5.3.9 PP I.2. Social justice: equity in trade (##56-65)

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Unit 5 Contents



When we were looking at the main principles of CST back in Unit 1, I used examples to do with international trade to illustrate the ‘preferential option for the poor’.  Read that page again.


Re-reading (2pp)

VPlater Module B, 1.3.6, ‘The preferential option for the poor’


This gives both an example of European Union policy which does not correspond with the preferential option for the poor, and another which does.  The latter, the ‘Everything But Arms’ initiative, was introduced in 2001.  Prior to this date, EU countries tended, like other developed countries, to impose tariffs which importers from poor countries had to pay – that is, taxes on people who bring products into EU countries.  These were especially on manufactured and processed goods.  Such tariffs made it very difficult for producers in poor countries to access European markets – because they in effect priced them out.  At the same time, European and other developed countries imported some raw materials or ‘commodities’ from poor countries that they needed for their own industries.  In using these to manufacture goods, already richer countries added value, and so could sell the finished products at much higher prices.

In this way the system of international trade was overtly biased against poorer countries.  This outlines the kind of context in which the next section of PP makes sense.  See especially #57.


Reading (4pp)

Populorum Progressio, Part II, chap 2: ##56-65


The EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ initiative may be limited and far from perfect, but I leave aside detailed assessment of it here.  In principle it represents exactly the kind of policy that PP called for more than 30 years previously.  It is premised on recognizing a principle that Pope Paul picks up from Rerum Novarum: “[I]f the positions of the contracting parties are too unequal, the consent of the parties does not suffice to guarantee the justice of their contract” (PP, #59).  The EU has unilaterally removed tariffs for the poorest countries whose economic and bargaining power is very far from equal with the EU’s. As an illustration of this inequality, in the mid-2000s France had 165 staff at the World Trade Organization, while Malawi – one of Africa’s poorest countries – had only one staff member.1

Unmistakeably, PP calls for trade that is just even if it is not free, or, to put it differently, trade that takes place within a framework of just rules established by governments.  In this way PP maintains CST’s critique of economic liberalism (#58).

Pope Paul states with great force that this issue of trade is very much more important for poorer countries than those addressed in the preceding section of PP, namely, aid and debt (#56).  Whereas aid and loans can certainly assist in tackling poverty, business and the trade it leads to can generate ongoing incomes for people that lift them and their communities out of poverty.  The last page referred to the Jubilee 2000 campaign for cancellation of poor countries’ debts; as the year 2000 was ending, many of those involved in this in the UK sought to sustain its momentum by establishing the ‘Trade Justice Movement’.  This went on to organise a number of huge lobbies of Parliament in the years up to the Gleneagles summit of world leaders in 2005, when some of its aims were achieved.

The Trade Justice Movement continues, although in the 2010s it is less active; CAFOD and SCIAF have been members from the outset.

It is not unrealistic to say that PP outlined a 40-year agenda for working for justice in international trade.  If the EU’s ‘Everything But Arms’ initiative represents success in such work, the EU’s continuing policy of agricultural subsidies and parallel policies in the USA and elsewhere show that much more can yet be done.

The text goes on (##62-63) to name two major obstacles to trade justice and global solidarity:

Nationalism   This is the political doctrine that each nation ought, as a matter of principle, to be a separate sovereign state. Nationalism emerged around 1800 and can be seen as the most successful political ideology of the modern period: in 1800 there were fewer than 20 recognizable nation-states; now there are more than 150.

While nationalism has contributed to some peoples under imperial subjection gaining freedom, it has also fostered innumerable wars, especially in the many places where there is no neat coincidence of national identity and territorial boundaries. Moreover, nationalism tends to generate a sense that moral responsibilities are limited by national boundaries.  To the extent that it does this, it is bound to be inimical to justice in trade relations, as it lends legitimacy to each nation pursuing only its own national interest.

The short paragraph in PP here is one of the few places in the main documents of CST that directly address nationalism. However, CST’s basic stance in relation to nationalism is entailed by the principle of subsidiarity, in particular its devolutionary dimension (see 3.2.2). This implies that sovereignty should not be concentrated at the nation-state level but shared among different levels of government, while also devolved to the lowest level conducive to the common good. These levels might be not only sub-national, such as regions or cities, but also super-national, such as European – if there are policy areas that can be addressed adequately only at a higher-than-national level (such as environmental protection or trade rules).

The term ‘federalism’ refers to such a system of government, one in which sovereignty is shared between two or more levels.  Germany, the United States and Brazil are among countries with federal constitutions.  Without going into details, the European Union is a semi-federal system.

We saw in Unit 4 that Catholic teaching has long been relatively indifferent among different constitutional forms (4.2.2), and this applies in relation to federalism.  Even though the principle of subsidiarity leads to support for such a system, the Church by no means insists that all countries should have a federal form of government.  There can be many reasons for legitimate differences.

Nevertheless, it does follow from the principle of subsidiarity that CST cannot embrace the political doctrine of nationalism.

This said, there can be particular cases of imperial or other external rule of a people that justify support for a specific nationalist cause. At the time PP was written, there was widespread recognition that this was so in relation to many former colonies of European powers. The paragraph in PP alludes to this.

Racism   This is disrespect for and discrimination against people on the basis of race or skin colour.  PP was written only 20 years after the defeat of the horrific racist nationalism of Nazism and when South Africa’s Apartheid government rigidly enforced racist laws. Racism has had many manifestations other than those two, and PP refers in general terms to a range of them that can stand in the way of development.

Despite these threats, Paul VI is, as he concludes the chapter, hopeful that “a heightened sense of unity will finally triumph over misunderstandings and selfishness” (#64).



End of 5.3.9

Go to 5.3.10   II.3 Universal charity: toward a more human world (##66-75)


Module B outline

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  1. Malcolm Doney and Martin Roe, Trade Matters in the Fight against World Poverty (London: DFID, 2005), pp. 22-23. 

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