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Leaked Diplomatic Cables Show EU Strong-Armed Ecuador on Free Trade Agreement

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Screen capture from the whistleblowing website awps.is 

Leaked diplomatic cables between Ecuador and the European Union, which were released on October 8, have reignited public debate over the merits of a proposed Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two. The cables refer to recent negotiations between the Latin American country and the EU over a commercial treaty that is currently awaiting ratification by the legislatures of the respective governments.

The whistleblowing platform Ecuador Transparente that published the leaked cables, along with Associated Whistleblowing Press (AWP), issued the following comments:

En el material se puede observar la presión ejercida por la UE, cuyos intereses subvierten de principios expresados en la constitución ecuatoriana, así como algunas leyes puntuales. Además, queda constatada la inconsistencia del discurso público del gobierno ecuatoriano en relación a las negociaciones.

The contents reveal the pressure exerted by the EU, whose interests subvert the principles expressed in the Ecuadorian constitution, as well as some specific laws. Furthermore, they attest to inconsistency in the Ecuadorian government´s public rhetoric regarding the negotiations.

The Spanish news site eldiario.es picked up the news of the diplomatic leaks, characterizing them as “tense exchanges that lay bare the pressures exerted by the European Commission on Ecuador to incite it to change key legislation and policies and bring them in line with the Free Trade Agreement—this under threat of leaving Ecuador out of any tariff structures favourable to developing countries.”

The version of events compiled by the Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo after interviewing two former members of the Ecuadorian government, ex-ambassador to Belgium Fernando Yépez Lasso and former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kintto Lucas, confirms the EU's pressure tactics. Meanwhile, current Ecuadorian Minister of Trade Francisco Rivadeneira denied there was undue pressure, qualifying the Spanish newspaper´s article as having its own interpretation of the diplomatic communication.

The European Union also denied the bullying. According to Peter Schwaiger, the EU's mission head in Ecuador, the story is a complete “fabrication”. In a report by its investigative unit, the Ecuadorian and South American News Agency (ANDES) said the leak was “evidence of the involvement by national and international organizations in new espionage efforts to intercept diplomatic communications among high ranking Ecuadorian government officials.”

One day before the leaks were made public, Kintto Lucas himself had tweeted:

What I warned about in 2012 when I resigned as vice chancellor has become a reality. Ecuador is joining the FTA between Colombia and Peru and the EU. What a shame.

The blog Ecuador Decide republished an article from the website Diagonal Global, which analyzes the FTA negotiations focusing on the likely amendments to the constitution and the suspension of bilateral investment protection treaties, both of which are key changes the European negotiators want to secure.

La Constitución de Montecristi –promulgada en 2007 y que recoge gran cantidad de demandas sociales defendidas en largos ciclos de movilizaciones y levantamientos populares– prohíbe la firma de tratados que cedan jurisdicción soberana a instancias de arbitrajes internacionales, exige medidas protectoras al sector agroalimentario y pesquero, da prioridad en las compras públicas a productos y servicios nacionales, protege la producción nacional y procura el fortalecimiento de los mercados internos. Sin embargo, según afirma el analista e histórico activista Edgar Isch, el texto del acuerdo suscrito entre Ecuador y la UE apenas incorpora modificaciones respecto al de Colombia y Perú, unas reservas muy menores en cuanto a compras públicas, y la inclusión en los anexos de algunas excepciones y plazos para productos sensibles, al igual que los existentes con respecto a los otros dos países andinos. 

The Constitución of Montecristi — enacted in 2007 and enshrining a large number of the societal demands manifested throughout extensive periods of popular demonstrations and uprisings — prohibits the signing of treaties that cede sovereign jurisdiction to international arbitration bodies, requires measures to protect the agri-food and fisheries industry, gives priority in government procurement to domestic products and services, protects domestic production, and seeks to strengthen domestic markets. However, according to analyst and long-time activist Edgar Isch, the text of the agreement between Ecuador and the EU barely differs from the one signed by Colombia and Peru, to wit, minor reservations about public procurement and a few exceptions and limits on sensitive products included in the appendices, these being consistent with those of the other two Andean countries.

The website Pueblos en Camino (People on track) qualified the FTA negotiation as a turn to the right on the part of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa:

No sorprende la actitud imperial abusiva y arrogante de los europeos y tampoco, las decisiones serviles, violatorias de la Constitución de Monte Cristi con las que Correa, a nombre de la soberanía, el Socialismo del Siglo XXI y la verborrea mentirosa contra “pelucones” burgueses e imperios, entrega al Ecuador a manos llenas con el apoyo de una izquierda sectaria nacional e internacional que le cree el discurso y se niega a ver los hechos, aunque los conozcan de sobra y les estallen en la cara. En Ecuador también se construye el Capitalismo del Siglo XXI.

It is hardly surprising to see the abusive and arrogantly imperious attitude of the Europeans and the obsequious decision-making (which violates the Constitution of Monte Cristi) that (President Rafael) Correa defends in the name of sovereignty, 21st-century socialism and duplicitous verbosity directed against empires and bourgeois bigwigs. He is prepared to deliver Ecuador with open arms and the blessing of a national and international sectarian Left that first created the familiar rhetoric, refusing to see the facts that are blindingly plain as day. In Ecuador, 21st century capitalism is also being built.

Another former government minister from the current regime, Alberto Acosta, also expressed his opinon and shared a link of a piece published on eldiario.es:

EU threatened Ecuador with eliminating development aid if it did not accept the FTA and Correa gave in http://t.co/HiodaBEbP7 @bbhorne

In an interview with La Marea.com (The Tide), Acosta also stressed the ideological shift to the right by President Correa, explaining that the FTA goes beyond mere trade negotiations:

En las últimas décadas, se firman acuerdos del tipo TLC, aunque se les llame de otra forma. […] Incluyen los términos de Singapur, no sólo los comerciales: propiedad intelectual, el acceso a los servicios públicos, la protección inversiones extranjeras, acceso a los mercados de bienes agrícolas, medidas sanitarias, políticas de competencia, la solución de diferencias… una cantidad de cuestiones enorme. […] Si se ponen de acuerdo, eso va a imponer reglas de juego a gran parte del planeta. Y sabemos las razones de esto, enfrentar a China e India. Los acuerdos de comercio no son sólo de comercio y no abren la libertad comercial. Por ejemplo, los europeos no van a desarmar sus subsidios a la agricultura. Y nuestros campesinos van a enfrentar una competencia desleal porque no van a poder acceder a ayudas similares, vía subsidio.

In recent decades, many FTA-type pacts have been signed but under different names [ … ] These include the Singapore terms [those signed in Singapore and containing provisions other than trade]: intellectual property, access to public services, foreign investment protection, markets for agricultural goods, healthcare measures, competition policies, dispute settlement… a huge number of issues. [ … ] If [the various international trade agreements] are harmonized, this will impose rules across much of the planet. And we know the reasons for this, to confront China and India. Trade agreements are not only about commerce, and they do not free up trade. For example, the Europeans are not going to dismantle their agricultural subsidies. And our farmers will face unfair competition because they will not have access to aid through similar subsidies.

Consulted regarding the impact on intellectual property, Alfredo Velazco, an expert on the Internet in Ecuador and a member of Usuarios de Internet del Ecuador (Internet users in Ecuador), tried to see beyond the squabbling provoked by the leak:

Concidentemente despues de la firma del Acuerdo con la Union Europea, se envia desde la Presidencia una reforma al Codigo Penal para penalizar en hasta US$ 200,000 a las personas por temas de propiedad intelectual, sin especificar alcances ni excepciones. Por otro lado el impulso al canon digital es otro de los temas que han tomado impulso. Estos serian los primeros impactos que estariamos recibiendo los usuarios.

Coincidentally, after signing the agreement with the European Union, the Office of the President put forth amendments to the Criminal Code that would penalize intellectual property violations with a fine of up to US$200,000, without indicating the extent of the reform or any exceptions to it. At the same time, the proposed private copying levy is another issue that has gained momentum. These impacts on the Internet are the first ones we would feel.

Despite all this—and the risks associated with entering into the Free Trade Agreement with the EU—its ratification already seems to be both a fait accompli and another of the many contradictions characteristic of President Rafael Correa's regime.

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