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Statement On the Occasion of the 5th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference


Statement by Most Reverend John H. Ricard, S.S.J., Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
September 10, 2003

This week, the United States and other governments have a significant opportunity to help reduce world poverty and establish a more just world trading system. For the sake of the poorer nations, we hope that the meeting will succeed because the negotiations to date have stalled. As trade ministers gather in Cancun, Mexico for the 5th World Trade Organization Ministerial Conference, they face major decisions about changing the rules of trade governing agriculture, life saving drugs, economic investment and general trade in the goods and services. The moral challenge is to ensure that whatever agreements are made they will benefit the entire human family, particularly the poor of the world.

While trade alone cannot resolve world poverty, it can help diminish it and bring a measure of hope to many who see no future of economic improvement for their families. Global trade and investment can be truly beneficial, creating higher incomes and job opportunities for many people. Trade agreements should be structured so that they do not just raise economic indicators, but also respect the human dignity of all people affected and actually improve the lives of the poor. The scandal of poverty stalks the lives of too many of our brothers and sisters. Therefore, a key goal of trade agreements should be poverty reduction. The United States and other developed countries must live up to their commitment made in 2001 at the trade meeting in Doha to address specifically the needs of developing countries.

The Ministerial meeting offers a unique opportunity to place the needs of the developing countries first and foremost. The decision made in Doha to emphasize agriculture as a starting point for trade negotiations was wise. Agricultural trade is, in the eyes of many, a litmus test for the world’s trade order. So many of the poor in the world are farmers or employed in agriculture and the rural sector. If done in a more just manner, changing and adjusting the rules governing agriculture could significantly benefit the poorer nations and have a great impact on reducing poverty. For richer countries, this will mean cutting back on subsidies to farmers, eliminating high tariffs and lowering their market entry barriers. It will also mean targeting their domestic supports at more reasonable levels for the benefit of smaller and more moderate sized farms. Furthermore, it will mean providing special supports to poorer countries and allowing them to adopt some protective measures so that they can adequately develop their agricultural sector.

We also hope that any agreements reached on sharing life saving drugs will truly benefit the people of poorer countries who are ravaged by HIV/AIDS, malaria, TB and other treatable diseases. In addition, given the widening economic inequality between wealthier and poorer nations, it is especially important that governments as well as citizens of developing nations have a full place at the negotiating table with equal stature, rights and opportunities in Cancun.

We share the concern of many that if significant progress is not made in Cancun more people could become disillusioned with trade itself and the international organizations like the World Trade Organization. Therefore, this meeting not only offers a unique opportunity but one that must not be squandered. As Catholic bishops, we pray that this opportunity will be seized and that progress can be made to enhance the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable in our increasingly globalized world.

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