“Look at the rapa”: an alert for street vendors

ETCO and FNCP coordinate a movement that brings together more than 70 entities in defense of the legal market. See some initiatives of this project

By ETCO
07/01/2005

By Nelson Vasconcelos, Diário de S. Paulo - 07/01/2005

For those who don't know, rapa is the City Hall car that drives inspectors and police through the streets 'to seize goods from unlicensed street vendors', as the Houaiss Electronic dictionary says. At least on the streets of Rio and São Paulo, it is not uncommon to hear the warning of street vendors threatened by the proximity of the Law, shouting loudly: "Look at the rapa!" – and whoever is sensible should run away, to avoid being detained for a few minutes and losing their products.

Read also: Money that stopped being collected with piracy would give to build 200 schools

And this is still a holdover from the 'romantic times of camelting'. Today it's not that much anymore, mainly because the coexistence between the men of the Law and the street vendors is much more tolerant and comradely, so to speak.

Well… this brief digression comes about the farewell to this column, which over the past eight months has presented different aspects of the large piracy market in the country and in the world. Once the alert has been made about the problems that piracy brings to the economy of countries — especially those on the periphery, like us — it's time to move forward. It's time to shave off…

Before that, the column thanks the collaboration of several sources — each defending its side, of course — and the multiple criticisms it received during that time. If all of them were not answered, it was due to lack of time.

Of the hundreds of emails that made it to the column — including messages sent via the internet — most claimed that companies have their share of blame for piracy, basically for stimulating rampant consumption and for not offering affordable prices at all levels of the population. It is a very frequent criticism in relation to goods such as clothing, CDs and DVDs, for example. Anyone who doesn't have R$25 for an original CD pays ten reais for three pirates on the corner. As music is increasingly a perishable, short-lived product, the pirated CD lasts at least until the favorite artist goes out of style. And who doesn't have Nike hunts with Naike…

Companies from various sectors, in turn, claim high spending on research and product development, hence their prices. And they say that the issue of piracy would be more related to a certain 'lack of honesty' of the consumer in general.

Companies also complain about something important: high taxation by the Government, which directly influences the final price of products to the consumer. But the Government does not seem to realize that high taxation does not necessarily mean higher revenue. Experiences in São Paulo, reported here, have already shown that consumers are able to choose the legal product, if the price to be paid is consistent.

The companies also demand from the Government more vigorous actions by the inspection and repression agencies against contraband, tax evasion and theft of goods. There are those who argue to what extent this is legitimate, as it means government spending to protect purely private interests, with no public benefit. It is a discussion that goes far.

The column spoke to sectors of the Government that, for their part, recognize their limitations and plan to put in practice, in the coming months, actions that can reduce the problem of piracy in the country. It will not be an easy task, considering that there is a lack of investments in technology and personnel, in addition to greater exchange between public agencies and, one of the great knots in the country, a more agile Justice.

Another issue involving the Government is its (in)ability to negotiate with friendly countries — mainly those of Mercosur — and articulate with them a joint and permanent action against piracy.

It should not be forgotten that the United States, sheriffs in world trade, is putting strong pressure on countries that give piracy a chance. This could mean billion-dollar losses for the country's economy.

The Brazilian Legislative has repeatedly shown itself concerned with the matter and has done its part — it is a more than commendable effort, rare in the case of the Legislative. The formation of an exclusive inter-ministerial committee to combat piracy is in itself a positive point. When you start working, it will certainly be better.

Anyway, the message is given: piracy is the economy of illusion. As I said here, when a consumer chooses to buy a counterfeit or smuggled product, it looks like he is getting a good product, it looks like he is creating jobs, it looks like he is contributing to the country's economy. But it is all illusion. In the long run, the result is negative for several sectors. Better not pay to see.

Nor can the column cite an interesting discovery: that of reader Edson Barreto, an observer of the day-to-day on the streets, who wrote dozens of good stories about street vendors and street commerce. It is piracy, I would say, collaborating positively for the revival of the boring carioca chronicle.

And the most important: that 2005 is a very, very good year for everyone.