For I Was Hungry & You Gave Me Food: A Catholic Agenda for Action - Pursuing a More Just Agricultural System - Part 3

International Trade, Aid, and Development

Catholic teaching requires us to pay special attention to our brothers and sisters who are suffering in extreme poverty around the world, many of whom live in rural areas. We seek measures that address the needs and interests of small farm owners and farmworkers—both overseas and in the United   States.

As a strategy for global poverty reduction, international trade with developed nations, if guided by principles of justice, may do far more for poor countries than all foreign aid. While we support targeted subsidies and other programs for small and moderate-sized farms in the United States (especially those most at risk), we also recognize that greater access to local, regional, and international markets is essential for agricultural development in poor countries. Current U.S. and European subsidies, supports, tariffs, quotas, and other barriers that undermine market access for poorer countries should be substantially reduced and should be focused on policies that minimize the direct and indirect effects on prices of agricultural goods. The process of reducing these trade barriers will not be easy. It must take into account the time needed for farmers and farmworkers in developed countries to adjust, while recognizing the need to reduce the negative effects of agricultural trade barriers on struggling farmers in poor countries around the world. Our goal should be to minimize harm to farmers caused by international trade policies. We should assess all trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for their impact on farmers and farmworkers.

We support the goal of free and equitable trade; however, the poorest countries need appropriate flexibility to use protective measures to safeguard food security and achieve income stability for their farmers and farmworkers. It is important that trade agreements give impoverished nations an opportunity to use protections when necessary, including tariffs, subsidies, and other support mechanisms, to build their agricultural sectors so that poor farmers can continue to produce and market staple food crops, can support their families, and can sustain viable rural communities. The strength and success of the U.S. agricultural system was achieved in part through policies that provided extensive support for U.S. farmers over the years. We must find ways for the governments of the United States and other developed countries to adopt trade policies that provide special access to their markets for farmers from the world’s most desperately poor nations and to take steps to promote stable prices for agricultural goods. Initiatives for fairer trade should be supported so that trade relationships benefit poor communities, minimize exploitation through just remuneration, preserve local culture, and promote environmentally sustainable farming practices. In some instances, developing countries, in trading agricultural goods among themselves, could benefit from a mutual reduction in trade barriers.

To protect the health and well-being of all people, trade policies should provide consistent food safety standards that are open to public review, are based on internationally accepted scientific criteria, and are subject to a neutral dispute resolution process. This will ensure that all farmers are subject to the same standards. To promote adoption of consistent standards throughout the world, developed nations should provide technical and other assistance to poorer countries.

All people have a basic human right to a sufficient amount of safe food to sustain life. Food aid is an essential response to people who do not have access to adequate food. We encourage more affluent nations, including the United States, to generously respond to requests for food aid and to focus their aid on meeting the needs of hungry people, as determined by the countries in need. Food aid should not be a means for developed nations to dispose of surplus commodities, create new markets for agricultural products, displace local food production, or distort world food prices. Food aid programs should not foster dependency among recipient countries and should be designed in ways that advance broader food security strategies for poor nations. Affluent nations and international institutions should support and assist developing countries in creating strategies to ensure food security for their people. The governments of developing nations have an obligation to do everything reasonably possible to overcome hunger. This requires promoting agricultural development, curbing corruption, and ensuring that food aid actually goes to the hungry. Sometimes, providing financial assistance to enable food aid recipients to buy food in regional or international markets might be the best option.

The decision to accept food aid has been complicated by the development of new technologies that alter the genetic make-up of some grains and other foods. Because some of the world’s developed nations will not trade with countries whose goods are genetically altered, accepting genetically modified food aid may jeopardize a poor country’s access to important markets. If genetically altered seeds from food aid are accidentally planted, a country’s crops may become genetically altered and may no longer be accepted by some trading partners. Donors should fully inform developing countries when food aid contains genetically modified crops. We respect the right of sovereign nations to make decisions about accepting food aid based on their assessment of the risks to health, the environment, and access to international markets. However, when the threat of starvation places human lives at risk, and there are no feasible alternatives, food aid must be made available to hungry people. In these situations, donors should make every effort to ensure that local crops are not affected and local concerns are addressed by milling food-aid grains and other measures.

In an increasingly globalized economy, multinational corporations provide farmers throughout the world with seeds, credit, marketing support, transportation, food, and more. While global access to products and technologies can bring important benefits, it also involves risks that control over these goods can become concentrated in the hands of a few powerful corporations and that local control over farming practices may be lost. The policies of governments and international institutions should promote fair competition in the agricultural sector while protecting the interests of small farm owners.