Trade agreements have human dignity consequences, and must be evaluated with reference to the effects that they have on the people of both developing as well as developed countries. SVdP believes trade must benefit people, not just markets and economies.
The global trade negotiations—called the “Doha Development Agenda” (DDA), reached a partial agreement in December 2013 among the member nations of the World Trade Organization, but the final results of the Doha Round remain uncertain. The United States and other nations have turned to bilateral and regional trade agreements in the interim. The same concerns that existed at the beginning of the Doha Round (human rights, agriculture, labor rights, the environment, intellectual property, the role of multinational corporations, etc.) apply to these more contoured free trade agreements (FTAs).
Concerns about trade may have been theoretical twenty years ago, but in 2015 we have decades of trade liberalization policies that tell a story, and that story is often not good for American workers, the developing world, or the environment.
The Administration has negotiated theTrans Pacific Partnership (TPP), as well as possible agreements with the European Union and other trading partners, and is asking Congress to approve without debate. The President’s Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) expired in June 2007. The President is seeking to renew this “fast track” authority in order to expedite the TPP and other trade negotiations.
SVdP does not take positions for or against complex trade agreements. Rather, SVdP offers ethical criteria, based on Catholic Social Teaching to help guide policies and decisions on trade. We are not making any advocacy recommendations for or against the TPA, which could come up for a vote shortly. SVdP would simply like to share the following criteria to guide consideration of trade policies. Vincentians are encouraged to prayerfully consider church teaching on these subjects and take the action they deem necessary.
Participation. It is critical that people have a voice in decisions that touch their lives. Human dignity demands transparency and the right of people to participate in decisions that impact them. As it now stands, “fast track” does not allow open examination and debate on the content of agreements and is counter to participatory principles.
Labor Protections. The Church teaches work has inherent dignity. We support the protection of worker rights, including the right to organize, as well as compliance with internationally-agreed worker standards. Our concern with job loss in our own urban and rural communities requires that any agreement be accompanied by firm commitments to help U.S. workers, as well as their families and communities, cope with both the social and financial strain of dislocation that free trade might bring about. Similarly, our concern extends to the human rights implications that any U.S. action can have for the people of other countries, especially developing nations. In particular, this requires special attention be devoted to safe working conditions, reasonable work hours, time off, living family wages and other recognized social benefits. This also demands commitments to provide aid, either directly or through international institutions, to displaced workers and their families in countries affected by the agreements.
Agriculture. Catholic bishops at home and abroad, along with other partners with whom they work, have expressed grave fears about the vulnerability of small agricultural producers when confronted with competition by U.S. agricultural products that enjoy an advantage due to U.S. government policies. Any agreement should promote the agricultural sector of developing countries and protect those who live in rural areas.
Sustainable Development and Care for Creation. Increasing global economic integration holds potential benefits for all participants, but it must do more than simply regulate trade and investment. The essential link between preservation of the environment and sustainable human development requires giving priority attention to protecting the environment and health of communities, including assistance to poor countries that often lack sufficient technical knowledge or resources to maintain a safe environment. Agreements should include relieving the crushing burden of external debt held by poor countries and support development which increases self-reliance and broad participation in economic decision-making.
Dispute Resolution Mechanisms. We question the merits of requiring sovereign parties to international treaties to agree to binding international arbitration as the forum for dispute resolution. Such a path can lead to unfair advantages for commercial interests willing to exploit the rules of the arbitration system and can result in the weakening of important environmental, labor, and human rights standards. In other words, a country in the TPP has every right to stop a foreign corporation from harming its people and the environment—but only if the country compensates the corporation for the expense of not harming them.
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SVdP – Voice of the Poor