Trading Away the Future to Private Enterprise

Tuesday, February 05 2002

(Ottawa – CCCB)… A new background paper from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) examines how free trade can limit the power of governments to provide environmental protection in allowing private companies to sue sovereign states for perceived profit losses.

A variety of organizations, including church groups, have expressed grave concern about this provision in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The actual results are described in Trading Away the Future: Concerns Arising from the Investor-State Mechanism of the North American Free Trade Agreement and its Extension throughout the Americas, a background paper prepared by the CCCB Social Affairs Commission. The text was released at a January 28-30, 2002, conference in Washington, D.C., entitled Humanizing the Global Economy. Representatives from the Catholic Church in Canada, the United States and Latin America attended, together with experts on the world economy, international trade, environment and labour.

Trading Away the Future briefly explains the Investor-State Mechanism, which is already in place in North America, and outlines some current controversies NAFTA is creating in each of its three member countries. The background paper also provides reflections from Catholic social teaching to assist in responding to the challenges presented by globalization.

One major concern with NAFTA is the newfound power of private companies to sue states for perceived losses of profit. According to the background paper, the application of the agreement’s Chapter 11 has meant limiting the capacity of governments to safeguard environmental, health and other social values when there are conflicting commercial interests.

In April of last year, during the Summit of the Americas which met in Quebec City, the CCCB Permanent Council urged governments not to relinquish their powers to intervene but instead to use them to promote the common good.  Earlier in 2001, the CCCB Social Affairs Commission issued an open letter to members of Parliament, which noted that “in an increasingly globalized world, the common good too must become increasingly global.”

The background paper Trading Away the Future insists that the Church has an essential role to play in humanizing the goals and ends of globalization, if the economy is to help people live in dignity and fulfilment, free from want and deprivation.

Copies of the background paper, available in English, French or Spanish, can be obtained from the Social Affairs Office of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops by telephoning (613) 241-9461 extension 231 or at