WASHINGTON, D.C., JULY 25, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The moral measure of any international trade pact is how it affects the poorest and most vulnerable, say bishops 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. episcopal conference 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,” they said in a note. “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 Chávez of San Salvador, El Salvador, representing SEDAC; and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington and Bishop John Ricard, representing the U.S. episcopate.
It follows a series of meetings in Washington between the bishops and congressional and administration officials, international financial institutions, and nongovernmental 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, signed in late May, includes 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 bishops called for national governments to foster full discussions about the agreement and its possible impacts on various populations.
“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.