by Brendan Lalor
In a recent statement outlining “criteria for judging the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed concern over the Bush-brokered U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), which includes “the United States, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.”
CAFTA is a trade agreement especially beneficial to large corporations, modeled on the North American Free Trade Agreement, binding Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, which has been criticized for draining well-paying jobs from the U.S., destroying Mexican corn and rice farmers’ livelihoods, failing to provide adequate protections for the environment, and more.
The bishops said, “The human person must be at the center of all economic activity,” and expressed worries about four major areas:
- The lack of discussion and consensus within the countries affected, especially in Central America, on the impact of the agreement. “This troubles us deeply given the obvious imbalance in power and influence that exists between the United States and the Central American countries,” they said.
- The potential impact of U.S. farm supports on Central American farm producers and the potential impact on small- and medium-sized farmers in the United States that would result from reform of those support programs.
- The need for clearer enforcement mechanisms with the agreement for the protection of worker rights and the environment.
- The effects of the treaty on intellectual property rights and the possibility of increased health care costs for Central Americans.
“It is essential that economic globalization be made more human by globalizing solidarity,” they said. “The moral measure of any trade agreement should be how it affects the lives and dignity of poor families and vulnerable workers whose voice should receive special attention in this discussion.”
Thanks are due to Lee Hunt for bringing the Bishops’ statement to my attention. –BL