How Brazil Challenged Europe, And Won : Planet Money Trade official Pedro Camargo thought the World Trade Organization was stacked against Brazil. So one morning in 1994, he decided to take the world's most powerful countries to court.
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How Brazil Challenged Europe, And Won

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How Brazil Challenged Europe, And Won

How Brazil Challenged Europe, And Won

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Innovative scientists are only part of the story behind Brazil's agriculture superpower status. Credit also belongs to a man named Pedro Camargo - a man who one morning decided to take the world's most powerful countries to court. Chana Joffe-Walt of NPR's Planet Money team has more.

CHANA JOFFE-WALT: He's got a bushy gray mustache, glasses, and he's a complainer, although a reluctant one.

Mr. PEDRO CAMARGO: Complain - to cry about and say the conditions are bad. I'm being - this is not fair. It's not my nature. I don't like it.

JOFFE-WALT: But that is exactly what Pedro Camargo has been doing ever since 1994 - complaining - as a farm union organizer, as a trade official in the agriculture department. Because in 1994, Brazil, Pedro felt, had been pushed into signing onto global trade rules - WTO agreements - that did not help the country. And so began the complaining binge.

Mr. CAMARGO: Well, I was sure that they were against us. And I had the feeling that we were being cheated in the process.

JOFFE-WALT: Who was against you?

Mr. CAMARGO: The rich countries. The whole WTO rules were developed by the rich countries and we weren't having a fair play, you know.

JOFFE-WALT: In the years following the 1994 agreement, Pedro began studying those rules, thousands of pages, searching for cheaters, countries that were violating WTO agreements. The bigger the country the better. The United States, Pedro determined, was cheating by subsidizing its cotton farmers.

Mr. CAMARGO: And then we started looking, let's look at other cases also. Let's find a case with Europe. Let's find something with Europe and let's find something with Japan.

JOFFE-WALT: You set out to take on the United States, Europe and Japan all at the same time.

Mr. CAMARGO: All at the same time. That was quite ambitious, yes. I was a farm leader for so many years and I was tired of complaining, of crying, of (unintelligible) I have a chance, and I'm going to - and the ambition was to be a leader.

JOFFE-WALT: To beat one of those big guys and to be one of those big guys -this, Pedro thought, was the path to agriculture superpowerdom. The case against Europe was probably the most ambitious. Brazil charged that Europe was indirectly subsidizing its sugar exports. Yeah. Europe grows sugar. Think beets. The WTO has its version of a jury look at the case and it was really fast.

Mr. CAMARGO: We won. And the day Brazil won, they had changed. They stopped exporting sugar. You see they...

JOFFE-WALT: You shut down sugar exports from Europe?

Mr. CAMARGO: Yes. Yes. Yes. We shut - the case shut down sugar exports from Europe.

JOFFE-WALT: Not completely. Europe still exports some sugar but it's really limited. So yes, Brazil nearly shut down European sugar exports. Europe, which has been exporting sugar to the world - for how long?

Mr. KARIM SALAMON (Former Sugar Union Manager) : Europe? Forever.

JOFFE-WALT: Forever.

Mr. SALAMON: Yeah, I mean Europe has a - I mean as far as I know has always been a sugar exporter.

JOFFE-WALT: This is Karim Salamon, and he later amended his forever to, okay, 200 years. At the time of the case, Salamon was the head of the French union of sugar producers.

Mr. SALAMON: It's a tremendous change, and in fact, in Europe we had a lot of factories which have shut down.

JOFFE-WALT: This year, for the first time since the case, Europe has had to import sugar from Tanzania, Mozambique, Malawi, among others - thanks to Pedro.

Mr. CAMARGO: If you look 20 years ago, they were the number one exporters. Fifteen years ago they were number one, Brazil was number two. Now Brazil is number one and they've stopped.

JOFFE-WALT: Scientific innovation is one way to win in the global economy. This is another way. Brazil's case against Japan never got off the ground, but it won its case against the United States. Now, the U.S. hasn't rushed to comply. In fact, that struggle for power in the global economy is still going on, and we'll bring you that story next week on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

I'm Chana Joffe-Walt, NPR News.

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