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Religious Leaders Criticize U.S. Trade Policy

Global Women's Project | Wed, Mar 14, 2007

Press release for the Interfaith Working Group of Trade and Investment Congressional briefing on U.S. Trade Agenda. March 13, 2007

While Congress Debates the Future U.S. Trade Agenda, Religious Leaders,
Congressional Representatives and Representatives from the Global South say U.S. Trade Policy is Far from Compassionate

Representative Marcy Kaptur Announces Resolution on Moral and Ethical Trade

WASHINGTON, DC – As President Bush makes his way through Latin America, touting the U.S. as a compassionate nation, representatives from Mexico, Bolivia, and South Africa spoke at a Congressional briefing today to challenge that message, citing poverty-inducing aspects of U.S. trade policy. The day-long briefing entitled Rethinking U.S. Trade Policy for the Common Good was sponsored by the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment and Representatives Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Walter Jones (R-NC) to urge Congress to expand the debate around trade to consider livelihoods, food security, rural development, cost of medicines and affordability of water.

Representative Kaptur announced a new House Resolution that she will introduce next week stating, "The U.S. should adhere to moral and ethical principles of economic justice and fairness in developing and advancing U.S. international trade treaties, agreements, and investment policies."

Erika Dueas, Economic Advisor for the Embassy of Bolivia presented an alternative view to the U.S. FTA model, a different and comprehensive approach taking into consideration the asymmetries between countries and seeking a way for all to live well. "There are important changes in Latin America and we hope the visit of President Bush and his direct contact with people in those countries will lead to changes of the US Trade Policy," she said.

The current trade model being pushed by the U.S. has also seen resistance in Africa.  "The idea that FTAs will uplift Southern African countries from poverty via free reciprocal trade with the U.S. is false," noted Francis Ng'ambi, Economic Justice Network of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa.  "FTAs are offensive tools for market access of rich countries but at the expense of jobs, development and livelihoods of people in poor countries. This is why the Southern African countries rejected the U.S. one-size-fits-all trade model in April last year."

Trading away democracy and tying the hands of government was a key theme addressed at the briefing. Countries need to be able to set national development policy because they carry the responsibility.  "The purpose of the agreement is to get into the guts of democracy," said Robert K. Stumberg, Professor of Law and Director, Harrison Institute for Public Policy, Georgetown University Law Center stated. "What is at stake is water, electricity, health care and education," he said.

"It is absolutely clear that the existing religion on trade is a false religion," stated Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).  "As a member representing the Great Lakes region, we are headed for a collision in the WTO around our ability to maintain the integrity of our water."

Another key theme of the briefing was trade and livelihoods. "Since the implementation of NAFTA, North Carolina has lost over 200,000 manufacturing jobs," said Leslie Hossfeld, Assistant Professor of Public Sociology at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  "We estimated the ripple effect of these 10,000 jobs over a ten-year period to be a $4.5 billion loss in income, tax revenue and jobs for the county."

Victor Quintana of the Campesino Democratic Front of Chihuahua at the University of Juarez argued NAFTA is a root cause of Mexican migration to the U.S., "For every container of 30 metric tons of Cargill corn exported to Mexico, we export back two immigrants."

"The disease in agriculture is low prices," said Larry Mitchell, CEO, American Corn Growers Association.  "In American we use subsidies as the prescription, but they don't cure the disease and simply eliminating them won't help farmers in the U.S. or overseas," he said.  "Instead we have to replace subsidies with something that will actually cure the disease of low prices."

Putting development principles inside the debate is a shared interest.  Not only will developing countries be more responsible for their own development but their governments will not be able to hide behind the international financial institutions, the WTO and trade agreements.  If there is no democratic accountability and avenue to express opposition, violence and insecurity will irrupt.

Angela Wauye, Food Rights Coordinator, ActionAid Kenya, is quite familiar with U.S. demands of Kenya in the WTO, particularly the U.S. push for access to developing country markets.  Ms. Wauye noted that, "Pushing open markets of developing countries through trade liberalization will have a devastating effect on the agricultural sector, destabilizing livelihoods, and destroying the social fabric causing people to become economic refugees in developed countries."

As President Bush's fast-track authority nears its expiration date in June, he is testing the waters for its reauthorization and introducing the Colombia, Peru, and Panama trade deals.  "There are about 25 Republican representatives who will join the Democrats on most if not all the trade issues," stated Representative Walter Jones (R-NC). "If we can make trade agreements that are fair and good for both [countries] I could support that," he said.

"People are rising around the world to say another world is possible and we must have it," said James E. Hug, SJ, President, Center of Concern. "It is a real sign of the spirit of God moving within us," he said.