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Our colleague Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, the current General Secretary of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, said: “It’s possible to guess, with relative certainty, how the FTAA will turn out. The FTAA will be mostly like NAFTA, and any difference introduced will only be to make it more advantageous to the U.S.”

The Campaign Against the FTAA in Brazil

* Ricardo Gebrim

 The National Campaign against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) developed the largest number of educational activities ever carried out since the 1950s, when the fight for national oil united the Brazilian society under the same banner. There were thousands of lectures, public events, and meetings culminating with a referendum in 2002. During thee days of voting, 157,000 volunteer activists worked in more than 4,000 cities in 27 states to collect almost 11 million votes in 41,758 ballot boxes.

 The results didn’t leave any doubts: 95.94% of the voters believed that Brazil should abandon the FTAA negotiations. CNBB (National Federation of Brazilian Bishops)’s Dom Demétrio says: “Others do a survey of fewer than 1,000 people and present their results as the public opinion. We presented the opinion of almost 11 million citizens.”

 In preparation for the referendum, along with plenty of other educational materials, we had a pamphlet whose cover displayed the figure of a “Trojan horse”. The message was obvious and symbolized the danger that the FTAA represents.

 Soon after the referendum took place, the PT (Workers Party) won the presidential elections and the belief that Lula would end the negotiations with the FTAA took hold of Brazilian society.  After all, the PT had been an active member of the Brazilian Campaign against the FTAA, and had on its side those 11 million voters who were asking for the immediate end of negotiations. More than ever, there was a concrete possibility to stop a United States project to impose its economic policies in Latin America.

 The first frustration of the social movements occurred during the first month of the new government. Without ever putting the matter into discussion, Lula sent the Brazil’s proposals to the negotiators, which had been formulated during the government of Fernando Henrique Cardoso by the most pro-American faction of the business sector. By choosing to maintain the previous government’s economic policies, Lula made it clear that he would not end negotiations, deciding instead to use the strategy of delaying them.

 From the moment that Lula became president, while the Campaign Against the FTAA demanded the immediate withdrawal from the negotiating table, the Brazilian government defended the idea of trying to gain more time and trying to hinder the negotiation process. They came up with their own “softer”, “watered-down,” “light” FTAA, counting on it being the best way to slow down negotiations, which in turn would allow Mercosul (free trade agreement of South American countries) to become stronger.

 The decisive moment for the Brazilian strategy to succeed would be at the FTAA Ministerial Meeting in Miami. Until then, everything indicated that negotiations were paralyzed, and that the United States had lost momentum.

 After failing to obtain a meeting with President Lula, the representatives of the Campaign against the FTAA went to the Ministry of Foreign Relations to file a petition demanding an official referendum, signed by more than three million people. During the meeting, they warned the Minister of the predictable results of the FTAA Ministerial Meeting. It was obvious that, by continuing to negotiate, the Brazilian team would progressively get more involved in the traps of a process whose strategic content had already been defined. The social movements advised that as long as Brazil remained in the negotiations, the provisional agreement would increasingly become more permanent, and Brazil would progressively accept provisional compromises. Consequently, the final agreement would be presented as being the best possible result, and Brazil, committed by the wording of the agreement, and suffering the enormous pressure from external forces of regulatory agencies and financial capital, would be forced to approve the final agreement, using the old argument that it is necessary to honor existing contracts and commitments.

 The social movements alerted the Brazilian government to the fact that the U.S. government would defend the watered-down version of the FTAA, which would put Brazil and Mercosul at an impasse.  Our arguments ended up being rejected on the prevailing idea that Miami would repeat of the unsuccessful WTO (World Trade Organization) meeting in Cancun.

 Led by the Ministry of Agriculture, the defenders of the FTAA in Brazil finally revealed their faces. The so-called “fifth column” put pressure on the government, demanding that Brazil would commit to not hindering the progress at the Miami meeting.

 After the Miami meeting, the situation was defined. The Brazilian tactic to prolong the negotiations of the FTAA and force their way into buying more time reached its end. Actually, by proposing a new, watered-down version of the FTAA, which maintains the original deadlines set by the U.S., Brazil energized a negotiation process that was very close to failing.  Keeping the essence of the North American project, Brazil has only succeeded in extending the deadlines and temporarily reducing the contents of the agreement, leaving the door open for unbalanced bilateral and multilateral negotiations. With the “softer” FTAA, the United States government may actually have gained more freedom to negotiate under greater inequality conditions, imposing their view and isolating any resisting country. The Brazilian proposal gave a new life to CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) and isolated the independent positioning of Venezuela.

 Soon after the 8th Ministerial Meeting of the FTAA in Miami, Robert Zoellick, the powerful United States Secretary of Commerce, celebrated the results with the following phrase “We have moved from a theoretical phase of the FTAA to a practical one.” His words suggest that Brazil fell into its own trap. The wooden horse had been brought inside the walls of Troy.

 The facts confirmed our initial warning. To try to manipulate the rules of negotiation is to struggle inside the web of a spider. The international specialization of production makes the conditions of trade increasingly unfavorable for the poorer countries. Pressured by external debt and by the conditions set by financial organizations (specifically the IMF-International Monetary Fund), our countries are unable to face this process individually. The Brazilian proposal entirely compromises the Continent’s chances to find alternative solutions. It even hurts the Campaign Against the FTAA in the U.S., which hopes to be able to block the approval of CAFTA by the U.S. Congress.

 What the defenders of the Brazilian proposal forget is that the FTAA is a negotiating process that requires well-defined strategic interests. It can also be built successfully in stages. What matters to the U.S. is to make sure that its defining rules are kept. Even though the agreement may look unsuccessful in a first stage, the results will be the same, because that stage is a part of a global project. The global project aims to unconditionally open markets to improve the performance of some major corporations. The watered-down version of the FTAA still contains measures that will allow large corporations to sue and fine countries that affect the corporations’ interest by passing laws protecting social rights or the environment.

 Even if we accepted the absurd idea that the FTAA would not go beyond the watered-down stage and the terms already negotiated during the last round in Puebla, Brazil would be obligated through an international agreement to maintain its domestic market always open to exports from the United States. According to a UNICAMP (University of Campinas) study, Brazilian companies would have to compete with gigantic corporations, which have an advantage in terms of technology, financing, and experience. Brazil would be forced to abolish a series of governmental policy measures, becoming thus incapable of implementing a national development plan. This will predictably result in more unemployment and poverty for Brazilian citizens.

 The worst consequence of the watered-down FTAA version is the demobilization that it has generated. By making the FTAA an apparently acceptable process, the Brazilian government legitimized it, and allowed the gradual addition of the most aggressive features of the U.S. strategy. Our colleague Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, the current General Secretary of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Relations, said: “It’s possible to guess, with relative certainty, how the FTAA will turn out. The FTAA will be mostly like NAFTA, and any difference introduced will only be to make it more advantageous to the U.S.”

 By defending the watered-down version of the FTAA, or the “two-level” FTAA, as Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Relations likes to call it, we moved from being the main focus of resistance against negotiations to accepting the “Trojan horse” behind our walls.

 People cannot be naive in this debate. Regardless of whether the FTAA is implemented as a whole or in stages, it contains a set of legal and political measures that can take away the sovereignty of nations and transfer political power to large economic groups.     

 The situation was made still worse by the Brazilian proposal to promote a Free Trade Agreement between Mercosul and the European Union. The Continental Campaign against the FTAA described the situation: “In exchange for a supposed gain in a few agricultural export sectors, the governments of the countries in Mercosul are offering to open key sectors of their economies to large European companies.”

 The initiative of the Brazilian government to negotiate an agreement with the European Union in a hurry, without any transparency, sets a dangerous precedent, because the U.S. could demand the same conditions in the FTAA negotiations.

 A decisive for our Campaign has arrived. The negotiations with the European Union make it even more important for social movements to work against the misrepresented concept of “free trade”. We have an enormous and urgent task: to promote a massive educational campaign about the risks of the FTAA, as well as the agreement with the European Union, and the negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organization).


* Ricardo Gebrim is the president of the São Paulo Lawyers Union