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Latin American bishops warn free trade agreements hurt poor

Citing possible harmful effects on the poor, Latin American bishops pledged to help grassroots groups have an effective voice in free trade agreements being promoted in the Western Hemisphere.

The Department of Justice and Solidarity of the Latin American bishops' council said that the current structure of free trade agreements tend to favour multinational companies, the economic elites in Latin America and the industrialised countries.

The United States has been promoting free trade agreements similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which in 1994 implemented a free trade zone in the United States, Mexico and Canada.

The document said that landless rural farmworkers, small businessmen, women, youths, the elderly and the handicapped often lose out under such agreements.

"The current economic model in our region - which tends to concentrate economic, political and social power in the hands of a few - has notably put the brakes on the consolidation of integral and sustainable human development," it said.

Free trade agreements must include "sufficient financial resources that permit Latin American and Caribbean countries to substantially improve the quality of life of their inhabitants as well as invest in their commercial possibilities," said the statement.

The four-page statement was written after last month's meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, between Latin American bishops and economic and trade officials of several governments. It was organised by the bishops' council, known by its Spanish acronym as CELAM.

The statement favored the concept of increased international trade as a way of further integrating the region's countries.

It supported using the World Trade Organization as a forum for discussing issues related to overcoming the trade disadvantages of underdeveloped countries in relation to industrialised ones.

Similar criticisms to those of CELAM were aired in July in a joint statement by bishops from the United States and Central America. In 2003 the Mexican bishops' social action commission criticized the North American pact and said that three million Mexican small farmers and farmworkers are worse off because of it.

The United States, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica have signed a free trade agreement, but the legislatures of each country have yet to ratify it. The United States also is promoting bilateral treaties with several countries and an overall treaty for the hemisphere.

Latin American bishops caution against effects of free trade pacts (Catholic News Service 15/9/04)

American bishops set impact on poor as Free Trade's 'moral measure' (CathNews 27/7/04)
Criteria Outlined for Judging U.S.-Central American Trade Pact (Zenit 25/7/04)
Joint Statement outlines Criteria for Judging U.S.- Central American free Trade Agreement (US Conference of Catholic Bishops 23/7/04)
Australia and Malaysia explore FTA (The Age 27/7/04)
US bishops backing small farmer opposition to Free Trade (CathNews 29/10/03)
Network's call for Govt transparency on Free Trade Agreement (CathNews 12/2/04)
Bishop says free trade threatens sovereignty and democracy (CathNews 25/11/03)
Commission warns of free trade threat (CathNews 31/10/03)

17 Sep 2004