Commenting on a proposed trade agreement, the U.S. bishops have said such agreements should defend human dignity, protect the environment and public heath, and promote “justice and peace.”
“We encourage you to join us in promoting these values and to evaluate any trade deal in light of them,” Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami and Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines said in a Jan. 16 letter to the leading members of the House and Senate committees on finance, which are considering whether to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Archbishop Wenski heads the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice committee, while Bishop Pates heads the committee on international justice and peace.
The trade agreement is an effort to promote economic integration among nations on the Pacific Rim.
The two bishops cited Pope Francis’ June 2013 message to the G-8 summit, in which the Pope said that economic and political actions must help provide people with “the minimum wherewithal to live in dignity and freedom, with the possibility of supporting a family, educating children, praising God and developing one’s own human potential.”
“This is the main thing,” Pope Francis said. “In the absence of such a vision, all economic activity is meaningless.”
The Office of the United States Trade Representative, part of the executive branch of the U.S. government, has said participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will advance its interests in the region through expanding exports and creating jobs in the U.S. The agreement will also promote “regulatory coherence and cooperation” among its members.
Current participants in the partnership are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The U.S. bishops’ conference does not take positions on specific trade agreements, but the two bishops offered several principles to consider.
Labor protections are needed for those workers dislocated by free trade, as well as to ensuring safe working conditions, “reasonable” work hours, time off, and “living family wages.”
Commercial agreements should also “honor the patrimony” of indigenous people and their communities, sharing the benefits of commerce “equitably.” The agreements should also be designed to ensure a reduction in the need for people to emigrate.
Trade agreements should promote agriculture in developing countries and should protect residents of rural areas, the bishops said. The agreements should support “sustainable development” and “care for creation.”
The two bishops also stressed the need for popular participation in “decisions that touch their lives.”
“Human dignity demands transparency and the right of people to participate in decisions that impact them.”