Planet Money

How Brazil Challenged Europe, And Won

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One morning in 1994, Pedro Camargo decided to take the world's most powerful countries to court.

Pedro Camargo
Chana Joffe-Walt/NPR

Camargo (that's him in the picture) was a trade official in Brazil's agriculture department. He thought the World Trade Organization was stacked against Brazil.

"I had the feeling that we were being cheated," he says. "The whole WTO rules were developed by rich countries, and we weren't having a fair play."

So Camargo began studying thousands of pages of WTO rules. He wanted to find countries — big countries — that were breaking the rules.

Europe was the world's biggest sugar exporter at the time. (Think beets.) And Camargo thought Europe was improperly subsidizing its sugar exports.

So Brazil filed charges against Europe with the WTO. The case went before a WTO jury.

"We won," Camargo says. "And the day Brazil won, they changed."

Europe, which had exported sugar for hundreds of years, is now a net importer of sugar. And Brazil is is the world's number one exporter, by far. When there are floods in Brazil, as there were recently, sugar prices shoot up.

Camargo also complained that the U.S. was breaking WTO rules by subsidizing cotton. It won that case, too — but the U.S. hasn't rushed to comply.

We'll have that story next week.



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