Pope Francis waxed radical on a number of big issues during his recent speech to the US Congress, where he condemned the arms trade, war profiteering, and even the “war on terror” itself.
But despite the Vatican’s previous critical statements about free-trade agreements, the pope chose not to confront Obama’s trade agenda in his own backyard.
I wish he had. On October 5, just weeks after Francis’ historic visit, the United States and 11 other countries announced that they’d reached an “agreement in principle” on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a huge “free-trade” pact that would set investor-friendly rules in countries making up 40 percent of the world’s GDP, many of them at the expense of crucial labor and environmental protections.
Would strong words from Pope Francis have prevented this rush to complete the pact? Probably not. But his moral authority would’ve given US lawmakers something to think about as they move towards voting on the deal in early 2016.
Naming the Beast
When the pope visited Bolivia last July, he delivered an unmistakable invective against exploitative economic policies at the World Meeting of Popular Movements.
“Neocolonialism,” Francis said—a term he used 7 times in that speech—“takes on different faces,” including “some treaties named as ‘free trade’ and the imposition of ‘austerity’ measures that always tighten the belts of the workers and the poor.”
Other Vatican officials have spoken out directly against the TPP.
Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi, the permanent observer of the Holy See in Geneva, has warned the World Trade Organization against “mega-regional trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Tomasi called these pacts “asymmetric” and noted that “among the most damaging concessions developing countries make in regional and bilateral agreements are those enhancing the monopolies on life-saving medicines, which reduce access and affordability, and those that provide excessive legal rights to foreign investors, limiting the policy space for nations to promote sustainable and inclusive development.”
Until they release the TPP text, which (aside from what’s been leaked by WikiLeaks) has been kept secret from the public and even the parliaments of countries involved in the negotiations, we won’t know for certain what’s in it or how exactly the TPP will affect citizens. But there’s strong reason to assume that the deal will reflect everything the Vatican warned about.