US bishops urge Congress to evaluate free-trade agreement with moral criteria


The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services (CRS) are urging Congress to evaluate the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) based on moral criteria.

CAFTA is a trade and investment agreement negotiated between the United States and six Central American and Caribbean countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic.

President George W. Bush is expected to ask Congress approve CAFTA in May.

The U.S. bishops and CRS stated that they do not officially support or oppose CAFTA, but they recognize that certain moral questions about the impact of trade agreements on people’s lives are generally not part of debate in developing agreements like this one.

They said members of Congress must engage in such evaluation and consider the following questions. 

  • How will CAFTA address the needs of small and medium-sized farms in the U.S. and Central America?
  • How will CAFTA protect the rights of workers and the environment?
  • How will people have a say in how CAFTA impacts their lives?
  • How will CAFTA’s intellectual property provisions impact the poor?
  • How will CAFTA promote integral human development, especially of the poor?

The bishops and CRS pointed out that, since the agreement was signed, there has been an absence of broad consultation with the people in the key sectors that will be affected. In addition, little information has been available in publicly accessible forms.

“CAFTA’s ability to increase opportunities for the poor and to enhance prospects that they will genuinely benefit from increased trade remains unclear,” the bishops said. “Trade policies must be framed within an integrated development agenda that incorporates measures to improve education, health care, and democratic participation.”

The bishops and CRS also called on Catholics to contact their members of Congress and urge them to engage in a moral evaluation of CAFTA.

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