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Protecting Health Care, Labor, and Environment in Trade Negotiations


Under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) first negotiated in 1994, the concept of free trade has moved beyond the lowering of trade barriers at a country's borders, focusing now on what are called "internal barriers to trade." But what appear to trade interests to be barriers to trade are often laws and regulations passed by national, regional, and local legislatures to protect health care, labor, and the environment. Past WTO decisions have compromised Ontario's ability to discourage the sale of alcoholic beverages, Guatemala's ability to promote breast feeding in preference to use of infant formula, and Europe's ability to support public health by restricting the sale of hormone-treated beef. In the future, GATS rules under discussion could prevent member countries, including the United States, from considering a full range of solutions to problems in their health-care systems or from protecting standards for working conditions. Countries could be challenged under GATS for subsidizing hospitals that disproportionately serve the poor or that seek to extend current "monopolies" such as the US Medicare program to include additional services, such as prescription drugs. Proposed GATS rules could allow foreign corporations and governments to challenge laws requiring reasonable staffing ratios, use of safe needles, and professional licensing as "more burdensome than necessary." The United Methodist Church supports economic development around the globe, but we insist that economic development be sustainable, safeguard human beings and the environment, support the health of workers and communities, and provide a safety net for the most vulnerable among us.

We call upon governments around the world to take steps to protect the right of legislatures at all levels-national, regional and local-to safeguard the health care, environment, and labor of their citizens. In countries like the United States where "fast track" legislation permits Congress to only give a yes or no to new trade legislation, Congressional leaders must involve themselves more in the trade negotiations or be prepared to vote no to the entire trade package when it is presented.

We call upon the General Board of Church and Society to represent these concerns before the US Congress, the United Nations, and the WTO, and to assist United Methodists in all nations to seek attention of their own governments to health care, labor, and environmental issues when trade issues are negotiated.

Adopted 2004
readopted 2008
resolution #212, 2004 Book of Resolutions

See Social Principles, ¶ 163I and J.

From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church - 2008. Copyright © 2008 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.