Indigenous Brazilians fight against trade deal with Switzerland

Kreta Kaingang, Sonia Guajajara and Elizeu-Guarani Kaiowà at a press conference in Bern Keystone

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous community have strongly warned Switzerland against ratifying the free-trade agreement with the Mercosur states. They say easier market access would come at the expense of the environment and the indigenous population. 

This content was published on November 8, 2019 - 11:28

“Anyone who feels committed to the environment cannot support this free-trade agreement,” Sonia Guajajara, general-secretary of the indigenous umbrella organisation APIBExternal link, said at a press conference in Bern on Thursday. 

Together with eight other representatives of the Brazilian indigenous population, Guajajara is on a European tour in her fight against free-trade agreements. 

The deal between the Mercosur countries Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay and the EU and EFTA countries (Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) are “primarily about the profits of companies and not about the well-being of people and the environment”, she said. 

Guajajara said she was very concerned about the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. “This year has seen not only more deforestation and slash-and-burn but also more killings of indigenous people,” she said. 

“When they buy soy, beef, palm oil or gold from protected territories in Brazil, they’re buying indigenous blood,” said tribal indigenous leader Elizeu Guarani Kaoiwà. 

“For Bolsonaro, a soy plant is more valuable than a tree, and the head of a cow is more valuable than the head of an indigenous person. The ratification of the agreement would make genocide in our country a fact of life,” he said. 

According to the Society for Threatened PeoplesExternal link, the situation of the roughly 900,000 indigenous people and the destruction of the rainforest in the Amazon has worsened drastically since Bolsonaro took office at the beginning of the year. 

‘Important milestone’ 

Swiss Economics Minister Guy Parmelin said in August that the EFTA-Mercosur deal was an “important milestone” in further extending Switzerland’s trade network. 

“Swiss exporters need a reliable framework in order to assert themselves in the turbulent world markets,” he said, adding that Switzerland had paid special attention to agricultural products as well as intellectual property issues. 

statementExternal link from the Swiss economics ministry said that around 95% of Swiss exports to the Mercosur area, which is made up of 260 million inhabitants, would be tariff-free. Technical barriers to trade would be abolished, Swiss service providers would have easier access to markets and bilateral economic relations would be strengthened. 

Ratification is expected by 2021, after a legal review and the deal going through parliament.

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