WASHINGTON - July 21 - Members of Congress, religious leaders and people of faith gathered today for a prayer breakfast to reflect on trade justice and call on Congress to reject the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), a six-nation expansion of NAFTA. The event was organized by the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment as part of a national call for people of faith to reflect on trade justice. CAFTA was signed on May 28, 2004, but has not been approved because of a lack of public and bipartisan congressional support.|
Religious leaders boldly stood with impoverished people and called today for sustainable development in Central America and respect for the integrity of Creation. In asking Congress to promote justice and human, social and economic rights for all, they explicitly rejected the model presented in CAFTA which proved NAFTA to advance the interests of a few at the expense of millions in Central America and the United States.
"Trade justice demands that international trade agreements should advance the common good and be evaluated in the light of their impact on those who are most vulnerable," noted Maria Riley, co-chair of the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment. "CAFTA reflects the interests of the powerful and wealthy and will further concentrate wealth in the hands of the few, increase inequality among peoples and nations, and threaten the livelihoods and human development of the most vulnerable. It will not foster the common good of our societies so as people of faith, we reject it," Riley continued.
John McCullough, executive director of the Church World Service, also voiced concerns about the way in which CAFTA was negotiated, stating that "the CAFTA negotiation was anti-democratic because it failed to engage a broad and representative participation that included workers, women, indigenous and ethnic groups and other affected communities in both the U.S. and Central America."
In 2001 the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment established a set of principles of fairness and justice that should guide trade negotiations. Working group members made the point that the final text of CAFTA does not meet these standards. These principles can be found online at: http://www.tradejusticeusa.org/about/eng-prin.htm
Reverend Roger W. Verley, of the National Capital Presbytery and Rural Ministry Network/Task Force, elaborated the need for trade justice, stating that "a just and moral global economy is one in which the human community ensures that every person has the resources for a life of dignity and sufficiency, and that no segment of humanity amasses an excess that causes others to be deprived and overburdens God's creation." Veryley continued with a message to Members of Congress, stating that "the future of U.S. trade policy in the Americas rests largely on the actions of Congress in the coming month and I urge you to take a stand in this critical debate and oppose CAFTA."
Prayer breakfast participants also pointed out that CAFTA, as negotiated, will harm, rather than help, farmers and workers in Central America who are struggling to overcome poverty, making that point that under NAFTA, over 1.5 million farmers lost their livelihood, while the Mexican median wage dropped by twenty percent.
"Opening up the U.S. market to Central America comes at the cost of opening Central American markets to the United States," said Auxiliary Bishop David Zywiec Sidor of Bluefields, Nicaragua. "The U.S. can sell beans and rice at a cheaper cost, ruining Nicaraguan farmers," Sidor continued. Reverend Edgar Palacio of the Calvary Baptist Church located in Washington, DC echoed Sidor's concerns, saying "Over the past decade, Central America's poor majority has already suffered as a result of increasing levels of free trade. As tariffs have steadily been lowered, poverty and inequality have been on the rise. CAFTA will accelerate this process throughout Central America and stymie countries' ability to construct human-centered development strategies."
Participants also made the point that CAFTA-NAFTA expansion requires signatory countries to rewrite their domestic policies to conform to new patent rules that will increase medicine prices and undermine access of poor farmers to seeds; provide new protection to foreign investors that undercut governments' ability to implement basic economic development, public interest environment and health protections; and privatize and deregulate essential public services.
"CAFTA would be nothing less than a disaster for Central America's most vulnerable and impoverished citizens. Every local partner we work with in the region opposes it - without exception," said Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, a board member of the American Jewish World Service.
Finally, breakfast participants cautioned that CAFTA would not benefit ordinary people in the United States, making the point that under NAFTA, the United States lost almost one million jobs. They also emphasized the need for trade agreements, unlike CAFTA, that make the needs of the poorest people, and the right to food, shelter, healthcare and education a priority over adherence to a particular trade model. Reflecting the hope and energy of the prayer breakfast, Mary Lord, the American Friends Service Committee's Assistant General Secretary for Peace and Conflict Resolution stated, "when we reflect that the world in which we live has been shaped by human hands, and that we have the power to change it, we can recognize God's call to participate in that change. Each person is called to do what she or he can to make the world more just."
The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment coordinates the U.S. Interfaith Trade Justice Campaign, which is part of a larger international ecumenical effort to engage people of faith in working for greater justice in the world trading system.
Event sponsors include the American Friends Service Committee, Center of Concern, Church World Service, Columban Missionaries Justice Peace and Integrity of Creation Office, Lutheran World Relief, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Religious Task Force on Central America and Mexico, Share Foundation, United Methodist Board of Church and Society, and Washington Office Presbyterian Church (USA).