GS XXVII, 2009
December 9, 2008
A Resolution of Witness
The Commission on Mission and Justice of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ and the following delegates:
Carrie Bail, MA; Jennifer Barrett-Siegal, MA; Wendy Vander Hart MA; Ray Medeiros, MA; Chad Kidd, MA; Karen Fritz, MA; Paul Adkins, MA; Nicole Lamarche, MA; Susan Cartmell, MA; Bob Johansen, MA; Amelie Sell, Chalfont, PA; Dick Anderson, Naples FL
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed into law on January 1, 1994. Over the next 15 years the
Many others have grown concerned over the Chapter 11, “Investor Protection Provisions” because they allow private investors to force changes in other countries’ public policy by suing them in a closed-door tribunal that stands above the courts and legislatures of the three countries. For example, Ethyl Corporation of
During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barak Obama (and others) spoke out strongly against some of NAFTA’s worst aspects, especially on labor and the environment, and he promised to revisit the agreement when in office. However, it is a growing concern among human rights, labor, and faith communities that a combination of the global financial crisis, pressure from pro-NAFTA business interests, and pro-NAFTA members in his cabinet, will push President Obama to keep NAFTA off of his programmatic agenda.
The purpose of this resolution is to express the will of the delegates to General Synod XXVII that President Obama stay the course in his pledge to strengthen NAFTA in its democratic principles, and in its Labor and Environmental side agreements.
Theological Biblical Background
The Bible is not a handbook on trade theory, but it does carry examples of how unregulated, unfettered trade can cause economic disparities, oppression, and ecological damage. When Hebrew people first settled in
In the eighth century b.c.e., prophets burst on the scene condemning the criminals who thrived in this system and their flaunting of the covenant with Yahweh. With words that were often harsh and angry, they restated the covenant: With a mighty arm and outstretched hand I rescued you from slavery in the flesh pots of Egypt, and now you are to rescue others: the poor, the widow, orphan, the homeless, the debt slave, the alien, the oppressed. But you didn’t do it (Deuteronomy 5:15, Jeremiah 22:3, etc.).
But they also projected what life would look like when Yahweh’s economy of covenant values and justice people would once again reign on earth. Isaiah prophesied that in that time the unjust merchants of Tyre would still make money but “[its] wages will be dedicated to the Lord; [its] profits will not be stored up or hoarded, but [its] merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who live in the presence of the Lord” (Isaiah 23:17-18). The markets would still work but for justice and not corruption (Amos 9:14). The royalty of
While their situation is different from ours, this resolution attempts to stand in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, and speak from their theology of the unity of all of creation in God. Economics in that theology are the economics of family. Immigrants are not strangers out to take our jobs, but our cousins who are in need of help. Trade policies are not tools to benefit the rich at the expense of the poor, but opportunities to help the whole of society as one.
A fair assessment today is to say that while critics believe an enormous amount of damage has been caused by it, even many supporters believe that it has been a disappointment and are surprised at the amount of hardship it created for some sectors of our three economies. This resolution takes the position that even if the hardships created were minor (which is not supported by the data), it is the role of Christians to support economic policies that heal and not harm, that reconcile and not alienate, that lift up and not destroy.
Text of the Resolution
WHEREAS numerous General Synod resolutions have sought to support a more just national and international economic system, including “Justice in the Maquiladoras” (GS 18, 1991), “In Support of International Fair Trade” (GS 19, 1993), “Affirming Democratic Principles in an Emerging Global Economy” (GS 21, 1997), “Ending the Stranglehold of Global Debt on Impoverished Nations” (GS 22, 1999); and “Resolution Calling For A More Just, Humane Direction For Economic Globalization” (GS 23, 2001); “For the Common Good” (GS 25, 2005), and
WHEREAS numerous General Synod resolutions have called for a more democratic and humane relationship between the US and Mexico, including, “A Call for a More Humane U.S. Immigration Policy: End Migrant Deaths; Support Immigrant Communities” (GS 26, 2007); “Emergency Resolution to End the Death of Migrants on the United States-Mexico Border by Offering Water in Christ’s Name”(GS 23, 2001); and “Border Justice Issues: A Challenge for the 21st Century Church” (GS 22, 1999), and
WHEREAS on January 1, 1994, amid major opposition and protests in Canada, the US, and Mexico, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) came officially into effect for our three countries—and the next day the Zapatista rebel movement was launched to protest it, and
WHEREAS the treaty was written ostensibly to lower trade barriers, subsidies, tariffs, and duties, and further integrate the economies of Canada, the US and Mexico in order to create a “level playing field” for trade and finance throughout the three countries, but in reality it contained many other provisions which have damaged homes, families, jobs, livelihoods, the environment, and potentially even our democracy, and
WHEREAS the treaty also set up a nontransparent judicial system that stands above our three democratically elected governments which has the power to override our individual laws and courts, and in which corporations (but not individuals) can sue countries if their legislatures pass laws which they perceive will cost them future profits, as for example when the Delaware firm, Metalclad was prevented by a vote of the town council of Guadalcazar, Mexico, from building a toxic waste treatment center in their town, but Metalclad successfully sued the government of Mexico in the NAFTA tribunal, arguing that the democratically elected council did not have the authority to ban construction of the waste dump that could have made them a profit, and was paid by the Mexican government $15.6 million in future damages, and
WHEREAS the treaty was first proposed as something that would dramatically raise employment and living standards in all three countries, but in reality contributed to major job losses and either declines or flattened incomes in all three countries (in the US because workers couldn’t compete with Mexico’s lower worker incomes, and in Mexico because farmers couldn’t compete with the US’ subsidized agricultural products), and
WHEREAS the damage to Mexican farmers and low income workers contributed to a massive increase in immigration north to the US looking for work, which then led to US policies that expended millions of dollars in fences and surveillance along the border and thousands of tragic Mexican deaths in the deserts, and
WHEREAS, the treaty claimed to uphold labor rights and protect the environment through “side agreements” which established oversight panels, in reality they were poorly funded and had weak enforcement powers (and frequently weak desires by appointees to enforce what powers they had) and
WHEREAS the scriptures are replete with stories of our ancestors immigrating to foreign countries looking for food and work during times of economic hardship (Ruth and Naomi, Abraham, Joseph’s brothers, etc.), and of the Israelites themselves welcoming in the “resident aliens,” “foreigners,” and “sojourners and strangers” (Exodus 22:21, Leviticus 19:34, etc.), and
WHEREAS the Hebrew scriptures abound with judgments on those who would oppress others through economic means and who had no compassion on the homeless, the indebted, the jobless, and the stranger (Exodus 23:6; Jeremiah 22:3, etc.), and
WHEREAS in the Christian scriptures the Apostle Paul challenged those who were once “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise,” but who now had found the oneness of God through Jesus Christ and were no longer “far off” but instead “brought near” because “in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us,” and created “in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace…putting to death that hostility through it” making us all “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.” (Eph 2:11-20), and
WHEREAS during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama (and others) came out strongly in support of the revisiting and revisioning of NAFTA, to bring it more into line with our proclaimed values of respect and concern for the rights and dignity of all human beings and of love and care in the stewardship of all the earth, as, for example, in a speech in February, 2008, when he said, “I will not sign any trade agreement as President that does not have protections for our environment and protections for American workers, and I’ll pass the Patriot Employer Act that I’ve been fighting for ever since I ran for the Senate so we can end tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas, and give those breaks to companies that create good jobs with decent wages here in America,” or in an interview with the Chicago Tribune in September 2004, “As part of any current or future trade agreement negotiations, our nation must address the dislocations caused by expanded global trade by maintaining workers’ basic benefits and helping them retrain,” and
WHEREAS, economists, social justice organizations, churches, human rights groups, environmental groups, and labor unions have called for the leaders of the three nations to come together and re-envision the treaty, especially in the areas of labor, the environment, and protection of democratic principles, and
WHEREAS numerous polls have shown that majorities of citizens of all three countries support some level of reopening and renegotiation of NAFTA,
WHEREAS there are many powerful special interests and powerful individuals (both outside and inside of the President’s Administration) who are strongly against any conversation of any kind about any changes in NAFTA,
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the members of the 26th General Synod of the United Church of Christ voice their support for President Barack Obama’s commitment to work with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, to revisit and re-envision NAFTA in ways that would,
- strengthen its labor and environmental side agreements with greater funding and greater enforcement powers,
- revise its Chapter 11, “investor protection” provisions to shield the legislative and judicial decisions of our three countries and to allow individuals and communities who might be harmed by the effects of NAFTA (not just corporations) to participate in the tribunal process, and
- design a humane and coherent immigration policy, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ be requested to write a letter to the President expressing these concerns, concerns which are shared by the majorities of citizens in all three of our respective countries, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Justice and Witness Ministries and the Washington DC Program Team be encouraged to work toward the passage through Congress of a revisited and re-envisioned NAFTA, if and when that becomes appropriate legislatively, and to keep our various churches and instrumentalities apprised of its progress and where we might be helpful in its passage, and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that our various churches be encouraged to, whenever possible, lift up in prayer, study, and worship the important issues of trade justice with countries such as Mexico, to join with delegations and immersion programs to Latin America through our own Centro Romero, or the Equal Exchange Interfaith Program, the Jubilee Justice Task Force, Border Links, or other organizations, and to be advocates for just, fair, equitable trade policies for poor and working class people in all three of our respective countries.
Funding for this action will be made in accordance with the overall mandates of the affected agencies and the funds available.