The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Questions of Free Trade

Mulloy and Coll

Tom Mulloy and Richard Coll of the USCCB.

Quick, take a look at the tag on your shirt.

Where was it made? El Salvador? Vietnam? China?

How about that fruit you ate for lunch? A banana from Costa Rica? An apple from Chile?

Do you have a neighbor or loved one who has lost a job because their plant closed?

Do you know where that phone or tablet came from? Even more than where they are assembled, the plastics, state of the art glass, and precious and other metals are all produced in hundreds of far off places.

When it comes to the immigration debate, have we really ever stopped to ask why so many people take the frightening and courageous step of leaving their home country to come to the United States in search of work?

The answers to these questions are determined, in large part, by the international trade agreements our country negotiates with others. Our country’s trade policies touch almost every aspect of our lives. What’s more, they touch the lives of almost every other person on the planet, many in very consequential ways. Despite this, most Americans are unaware of the importance of trade deals, and the current debate happening in Washington goes largely unnoticed.

Debate about a new trade agreement is raising these very questions. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would create rules among a significant number of nations in North and South America as well as Asia.

This debate will have profound consequences on the lives of those in poverty and on vulnerable communities, both here in the United States and around the globe. This is why the Catholic bishops of the United States, taking a cue from Pope Francis, are following the conversation closely. Earlier this year, Archbishop Thomas Wenski and Bishop Oscar Cantú wrote to Congress, saying that:

Trade policies must be grounded in people-centered ethical criteria, in pursuit of the common good for our nation and people around the world.

They laid out criteria for just trade policy that would accomplish this, stressing that the question is not whether trade itself is good or bad; Catholic teaching affirms that trade, properly oriented, can be good. The real question is how to craft trade policies that affirm human life and dignity, encourage the development of peoples, and advance the common good. History tells us that many trade policies, as crafted and implemented, have harmed many and have actually contributed to the challenges of excessive economic inequality, migration, hunger and conflict.

As Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú point out, a critical step in achieving a just framework is participation. As with any issue, trade agreements must be debated and constructed in a way

that will assure that voices from affected sectors of society can be heard and that their interests are reflected in whatever agreements emerge.

Historically, trade negotiations are granted special status, formerly known as ‘fast track’, now known as ‘Trade Promotion Authority (TPA)’. However, many have raised concerns that this process does not allow for all affected parties to have their voices heard.

Trade agreements may be complicated, but the criteria that should guide them are simple and rest on core tenets of Catholic teaching. A commitment to these criteria, laid out by Archbishop Wenski and Bishop Cantú, would be an important first step toward creating a more just world.

Richard Coll, Esq. and Tom Mulloy are policy advisors at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.

Go deeper:
Learn more about USCCB advocacy for just trade agreements.

Towards Dialogue & Reconciliation with Cuba

Bishop Oscar Cantú, Chairman of the USCCB Committee on International Justice and Peace, issued a statement today in response to the release of Alan Gross and to the further decisions by the Obama Administration to build normal relations with Cuba. In his statement, Bishop Cantú expressed his joy at Mr. Gross’ return, and provided strong support for the process of expanding dialogue, trade and communications with Cuba. The bishop also agreed on the need to reexamine Cuba’s previous designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

For decades, the USCCB has supported normalization of relations with Cuba. The Conference believes that dialogue and reconciliation will foster democracy, human rights and religious freedom in that country. By engaging and strengthening Cuban civil society through increased cultural, religious and business contacts, the likelihood of positive change in Cuba will be enhanced.

Read more on the USCCB’s advocacy related to Cuba.

Coll headshotMr. Richard Coll is an international policy advisor on Latin America and global trade at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.