WHY THIS ISSUE IS IMPORTANT: The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a trade and investment agreement negotiated between the United States and six Central American and Caribbean countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. President George W. Bush is expected to request that the United States Congress approve CAFTA as early as next month. Congress must ratify CAFTA in an up or down vote because under current law, also known as fast track authority, no amendments can be considered as part of international trade agreements.
USCCB/CRS Position: As part of its role to preach the Gospel in our modern world, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) work to promote public policies that foster just outcomes within nations and between nations. International trade policy should dovetail with other development policies to stimulate economic growth and reduce poverty. The Church offers a moral perspective for decision-makers who shape trade policies, placing the human person at the center of all economic activity.
A recent joint statement of Central American and U.S. Catholic Bishops observed that trade is about more than economics; it is about peoples lives and livelihoods. Too often key questions highlighted below are not part of the debate. USCCB and CRS, without opposing or supporting CAFTA, want to create a climate in Congress for moral dialogue and evaluation of CAFTA. In examining CAFTA, USCCB and CRS call on Congress to explore the following moral questions:
- Livelihoods of farmers and food security. Poor farmers in Central America may not be able to compete with much more efficient, highly subsidized U.S. agriculture. At the same time U.S. subsidies are not focused on the needs of small and medium-sized farms in the U.S. Meanwhile, tariff reductions and elimination of supports under CAFTA could subject staple foods like corn, beans, and rice to serious price fluctuations. How will CAFTA address the needs of small and medium-sized farms in the U.S. and Central America?
- Worker rights and environmental protection. While certain labor and environmental provisions are included in the agreement, it is not clear that they will lead to stronger protection of fundamental worker rights and the environment. How will CAFTA protect the rights of workers and the environment?
- Transparency and democratic participation. During the negotiations and since the agreement was signed there has been an absence of broad consultation with key sectors who will be affected, and little information has been available in publicly accessible forms. How will people have a say in how CAFTA impacts their lives?
- Intellectual Property. CAFTAs extension of protections for intellectual property rights may impair the right of Central American countries to exercise proper stewardship over their natural resources and may limit access of poor people to affordable generic medicines. How will CAFTAs intellectual property provisions impact the poor?
- Poverty reduction and sustainable development. CAFTAs ability to increase opportunities for the poor and to enhance prospects that they will genuinely benefit from increased trade remains unclear. Trade policies must be framed within an integrated development agenda that incorporates measures to improve education, health care, and democratic participation. How will CAFTA promote integral human development, especially of the poor?
OTHER WAYS YOU CAN HELP: The Catholic Campaign Against Global Poverty (www.usccb.org/globalpoverty), a joint effort by USCCB and CRS, encourages Catholics in the United States to learn about the issues of aid, trade and debt, how they affect our brothers and sisters worldwide, and what you can do to advocate for U.S. policies that promote economic and social development for people living in poverty.
For more information, contact: Fr. Andrew Small, OMI, Policy Advisor, USCCB, 202-541-3153, email@example.com Tina Rodousakis, Legislative Network Specialist, 1-800-235-2772 x 7462, Trodousa@catholicrelief.org