Letter to U.S. Trade Representative Kantor on North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), June 29, 1993

Year Published
  • 2014
  • English

June 29, 1993

Ambassador Mickey Kantor
U.S. Trade Representative
The Winder Bldg.
600 17th St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20009

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

Almost two years ago your predecessor, Ambassador Carla Hills, met with several Catholic bishops from the United States and Mexico to discuss the then prospective North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). We had convened the meeting at the request of the Mexican bishops, who shared our concern about the eventual impact of such an agreement on workers and poor people in our respective countries.

A week after that meeting, on June 4, 1991, I wrote to Ambassador Hills on behalf of the US Catholic bishops, expressing our appreciation for her briefing and outlining in some detail our hopes for the negotiation process and its outcome. I will not repeat here the specifics of that earlier letter, except to note that we stated our strong belief, as pastors and citizens, "that the economic choices of our two nations should be guided by a priority concern for the poor in both lands and by a firm commitment to the dignity of work and the rights of workers."

In subsequent paragraphs we spelled out what we meant and called for attention not only to trade and investment, but to the situation of workers, as well as to development, debt, and other vital matter’s. We also urged that several important environmental questions be worked out, that accessible and effective mechanisms be created to monitor any agreement and resolve disputes, and that a social compact similar to the one adopted by the European Community be included in NAFTA. I am enclosing a copy of our letter to Ambassador Hills.

Our reading of the agreement signed last December 17 by President Bush does not persuade us that these goals have been met. In particular, although it goes into considerable detail about protections for investors and intellectual property, it says very little about workers and their rights. I note that President Clinton, too, in his October 4, 1992 speech in Charlotte during the Presidential campaign, expressed many similar concerns, which he has repeated since, and identified "serious omissions from the agreement." He also called for legislation "to provide for public participation in crafting our position in ongoing disputes." We share these concerns.

Our unsuccessful efforts to follow the course of the negotiations and to ascertain what kinds of advice the negotiators were getting and from whom lead us to underscore the President's plea for more openness and more access for people who are affected by the terms of the agreement. Neither the various commissions set up under the agreement nor the dispute resolution mechanisms offer real opportunity for persons concerned about the common good to participate in the process.

Now that you are engaged in negotiations on the supplemental agreements which the President has indicated he needs in order to support NAFTA, I want to encourage you to give these matters of workers' justice – most of which are included in US law and International Labor Office (ILO) conventions -- the kind of priority attention they must have if the agreement is to be of genuine benefit to people in all three countries.

We understand that the far greater economic disparity between Mexico and the United States makes it unrealistic to expect quick adoption on the kind of social charter it took the European countries nearly two decades to produce; nevertheless, we believe that the effort should be made.

The Catholic bishops, of course, treat these matters from the angle of vision of pastors, not as economists or as an interest group. Nevertheless, as recent papal encyclicals have pointed out and as USCC emphasized in our 1986 pastoral letter on the U.S. economy, Economic Justice for All, there is a "preferential option for the poor." We are determined to raise our voices in their behalf, with regard to NAFTA and other matters of both domestic and international policy. This is the position we took on other subjects in our very congenial meeting earlier this year with the President.

Like him, we do not see NAFTA as the symbol of either all our hopes or all our fears. It is, however, a significant matter of public policy – with important implications for social justice and for the development of Mexico and the rest of Latin America. We have had conversations with the International Trade Commission, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and others and have studied their reports.

We have seen several suggestions in recent briefing papers on trade and on Latin American development which seem reasonable and coincide rather well with our own point of view on these matters; we hope that you are taking some of these ideas into account. In fact, we believe that any trade agreement should be part of an overall development program for the Hemisphere, rather than concentrate solely on trade and investment.

We have appreciated several USTR briefings in which we have participated in recent weeks, and we would welcome the opportunity to spell out our position in greater detail with you and your staff.

Thank you for your attention. If you can schedule such a meeting, please let me know.

Sincerely yours

(Msgr.) Robert N. Lynch
General Secretary

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