Bishops say free trade demands a regulatory framework and ethical principles

June 20, 2016

US and EU Bishops present their common position on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) prior to the 14th round of negotiations.

The text is available in English, French and German

For the first time in their history, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMECE) and the United States’ Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) publish a common position on a political theme, which is of primary importance for citizens on both sides of the Atlantic. The project of a “Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership” will have a direct impact on the lives of almost a billion people, not to mention the expected consequences of the new standards deriving from that agreement for third countries.

Following joint discussions in the summer of 2014 and a plenary assembly of COMECE dedicated to TTIP in October of the same year, the EU and US Bishops have agreed to collaborate in the development of a common position in the context of the negotiations on the free trade agreement.

Given the highly polarized debate on the TTIP, the bishops offer a “toolbox” for the evaluation of the agreement in which they hold to the fact that free trade can be truly beneficial and potentially contribute to a better future for all, provided that it promotes equitable access for all to the goods of this world and that it is structured in a way that helps to reduce inequality or injustice. Pope Francis already stated in his Encyclical Evangelii Gaudium in 2013: “Economy, as the very word indicates, should be the art of achieving a fitting management of our common home, which is the world as a whole”.

To evaluate this agreement – with a thorough social and environmental cost/benefit analysis – the bishops present 9 ethical principles based on the Catholic Social Teaching. These principles include:

  • sustainability and precaution that implies that priority must be awarded to the prevention of harm to present or future generations rather than to the pursuit of profits.
  • the protection of workers and their families and the preservation of their just rights in compliance with internationally-agreed labour standards.
  • Sustainable Development, including assistance to poor countries, and Care for Creation that are not mutually exclusive but complementary. Trade agreement must give « priority attention to protecting the environment and health of communities ».
  • Many people are concerned or feel excluded from the current negotiation process. Therefore, the bishops wish to underline the principle of participation of citizens in decisions that impact their lives. They propose the creation of appropriate fora and mechanisms.

The President of USCCB, Most Rev. Joseph E. Kurtz, and the President of COMECE, Reinhard Cardinal Marx, jointly signed the common position.