from the nobody-expects-the-Spanish-Inquisition-or-Holy-See dept
There's no shortage of critics of massive trade agreements like TPP and TAFTA/TTIP, but today saw strong condemnation from a very unexpected quarter: the Holy See, often, if erroneously, equated with the Vatican. Whatever the jurisdictional differences, the statement delivered by His Excellency Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva at the 9th Session of the Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization presumably comes with the full approval of Pope Francis himself. We can assume that because of the extremely controversial statements it contains, which would have required approval at the highest level. Things like this:
While a minority is experiencing exponential growth in wealth, the gap is widening to separate the vast majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies that defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and of financial speculation. Consequently, there is an outright rejection of the right of States, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. An even worse development is that such policies are sometimes locked in through trade rules negotiated at the WTO or in bilateral or regional FTAs.
The statement then goes on to criticize the move away from multilateral trade agreements of the kind traditionally drawn up at the WTO, to new-style "mega-regional trade agreements", routinely negotiated in secret:
Currently there is a clear tendency to further enlarge these RTAs [Regional Trade Agreements] to form mega-regional trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Certainly, the enlargement of regional trade agreements is a step towards further trade liberalization but we have to bear in mind that these agreements inevitably threaten the desirability to reach an agreement on a truly multilateral basis. In fact, by entering a regional trade agreement a country reduces the incentives to extend its efforts on trade liberalization at a multilateral level.
Here's why the Holy See believes RTAs and mega-RTAs are problematic:
we know that only the multilateral system is a clear, equitable system that provides effective guarantees for small and poor countries that tend to be penalized in a Regional Trade Agreement where it is asymmetric. Among the most damaging concessions developing countries make in regional and bilateral agreements are those enhancing the monopolies on life-saving medicines, which reduce access and affordability and those that provide excessive legal rights to foreign investors, limiting the policy space for nations to promote sustainable and inclusive development.
"Enhancing the monopolies on life-saving medicines" is a clear swipe at TPP, which aims to do precisely that, with what are likely to be terrible and even fatal consequences for the poor in the Pacific region. And the phrase "excessive legal rights to foreign investors, limiting the policy space for
nations to promote sustainable and inclusive development" is obviously a reference to the imposition of corporate sovereignty clauses in both TPP and TAFTA/TTIP.
It's unlikely that the Holy See's intervention at the WTO meeting in Bali will have any direct effects on either the TPP or TAFTA/TTIP negotiations, but it does signal two important facts. First, that Pope Francis is emerging as a passionate defender of the world's poor, and one who is not afraid to speak truth to even the most powerful nations; and secondly, that resistance to the most unjust and unjustifiable aspects of TPP and TAFTA/TTIP continues to grow.