Sleeping ember



Source: O Globo, 06/02/2009

The very brief reintroduction of the prior licensing system for imports was a mess, but above all it showed that our old passion for Colbert - the inventor of protectionism - is like a burning ember that can ignite at the first breath.

After all, the romance is secular.

In the people's imagination, the phrase of candidate Collor in the 1989 election campaign describing our cars as wagons was recorded as true. The opening made by the government in 1990/91 was undoubtedly the most profound change in our commercial policy in 50 years. Its benefits, controversial at the time, are a consensus today. Behold, at the first signs of contraction of the economy, apologists of the protectionist panacea reappear.

In general, we are very eloquent in denouncing protectionism in other countries, but we like to use it.

This reminds me of a phrase from the great film by Alain Resnais - "Hiroshima, my love" - ​​in which the character states that "doubtful morality is the morality of others".
It is fair to recognize that such an impulse is not the privilege of Brasília's bureaucrats. Congressional Democrats in Washington are calling for buy American clauses in President Obama's economic stimulus legislation. The Sarkozy government is facing increasing pressure and may also take similar measures. Even in England, the mother of commercial liberalism, there were several manifestations that opposed international competition.

And let's not even talk about Argentina, always one of the sport's world champions. But, as the respected magazine “The Economist” said, “protectionism is individually attractive but collectively innocuous”.

At the Davos meeting, South African Minister Trevor Manuel said that African countries are at risk of “derailment” if they are isolated by their trading partners.

Other voices, unsuspected to be “neoliberal”, have warned of the pitfalls contained in state intervention. Vladimir Putin warned that "such policies can be counterproductive". Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has called on world leaders to "remain vigilant" in their efforts to contain protectionism. In the same vein were pronounced the Minister of Commerce of Egypt and that of India. The OECD Secretary-General, in an article on the organization's website, stated that "we will only make the crisis worse if we succumb to the siren call of protectionism and narrow-minded nationalism".

President Lula himself was right when he said that “it is a mistake to understand that protectionism solves the problem of the crisis. Protectionism, at this moment, will aggravate the crisis ”. I'm glad.

It is logical that we must also be vigilant against foreign threats of dumping and other forms of unfair competition. It is very likely that episodes of the genre will occur, which would threaten national producers. In this case, the rules of the World Trade Organization and Brazilian legislation authorize strong measures to remedy the situation.

Our specialized governmental bodies would do better to monitor and apply these resources than to devise retrograde measures, incompatible with our WTO commitments and capable of generating arbitrariness, such as the restoration of the bureaucratic drawer called the prior import license.
It is easier to take refuge behind a discriminatory and powerful weapon than to take the complex path of investigation and establishing evidence of commercial disloyalty. But this comes at a price as we also expose ourselves to identical practices and contribute to the demoralization of the legal system that governs international trade.

We are only at the beginning of an unprecedented post-war crisis. It is estimated that world trade will contract by 2,8%, compared to growth of 4,1% in 2008. No one can predict the future, nor exclude the possibility of a worsening of the world's economic health.

However, resorting to protectionist measures can only accelerate the speed of propagation of the recession.
Brazil needs to tie itself to the mast, like Ulysses in the "Odyssey", so as not to fall into the seduction of the mermaids.

LUIZ FELIPE LAMPREIA was Minister of Foreign Affairs (1995-2001).