Despite the fact that the North American Free Trade Agreement took nearly seven years to negotiate, and the Free Trade Area of Americas has been negotiated for more than a decade, the negotiations for the Central America Free Trade Agreement were aggressively pursued by the President George W. Bush Administration. Thus, CAFTA was completed in one year, with Congressional participation or limited civil society. Negotiations for CAFTA started in January 2003, and a year later the agreement was signed in Washington D.C.
The Central America Free Trade Agreement is said to be the first sub-regional agreement, negotiated between drastically different and unequal trading partners. The agreement will require market liberalization for the vast majority of services and goods within Central America, including government procurement, public services, manufacturing and agriculture. In response, the United States has expressed commitment to provide increased market access for particular sectors in Central America.
At the same time, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops together with Central American bishops expressed concern with nature and implications of CAFTA. The US bishops are sure that negotiations for the agreement have locked out many voices of people that are likely to be affected to the great extent by this trade agreement, and that many of the negotiated terms of the agreement will do harm to Central America's most vulnerable people.
According to US bishops' pastoral vision, it is the human that must be in the center of economic activity. Such free trade agreements as CAFTA should acts as a means of achieving the authentic human development upholding solidarity, human dignity and other basic values. Since trade agreements has proven to be ineffective in eliminating such problems as economic and social exclusion and poverty, they should be included into a broader agenda of sustainable development which includes both financial co-operation and migration programs and policies designed to improve functioning of sectors affected by such agreements.
US bishops put strong emphasis on the conditions in which most people of Central America live, the situation which is marketed by exclusion and poverty, an inadequate public health and education system, violence and insecurity, and mass migration caused by lack of opportunities. Expressed in the joint statement concerning CAFTA was the ability of the agreement to increase opportunities for the most vulnerable people of Central America, and to enhance the prospect that increased trade will be beneficial to them.
To ensure this, Central American bishops and US bishops expressed the necessity to frame the trade policies within the integrated development agenda which incorporates measures for improvement of healthcare and education and strengthens democratic participation.
In light of these principles and values, as well as general situation of the people, a number of specific concerns about CAFTA's potential impact on the countries of Central America were outlined and expressed.