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

Bishops bring concerns to NAFTA table

  • November 29, 2017
As negotiators sat down in Mexico City for the fifth round of NAFTA negotiations, U.S. and Mexican bishops warned that failure to come up with a fair deal on trade could fuel more violence and more illegal immigration at the Mexican-U.S. border.

“Inequalities between regions, sectors and various groups will deepen, as well as forced displacement and disordered, involuntary and unsafe migration, as well as violence, will continue to predominate,” unless a new agreement aims to ease the burden on those made  jobless, the bishops said in a statement released Nov. 15.

The statement was jointly crafted by two U.S. bishops conference committees and the Mexican bishops’ Pastoral Social Commission. It lays out seven priorities for a new North American Free Trade Agreement — the poor, migration, labour protection, sustainable development, Indigenous peoples, agriculture and intellectual property rights.

The Canadian bishops were not invited to be part of the statement or the talks leading up to them. The statement on NAFTA grew out of a continuing dialogue about trade and migration issues between the Mexican and U.S. bishops that has been going on since the early 1990s, said Christopher Ljungquist, an expert on Latin America and global trade in the U.S. bishops’ Office of International Justice and Peace.

“It would have been perfectly fine to have had this be trilateral,” said Ljungquist, but since the Canadian bishops had never been part of the regular meetings between Mexican and American bishops, expanding the talks would have delayed the process.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops did not respond to questions from The Register.

The bishops weren’t aiming to tell negotiators exactly what a new agreement should contain but rather to identify elements needed in a successful and just trade agreement, said Ljungquist.

“In essence the bishops are interested in having the common good and integral development of everyone be the end goal of commercial relationships in general.”

“We approach the issue of trade as pastors, not economists,” said the joint statement. “The poor cannot be abandoned once again. Agreements must prevent the deepening of poverty as well as provide adjustment services to those affected by them.”

Trade between Canada and the United States amounted to $690.4 billion in 2016, with a $31.2 billion surplus for the U.S. Canada is the number two trading partner with the U.S. after China. Mexico is America’s number three trading partner, with two-way trade totalling $666.4 billion in 2016, including an $80.2 billion surplus in favour of the Mexicans.

President Donald Trump continues to focus his rhetoric on the U.S.-Mexico trade relationship. 

“We’re going to have companies that aren’t going to be leaving our country anymore,” Trump told Fox News’ Lou Dobbs Nov. 21.

While Trump talks about jobs, American negotiators are not likely to engage on labour standards, said King’s University College economics professor Peter Ibbott.

“The current administration is not keen on labour protection.”

The environment, poverty and Indigenous cultural survival are not distractions from hard economic issues but concrete results of how the economy functions, said Ibbott. 

“They (the bishops) don’t say anything particularly outrageous from an economist’s point of view,” he said. “Should bishops talk about economic matters? Absolutely. Just like politicians talk about economic matters.”

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