women is "the one issue that most challenges our human and Christian consciences."
--Pope John Paul II, World Day of Peace Message, 2000