12th Assembly 2009

Church tackles unjust trade arrangements

The Uniting Church in Australia 12th Assembly has adopted a document challenging free trade, neo-liberalism and “market fundamentalism”.

UnitingWorld produced the paper, “Trade Justice – A Uniting Church View”, to provide a biblical and theological basis for the church’s education, representation, advocacy and action.

The paper says that while trade offers opportunities to foster human development, an unrestrained international trade system will leave the poorest and most vulnerable behind.

It says the benefits and burdens of increased economic interdependence have not been equally shared. “Globalisation has had uneven effects: while some have enjoyed increased prosperity, the poorest are often left behind.”

The Uniting Church’s Pacific partners, including churches in Samoa, the Cook Islands, Tonga, Fiji and Rotuma, Nauru, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, had expressed concern that their communities were being harmed by globalisation and marginalised in the international trade system.

The Assembly was told how the Australian Government planned to undertake trade negotiations with Pacific nations and had been actively advocating its approach in media and meetings.

In March, UnitingWorld joined other civil society leaders to meet with Australian parliamentary and government leaders in Canberra to ask for a fair go in trade talks with Pacific nations.

UnitingWorld Director the Rev. Dr Kerry Enright said the Australian and New Zealand governments were operating like free trade evangelists and it appeared that only civil society groups such as the church were presenting alternative views.

He said, “UnitingWorld supports economic development but believes it needs to have its place within the wider Pacific Christian cultural context, not undermining it.”

Speaking to the proposal to adopt the document, Dr Enright said trade agreements were affecting the lifestyle, culture and spirit of the Pacific nations.

Pacific culture had powerful adversaries, he said. The Australian Government agenda was dominating negotiations, undermining a Christian worldview.

He said the church’s Pacific partners felt insufficient time was given to negotiations to preserve their values and that powerful Australian and New Zealand perspectives were the overriding concerns.

UnitingWorld plans to produce resources for congregations, schools and other groups and find ways to resource reflection so the church can act in solidarity with its Pacific partners.

Comments from the floor indicated some Assembly members thought language in the document was divisive and that more consultation should have taken place.

Others thought the church needed to find ways to encourage and empower those in the pews to take action. The Rev. Wes Howland, from South Australia, said young people were passionate about the issue and that the church should be prophetic and put the document “out there”.

The document was adopted by agreement.