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Eurotribune | 25 June 2012
“Free trade agreements are, to some extent, an expression of neo-colonialism”
Freely translated by Anoosha Boralessa in March 2015. This translation has not been reviewed or revised by www.bilaterals.org, nor any other organization or person.
Interview with Lourdes Castro, chief officer of Grupo SUR and representative of Alop, Aprodev, Cifca and Oidhaco.
Trade agreements between the EU and different Latin American states: what do they represent and what aspects of the ratification process do you think could be improved on?
I represent associations whose work has had political implications for all these years, right from the time these trade negotiations started. It is quite right that during this entire period, we have made many proposals spelling out our thoughts on how these agreements could be approached differently and be given a different content so as to effectively contribute to fair and sustainable trade. However, our voices were not heard during the negotiations and now may not make an iota of difference to these negotiations.
The European Parliament cannot even include any change at the time of ratification. We are going to launch a campaign before parliament urging Euro MPs not to ratify these treaties on the grounds that non- ratification will broaden the debate that failed to take place on who benefits from these treaties. We are not against trade. However, we consider that a new approach to treaty formation must be adopted that takes into account asymmetries, their impacts on society, the environment and human rights. Such an approach must take into account the participation of distinct sectors, both big and small producers, social sectors etc. These agreements commit much more that the exchange of goods; they also contain a concept of development and impose some conditions for the future of these societies. Negotiations that lack of transparency and opaqueness characterize these agreements.
You say that these agreements have been concluded under a veil of obscurity but do you think that if the European Parliament rejects them, this would make Member States and European institutions change their approach to listen to these requests?
If the agreements are not ratified, five years of negotiations would be wasted and they would have to consider that something is not working. To change them it is obviously very difficult but it would be a defeat that should lead us to reflect on what failed and their implications. This could open a window of opportunity to reflect on how to negotiate.
Who benefits from these trade agreements?
Conceived as such, these trade agreements benefit a very small number on each side. Essentially, the winners are a handful of European companies that are going to have more advantages in legal terms to access to public procurementsgovernment tenders. It is also possible that some economic sectors of Southern countries are going to be winners but this will only happen if the primary exports sectors of our economies are consolidated. That will not lead to a great economic benefit.
And in these times of crisis, even worse…
Exactly! In periods of crisis, the European population does not reap these benefits nor will these agreements increase employment in Europe or in Latin America. These agreements are not going to improve the quality of life for either Europeans or Latin American countries; they will only increase in job instability in many countries.
What type of controls does this type of agreement contain to avoid this instability?
It is assumed that these agreements have a chapter that aims at ensuring compliance with certain labor treaties and socio- environmental treaties. However, in contrast to other chapters of the agreement that are subject to a dispute resolution mechanism (that is, where non-compliance will be sanctioned), the chapter on sustainable trade and development takes a corporate approach, that is, of mutual cooperation. However, it is not subject to any sanction, if there is any sanction.
And the NGOs, what do they seek?
We advocate that the architecture of these agreements is changed. What we have in mind is a far broader vision of the development model, where we rethink the limits the planet imposes on us; whether the model of liberalization and growth are equal to development; what are the specific needs and differences of indigenous people and people of afro-descent; in other words, we desist from declaring that both players are equally equipped when on one side you have an economic giant comprising 27 countries and on the other side you have developing countries with very high levels of social inequality and poverty. Invariably such countries negotiate on an individual basis. We are of the view that this must be rethought so that these treaties really produce mutual benefit not only for a few but for all citizens.
Do you think that the European Union sees Latin America as the new “Chinese”?
Yes I do that they are. The European Union’s mindset is to pursue a strategy of global power, that is, the EU needs to secure new markets so that it can continue as a trade giant before new emerging players can challenge its position in the global market. These agreements are a [negotiating] chip that forms part of this strategy. For me, this duality is between a Europe with a vision based on values and principles and a commercial Europe making a clear choice chooses to strengthen its role as a trade giant.
Spain has always played the role of a bridge builder between the EU and Latin America. What is Spain’s role in concluding these agreements?
One of the states that was most interested for negotiations to be concluded as soon as possible was Spain. This comes as no surprise given all the Spanish investment in Latin America. The power to consolidate more advantages in terms of investment and establishment for Spanish enterprises in Latin America was a very important objective for Spain and it was for this reason that it tried to accelerate these negotiations to enable a swift conclusion. It is more on account of Spanish businesses with very strong interests in Latin America that Spain was interested in strengthening other types of relationships given that a region that can share the EU’s entire common heritage and values is Latin America in terms of its capacity to rethink together where we want to go.
Do you see this as neo-colonialism?
To some extent yes.