Mexican, American bishops offer moral guidelines for NAFTA talks

| Dennis Sadowski | November 21, 2017 | 1 Comment
NAFTA

A woman holds a banner against a free trade agreement during a demonstration in late August to protest the start of the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations talks in Mexico City. Mexican and American bishops called on negotiators working to overhaul a 23-year-old trade agreement to ensure that any changes keep the needs of poor people foremost. CNS photo/Jose Mendez, EPA

Mexican and American bishops called on negotiators working to overhaul a 23-year-old trade agreement to ensure that any changes keep the needs of poor people foremost.

Any new planks in the North American Free Trade Agreement must be evaluated “in terms of the effects on people and the environment in the affected countries,” said a statement from the leaders of committees focused on justice and peace within both bishops’ conferences.

The statement was released Nov. 21 in Washington and Mexico City as negotiators from the United States, Canada and Mexico were in the third month of meetings on the agreement known as NAFTA.

“It (the statement) was a matter of lifting a joint voice,” explained Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, New Mexico, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, one of the signatories to the three-page document. “We wanted to remind policymakers that there are moral considerations that must take place.”

Bishop Cantu told Catholic News Service that it was important to bring attention to long-held moral principles found in Catholic social teaching to remind negotiators their primary concern should be for peoples’ livelihoods.

Also signing the statement were Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Bishop Jose Leopoldo Gonzalez Gonzalez of Nogales, Mexico, chairman of the Mexican bishops’ social ministry committee; Archbishop Carlos Garfias Merlo of Morelia, Mexico; and Bishop Guillermo Ortiz Mondragon of Cuautitlan, Mexico.

“The church believes that trade must, first of all, benefit people, in addition to markets and economies. It is crucial that these complex and multifaceted agreements arise from a sound legal and moral framework that protects the common good and the most vulnerable,” the statement said.

The statement offered seven guiding themes and criteria for negotiators that address moral concerns. Specifically, they include avoiding deeper poverty for poor people; alleviating conditions that cause people to migrate for a better life; and protecting worker rights including the number of hours worked, adequate pay and preventing child labor.

Other guidelines include prioritizing sustainable development and care for creation; ensuring that indigenous people share equitably in any benefits from trade; easing the vulnerability of small farmers to corporate farming; and adding intellectual property rights provisions regarding pharmaceuticals and agriculture in particular.

The statement encouraged political leaders in the Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, the three countries covered by NAFTA, to deepen bonds among the nations, “taking into account the concerns that have arisen since the implementation of the original agreement.”

The bishops of the United States and Mexico also called for any new agreement to be supplemented by financing mechanisms and additional cooperation in development to ensure social well-being and preventing the deepening of economic inequality between families and regions.

The statement urged he strengthening of human rights protections, including labor standards, and social, cultural and environmental rights in addition to security for people on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.

“It’s not that the principles have changed, but to highlight those now,” Bishop Cantu said.

He added that it was important for both bishops’ conferences to speak with one voice on the issue. He cited the St. John Paul II’s 1999 apostolic exhortation “Ecclesia in America” (“The Church in America”) as a guiding force for the cooperation among the bishops.

The exhortation called for unity and cooperation among the churches across the borders of the Western Hemisphere. It followed the fall 1997 special assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops.

When NAFTA came into force Jan. 1, 1994, it was touted as an economic stimulus to the three countries because it lifted trade barriers and would provide much-needed jobs. However, it has come under criticism for causing the erosion of U.S. and Canadian jobs as companies relocated manufacturing facilities to Mexico to take advantage of weaker employment protections, lower wages and less stringent environmental regulations.

President Donald Trump pushed for reopening talks on the trade agreement, saying that the U.S. economy and its workers had not benefited from some provisions. He has threatened to withdraw from NAFTA altogether if, in his determination, a deal is not reached that helps reduce the U.S. trade deficit.

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  • Charles C.

    NAFTA involves three countries, Canada, the US, and Mexico. This statement has no participation from the Canadian bishops. I wish I knew why.

    I also wish I knew why the bishops can’t get creative. They don’t seem to be able to think outside of the box, and it’s a very small box indeed. Regardless of the problem, the solution is “Open borders, give money to poor countries, and give money (or goods) to poor people.”

    Sound like an over-generalizataion? Well, look at some quotes from their principles:

    “Agreements must prevent the deepening of poverty, as well as provide adjustment services to those affected by them.” (Guess who will pay for the services.)

    “Migration must be transformed into a dignified process, recognizing that people have the right to stay in their country or migrate in order to support their families;” (If people have the RIGHT to migrate to the US, we certainly don’t need any of our immigration laws or policies, everyone may enter.)

    “Concern with job loss in both countries requires that any agreement be accompanied by firm commitments to help workers, as well as their families and communities, cope with both the social and financial strains of dislocation that free trade might bring about.” (Again, Mexico doesn’t have the resources for this, but the US does.)

    “Any agreement should consider compensatory policies to promote food production, distribution, and social consumption systems in Mexico’s agricultural sector, and protect those living in rural areas in the United States.” (Compensatory policies? More “compensation” to Mexico?)

    “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 for access to medicines and to food, . . . ” (The poor in the US already have substantial help in receiving food and drugs, are we to send free food and drugs to Mexico?)

    “The renegotiated agreement, or any mutual accords we arrive at, must be
    supplemented with additional economic measures, especially financing
    mechanisms . . . ” (We know what that means, sending money in one way or another to Mexico.)

    Please understand that I am not opposed to helping people. My opposition is two-fold. One, the statement sounds as though the bishops have just cut and pasted earlier documents for anything that might apply, without significant thought.

    Two, they seem to be missing the point of the negotiation and the issues being raised. What’s causing the problem are proposals which don’t fit neatly into the bishops’ outline.

    “The most written about and controversial proposals include:
    “The introduction of a NAFTA sunset clause that would allow any of the participating countries to terminate the deal after five years, [m]ajor modifications to NAFTA’s investor-state dispute settlement system which allows foreign investors to sue host governments in secret tribunals that trump national laws if these investors believe that government actions threaten their expected profits, [a] tightening of the rules on the origins of car parts, [and t]he end to government procurement restrictions on preferential treatment for domestic firms.”

    I wish the bishops would be more concise and direct when dealing with questions, especially with questions they’ve discussed a dozen times. For now, though, it seems like more of the same, and the same wasn’t very good the first time around.