Celso Amorim • One Voice For The South

Photo: Courtesy of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense


Celso Amorim is ready for the interview precisely at the agreed-upon time. There’s no waiting at all, though waiting is something that tends to happen with government people in Latin America. The former foreign minister, who today is Brazil’s defense minister, opened with a cordial conversation that almost immediately revealed his personality as a wise master of high-level world diplomacy.

He began by stating that the Ouro Preto meeting in 1994 was one of the region’s most important decisions of the last 20 years in Latin America. “It provided the institutional backbone for Mercosur, which had been created three years earlier,” he said. The agreements that resulted from that meeting established, for the first time, the concrete basis for strong integration of the group of nations that comprise the south of the continent.

That same year, negotiations opened for the free trade agreement of the Americas, or Ftaa. Unlike Mercosur, he said, it was an unbalanced initiative that favored Canada and the United States, especially in the technology sector. “We weren’t against having an agreement, but Brazil signed a declaration that later enabled us to seek a more balanced accord.”

There was a repeat of that situation at the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Cancun in 2003. “Brazil insisted on structuring a pact that would take seriously the interests of the developing countries on agriculture issues. We didn’t want to sign an agreement that had already been cooked up between the European Union and the United States,” he said. “In a nutshell, we didn’t want an agreement that was openly unfavorable for Brazil and Latin America.”

Amorim was thoroughly familiar with the rules of this game. He had signed the Marrakesh agreement under which the WTO was established in 1994. “There was very strong pressure for us to accept an unjust agreement. At the same time, there was a perception that we were slowing down the negotiations. But if we had signed, we would have had to wait another 20 years before our interests were taken into consideration.”

Up until that time, the developing countries usually did little more than to try to force a minor change in the texts that were negotiated among the largest economies, he said. “In contrast, in Cancun, we led a movement that created problems because it proposed a different path. It wasn’t negative or destructive. In a positive way, we created the framework in which the WTO now operates,” he said.

The United States was very critical of the Brazilian position at the beginning, Celso Amorim recalled. However, it soon changed its attitude. “Three or four months after Cancun, I was in Buenos Aires when I received a call from Robert Zoellick (the United States trade representative). He told me that it seemed important to him to reopen the negotiations and he invited Brazil, India and other countries.” The discussion ended up becoming a sort of G20 within the WTO, where the voice of the developing countries began to be heard. “It was the first time that Latin America had played a crucial role in international institutions and debates. And they took our views into account,” he said.

That kind of cooperation sustains and encourages democracies. “It helps create the multipolar world we have been working toward.” He believes that a world configured in that way also benefits the first world countries, in that the broad consensus enables decisions to be accepted more easily.

That’s why, he said, Brazil is interested in strengthening the multilateral system. “We helped with the creation and the ongoing reform of the WTO, which is part of the architecture of world peace, like the United Nations.” Today, there is no doubt that this country is taken seriously in trade talks. The election of Roberto Azevêdo as secretary general of the WTO is a good demonstration of that. For those who follow developments in the negotiations of trade agreements, a good part of the reason why they have achieved this novel world balance has the stamp of one of the continent’s sharpest diplomats, the redoubtable Celso Amorim.

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  1. [...] One voice for the South Celso Amorim, Defense Minister of Brazil [...]