Today, three weeks before the Trade Justice Movement's national lobby of MPs, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales publishes Trade and Solidarity a statement calling for fairer trading relationships between the rich countries of the north and developing countries. They challenge rich countries and their trade negotiators to agree trade rules that will foster development and poverty eradication. "If all developing countries' efforts to earn their way in the world and invest in poverty reduction are frustrated by falling commodity prices; if their rural livelihoods are undermined by the dumping of surplus food; if their exports are systematically blocked by trade barriers; then the developed world is colluding in a worldwide denial of economic and social rights." The bishops say: "ownership [of wealth] is governed by a social mortgage, and that "individual and company gain can never be made absolute over and against the common good." And for that reason they affirm that "The restoration of the 'level playing field' advocated in so many discussions of trade will not of itself balance a system that is so seriously distorted." Grounded in Catholic Social teaching, the statement says: "poverty is the proper starting point for all discussions about aid, debt cancellation and trade" and notes that: "poverty occurs in a world of plenty, in a global economy capable of satisfying all the demands of its richest consumers but seemingly and scandalously unable to meet the needs of vast numbers of the poorest." Criticising the prevailing thrust of trade negotiations, in which the rich countries hold all the trump cards, the bishops say: "liberalisation must not override such primary development goals as poverty reduction, health and education." and note that "The powerful countries seem sometimes to adopt an almost crude approach: 'You liberalise, we subsidise'." The bishops look in detail at the European Union which dumps agricultural surpluses on world markets, undermining the livelihoods of millions of farmers in the developing world. The lopsidedness of current trading relations is exemplified by the fact that the protection and support given to producers and exporters in the European dairy industry is equivalent to two dollars a day per European cow, a sum equal to the daily income of the half the world's population. The statement also notes that trade justice is not just about systems and structures and that individuals in rich countries can make a contribution through fair trade that both supports livelihoods of the poor in developing countries and fosters awareness countering the assumption that "the world's injustice can be remedied by some adjustment of 'the system' without our personal commitment to allow our own lives to change. No system, however universal and complex, functions without the element of human choice. It is part of Christian witness in this matter to insist that personal lifestyle and the global economy are not separable realms of reality."
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