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It doesn't sound exciting. It sounds boring. But this proposed trade deal is immoral and Christians must stand against it, says Symon Hill
Unfair trade is a central issue in the Bible. Poverty and exploitation are among the top causes of the prophets' anger.
'In the unrighteousness of your trade, you profaned your sanctuaries,' declares Ezekiel to the residents of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:18).
Amos slams those who 'practise deceit with false balances' in order to buy 'the poor for silver and the needy for a pair sandals' (8:5-6).
It is not only illegal trade practices that are condemned. Isaiah denounces those who write laws and regulations to satisfy their own interests: 'You who make iniquitous decrees,' he thunders, 'Who write oppressive statues, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right' (10:1-2).
A major injustice
If Isiah were around today he might well get angry about a trade deal that is being negotiated between the European Union and the USA.
In secrecy and away from the glare of the media, officials are negotiating a trade deal that could spell disaster. It is known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP.
I admit it sounds pretty boring. The phrase 'Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership' sounds so dull that when I talk about it, some people switch off before I even get to the word 'partnership'.
It seems that if you're planning to carry out a major injustice, you should make sure it sounds as boring as possible. That way, it will be harder for its opponents to encourage opposition.
But let's not be fooled. Safety regulations, people's rights at work, environmental protection rules and food standards are all threatened by TTIP. These may not sound the most exciting of issues. As Christians, however, we should see them all as vital. They are central to attempts to love our neighbours as ourselves and to follow Jesus' example of solidarity with the poor.
TTIP is promoted by transnational corporations who want to remove rules and restrictions that might stop them from increasing their profits. Many of these rules protect the world's poorest countries. Others prevent workers from being exploited.
One of the most outrageous aspects of TTIP is the system of 'corporate courts', which will allow corporations to sue governments whose policies harm their profits.
This system - where the rich and powerful can sue countries that take measures to look after their own people - has already featured in other international treaties. Tobacco giant Philip Morris has sued Australia for introducing plain packaging on cigarettes. They also sued Uruguay simply for printing a health warning on cigarette packets. Veolia sued Egypt for introducing a minimum wage. Argentina was sued for freezing energy prices to protect consumers following the country’s financial collapse.
Regulations on the financial sector introduced in the wake of the 2008 financial crash are also in the sights of big business, as are restrictions which protect the welfare of farm animals and offer protection for consumers’ data online.
The biblical response
Christian groups have already criticised TTIP, citing the Bible's call for solidarity with people in poverty. The Church of Scotland has expressed concern that TTIP will lead to 'increased inequality and further stratification between communities'. The Evangelische Kirche, one of the largest churches in Germany, has challenged the system of corporate courts.
Christian Aid is one of the sponsors of a new resource pack on TTIP and trade justice for use by churches and Christian groups. The pack includes Bible studies, prayers, background information and suggestions for action. It is published by Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) and includes contributions from people on many wings of the Christian Church, from Evangelicals to Catholics.
In our current economic system, human needs are sacrificed every day on the altars of Mammon. TTIP is one of the worst instances of this. As Quakers put it when they condemned the slave trade two centuries ago, 'What is morally wrong cannot be politically right'.
Symon Hill is a Christian author and activist and a tutor for the Workers' Educational Association. His latest book is The Upside-Down Bible: What Jesus really said about money, sex and violence (Darton, Longman and Todd).
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