Trade should be about justice for the poor, say UK church leaders

By staff writers
September 28, 2007

Senior church leaders in Britain have joined their counterparts in Europe and Africa in urging the UK government to play its part in seeking to make trade negotiations between the EU and some of the world’s poorest countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) about justice not greed.

In an appeal to the Secretary of State for International Development coordinated by the ecumenical agency Christian Aid, and published in yesterdays Times newspaper, they point out that the current round of talks about economic partnership agreements (EPAs), launched five years ago this month, have become bogged down in self-interest on the part of the rich countries.

They were meant to be pro-development and based on a commitment to fair trade, say the church leaders, who appeal to biblical and humanitarian principles for a change of heart by the EU governments.

The letter is signed by 18 Christian figureheads, including the Bishop of Exeter (as chair of Christian Aid) along with several other Anglican bishops, Elaine Storkey of the evangelical agency Tearfund, the head of the Baptist Union of Great Britain the Rev Jonathan Edwards, the President of the Methodist Conference the Rev Dr Martyn Atkins, the General Director of the Evangelical Alliance the Rev Joel Edwards, and the General Secretary of the United Reformed Church Rev Dr David Cornick.

The full text of the letter reads as follows:

Current trade negotiations between the EU and some of the world’s poorest countries in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP) should result in trade agreements that help to bring about justice. In fact they threaten to undermine recent progress towards making poverty history.

Negotiations on economic partnership agreements (EPAs) were launched five years ago today, with the aim of determining future trade relations between the two regions by the end of 2007. These agreements were specifically meant to be development-friendly.

However, what is currently on the table is far from this. The European Commission, on behalf of the EU, is offering what are essentially free-trade agreements between very unequal partners.

The UK Government has previously taken a pro-development stance on EPAs. As Christian leaders, we are compelled to action by a biblical understanding of justice as taking the side of the poor and oppressed. As the deadline approaches, we join church leaders from Europe and Africa in urging the Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, to show leadership again.

We urge the Government to do all it can to ensure that EPAs do not force ACP countries to open their markets prematurely or to accept issues they have previously rejected in other trade negotiations, and to make sure they will be no worse off if EPAs are not signed by the end-of-year deadline.

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