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Christian leaders demand change in international trade rules

13 April 2005

Free photos available, see below

Leaders of several Christian and ecumenical organizations met on 13 April with representatives of the World Trade Organization (WTO) to request a change in the international rules and practices that govern trade.

"We demand that our government and the governments of the world change the international rules and practices that govern trade so that they give priority to human rights and protection of the environment, and contribute to the eradication of poverty."

So reads the petition signed by over 265 Christian leaders from all over the world that an ecumenical delegation handed over to WTO director for external relations Mr Alain Frank, in a meeting today at the WTO Geneva headquarters.

As part of the 10-16 April Global Week of Action on Trade, the delegation presented the petition on behalf of the Trade for People Campaign of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), an alliance of over 90 churches and Christian organizations worldwide.

Leading the delegation was the World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, who stressed that, for Christians, "trade is not just a matter of economics but of faith". Since "biblical standards for economic activity are justice and taking the side of the poor," Kobia said, "we seek a world where global trade systems give priority to people who live in poverty."

Also part of the delegation, Rev. Dr Setri Nyomi, general secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, emphasized the source of churches' concern. "Every day, our pastors in towns and villages are accompanying people suffering as a consequence of trade policies and we want to ensure that the cries of those people are heard," he said.

Mr Peter Prove, representing the Lutheran World Federation, affirmed that trade is not an end in itself but is a means for human well-being. "That is not always understood by trade negotiators and therefore is poorly expressed in trade agrements," he said.

Brother Yves Soudan, from Franciscans International, highlighted the Christian faith-rooted meaning of human rights. "What mechanism is in place at the WTO to ensure that the primacy of human rights is really respected?" he asked.

Ms Clarissa Balan, from the World Young Women's Christian Association, highlighted the impact of trade rules on the life of poor women. "Trade has something to do with whether, at the end of the day, there is food on the table and children can be sent to school."

In receiving the petition on behalf of the WTO, Mr Frank assured the ecumenical leaders that their concerns were well known and shared by his organization. But he also stressed the need to address the petition to national governments and other UN-related agencies. The WTO "cannot do more than it is equipped to do," he said. He nevertheless welcomed the dialogue, and affirmed the need to continue working together.

In welcoming the opportunity to meet with WTO staff, Kobia expressed respect and appreciation for the organization's mandate, and affirmed that "life being a totality, what affects one aspect of it affects all others". While the EAA Trade For PeopleCampaign is targeted at the WTO, ecumenical organizations are already addressing governments and international institutions. "We are talking to everybody else," Kobia said.

Free high resolution pictures of the meeting are available at:

www.wcc-coe.org/wcc/what/jpc/tradecampaign05.html

For more information on the Global Week of Action, including a media brief, country and daily listings of events, press contacts for national campaigns, quotes and more, see

www.april2005.org/media

The Trade for People Petition, including a running list of signatures, is available at

www.e-alliance.ch/tradepetition.jsp

Media contact: Sara Speicher +44-1524-727-651 media@e-alliance.ch