Originally issued November 17, 2003.
“Inspired by the Catholic Social Teaching of the Church, we reaffirm that the economy must be at the service of the human person, and must respect the fundamental rights of the people.” – A Declaration by the Mercosur Bishops, Montevideo, Uruguay, September 4, 2003
As Catholic people of faith, Pax Christi USA believes that the economic vision behind the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement is in contradiction to the economic vision held up by Scripture and Catholic Social Teaching. For this reason and others, Pax Christi USA believes that its members, Christians everywhere, and all people of conscience and good will should act to defeat the FTAA.
The economic model articulated throughout Scripture and in Catholic Social Teaching stands in stark contrast to the economic model that lies at the heart of the FTAA. In Exodus 16, God introduces the Israelite community in the wilderness to an economic model that emphasizes the abundance of creation. In this “economy of abundance” or “economy of grace,” there is enough for all (Ex. 16:18) when all take only what they need. The economic models espoused by global corporations and transnational organizations like the World Trade Organization and practiced in agreements like NAFTA and the FTAA promote an “economy of scarcity,” where a few accumulate more than they can ever need while billions struggle to meet even the most basic of human necessities like food, shelter, clean water and healthcare. Furthermore, the “jubilee” prescriptions in Leviticus outline an economic system that respects the dignity and integrity of both human beings and creation, asserts the rights of the poor, and assures a just distribution of the wealth of the community. The prescriptions of the FTAA and the institutions that embrace such neo-liberal trade policies frustrate, ignore or purposefully conspire against the biblical vision of an economy that serves the entire human family and cares for God’s creation. Jesus’ own teachings and actions in the gospels (Mk 6:34-44; Luke 16:19-31; and numerous other passages) call Christians to economic practices that contradict the economic vision of the FTAA.
As Catholics, we also assert that the social teachings of the Church stand in utter contradiction to the values of the global corporate empire that dictates policies like the FTAA. The purpose of the economy is to serve the common good, to promote solidarity between peoples, to take special concern for the needs of the poor, to recognize the rights of workers, and to care for God’s creation. It is clear to us that the FTAA will achieve none of these hallmarks of Catholic Social Teaching.
Pax Christi USA agrees with local communities in the Global South and throughout the nations of the Americas that the FTAA will result in an agenda that promotes deregulation, privatization and competitive market-driven economics as a formula for development that primarily benefits the interests of transnational corporations.
Pax Christi USA reaffirms the declaration made by the Mercosur Bishops, the Catholic bishops of South America’s Mercosur trading bloc—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. We echo their concern that the FTAA “could favor both a concentration of economic power in the hands of a few and in a limited number of competitive companies.” Further, Pax Christi USA agrees with the Bishops’ assertion that the FTAA could “bring about the formation of monopolies and oligopolies that would eventually impose their hegemony on governments, particularly on the weakest countries of the American continent.”
Additionally, we believe that the FTAA will result in reduced access to collective bargaining and weakened workplace safety and environmental protections, with little or no accountability to local communities, particularly in Latin America.
Under NAFTA, many U.S.-based companies moved their production to Mexico resulting in more than 766,000 jobs being lost in the U.S. Should the FTAA agreement result in similar job loss, jobless numbers in the U.S. would increase dramatically—at a time when 3.2 million private sector jobs have disappeared in the U.S., the largest sustained job loss in the U.S. since the Great Depression. And despite the influx of jobs, Mexican workers have seen little benefit from NAFTA. While companies relocate to Mexico and benefit from the cheaper labor, they have very little responsibility to the community they are joining in terms of paying a minimum wage, supporting improved social services, or respecting the environment. NAFTA, with its lack of wage regulation, combined with the ability of investors to pull their money at any time, has resulted in a catastrophic financial crisis for the poor of Mexico. Between 1993 and 1999 average manufacturing wages in Mexico actually fell more than 20%, while the Mexican minimum wage fell nearly 18%. In this time period more than 4 million Mexican people have been pushed into severe poverty. Many fear that the FTAA, in expanding unregulated trade and investment, would also expand this experience to the rest of Latin America.
Pax Christi USA urges the United States and all nations in the Americas to adopt fair trade policies that support international systems of cooperation and foster social equality, human rights, cultural diversity, environmental sustainability and community well-being. With the Mercosur Bishops, Pax Christi USA argues that a “project like the FTAA should have as its primary motivation the promotion of the common good and of solidarity between peoples.”
As Pax Christi USA stated in our position paper on globalization, issued November 2001, we “believe that the global economy should serve the needs of people—especially the most vulnerable and marginalized—not the people serving the needs of the global economy. We call for the adoption of sustainable development models based on the Catholic principle of distributive justice that insists that wealthier nations reduce their consumption and pollution while at the same time helping people in exploited countries improve their quality of life while preserving their environment.”
Guided by the vision of an economy rooted in biblical values and the values of Catholic Social Teaching, Pax Christi USA urges all Catholics and citizens of the Americas to work for the defeat of the FTAA.