US Catholic Bishops’ Letter on Trade Agreements and Fast Track

The coming months will be critical for most people in our world. Governments of several countries are negotiating trade agreements which have the potential to impact all of us. Many of us believe the impact will be positive for the “haves” and negative for the “have-not”. The issue is complex and the Bishops have helped us with some guiding principles. Two of the major agreements are:

•    The TPP,  Trans Pacific Partnership, includes the following countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.

•    The TTIP, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, includes countries of the European Union and the United States.

The Catholic Bishops write,

Our moral tradition articulates principles to evaluate any proposed trade deal:

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 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.

Indigenous People. Catholic bishops throughout the world minister extensively among indigenous groups. Out of respect for their cultural heritages and in view of their economic development, we hope that the United States will give careful attention to requirements that commercial agreements honor the patrimony of these indigenous communities, and share equitably the benefits of any commerce with groups in which traditional knowledge and natural resources originated.

Migration. Our Church has long defended the right of people to migrate when conditions in their home countries prevent them from providing for themselves and their families. If migration is to be reduced, we believe that it must be done through alleviation of the conditions that impel people to leave their homelands. Any trade or investment agreement should be designed in a way that would assure a reduction in the need to emigrate.

Agriculture. Our brother bishops at home and abroad, along with other partners with whom we work, have expressed grave fears about the vulnerability of small agricultural producers when confronted with competition by U.S. agricultural products that enjoy a notable 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 should 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.

Intellectual Property Rights. We are also concerned about intellectual property rights provisions with regard to pharmaceuticals. The Church locates intellectual property rights within the broader framework of the common good and believes these rights should be balanced with the needs of the poor.

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 may lead to unfair advantages for commercial interests willing to exploit the rules of the arbitrarily system and may result in the weakening of important environmental, labor, and human rights standards.

Participation. It is critical the 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.