The Common Good
May 2007

Making Trade Just

by Adam Russell Taylor | May 2007

Changing the world by changing the rules.

During the 2005 Group of Eight summit, the United Kingdom-based anti-poverty group Christian Aid commissioned a massive mural in downtown Edinburgh, Scotland, that captures the David-and-Goliath inequalities built into our global trading system. Imagine a boxing ring in which a scrawny African boxer fights with one hand tied behind his back while a gigantic American boxer advances toward him. In the crowded stadium, men in fine business suits cheer for the American, holding up signs representing powerful multinational corporations, while the African boxer is supported by a smaller crowd of civil society organizers. Which boxer are you cheering for?

Impoverished countries in sub-Sahara Africa are $272 billion poorer because of "free trade" policies forced on them as a condition for receiving aid and debt relief, according to a 2005 report by Christian Aid. This lost income could have been used to wipe out all of Africa's debt and allow its children to be vaccinated and educated. Poor countries throughout the world face similar conditions.

There is a heated debate about what changes are needed in the global trading system to ensure that trade benefits everyone, particularly the most impoverished. Our trade structures are broken and need radical restructuring; the playing field has been rigged in favor of wealthy countries for so long that new rules must be created to allow poorer nations to compete as equal partners. Currently, donor countries and international lenders, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, impose detailed conditions—such as privatizing water or electrical systems—onto countries as a condition for receiving aid or loans. Countries must be allowed more freedom to choose their own development strategies; they shouldn't have to forgo the care of their own citizens to satisfy the demands of wealthier countries.

The trade justice movement in the United Kingdom offers a sign of hope. More than 80 organizations and 9 million members representing trade unions, aid agencies, environmental and human rights groups, fair trade organizations, and faith and consumer groups have pushed for trade rules that benefit poor people and the environment. Last November, campaigners lobbied 375 ministers of parliament in a single day—the largest lobby of parliament in modern history. More than 8,000 people demanded that, in approaching world trade talks, the British government and its European Union partners stop pushing poor countries to open their markets.

The United States is far from achieving this level of awareness and mobilization, but the United Kingdom shows it is possible. There is something each of us can do. Purchasing fair trade certified products, such as coffee, tea, and crafts, creates a ripple effect in the market. We also must use our voices and votes to push for structural changes to global trade rules. Sojourners/Call to Renewal's Covenant for a New America campaign aims in part to push Congress and the president to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Without radical reforms to the global trading system, these goals will join a graveyard of broken promises—and millions will continue to suffer as a result. This year Congress will be reauthorizing the Farm Bill, which is another portal to helping establish trade justice here and abroad.

Following Jesus means to "treat the people's needs as holy," writes Obery Hendricks in The Politics of Jesus. Imagine if this became the standard by which we evaluate every trade policy and practice.

Adam Russell Taylor is senior director of campaigns and organizing at Sojourners/Call to Renewal. Learn more about the Covenant at www.covenantforanew-america.org and the farm bill at www.bread.org.

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