The Canadian government action was followed by similar moves in both the United States and Mexico. Canada imports about Can$10 million (Can$1=US 65 cents) in canned Brazilian beef annually. Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalo-pathy (BSE), is a degenerative and fatal brain disorder that has affected cows in Europe. It can also kill people who eat infected meat.
The action by Ottawa is another attack in a growing trade war against Brazil, stemming from a five-year dispute over government subsidies to jet manufacturers Embraer in Brazil and Bombardier Inc. in Canada. Ottawa has taken Brazil before the World Trade Organization (WTO) claiming Brazil's subsidies to Embraer have robbed Bombardier of sales of its regional jet planes.
The Union of Longshoremen of the Port of Santos, South America's largest port, protested the beef ban by delaying the unloading of containers coming from Canada. The Rural Brazilian Society said it was suspending its purchase of a potassium component used to make fertilizers. Society president Luis Hafers said meat producers had also voted to boycott Canadian cattle semen, used to breed livestock. The city council of São José dos Campos, home of Embraer, has established an "Anti-Canada Committee." Its first measure was to declare Canada's prime minister, Jean Chretien, and Canadian diplomats persona non grata.
After 24-year-old Rodrigo Ranieri Araujo posted material on a web site that referred to Canada as an "evil empire" waging "economic war" against Brazil, and urged people to fight back, he received a threatening letter from the Federal Department of Public Works and Services in Canada warning him he had two "Canadian working days" to modify the site or face unspecified consequences.
The Brazilian congress unanimously passed a resolution that threatened to suspend all trade agreements with Canada until the beef ban is lifted. Aloizio Mercandante, sponsor of the resolution, said Brazil "must act to defend its economy and not passively accept the aggression being committed against it."
Health Canada scientists, employees of the federal government, were reprimanded for stating publicly that the Brazilian beef ban was not based on science, but was "more a political move than a health one" tied to the fight over aerospace subsidies. Later Canadian officials admitted they have "no evidence" of mad cow disease in Brazil. In fact, Brazil's cattle herd, the largest in the world, is considered by some experts to be among the safest because it has been grass-fed since 1985. The disease is said to have spread to herds in Europe through bone meal feed contaminated with parts from infected cows.
'Hypocritical first world imperialism'
Writing from São José Dos Campos in Brazil, Globe and Mail correspondent Mark Mackinnon stated that in Brazil Ottawa's actions smack of "hypocritical First World imperialism, of a developed nation trying to deny Brazil the tools it used to build up companies like Bombardier."
Embraer has become the fourth-largest commercial aircraft producer in the world and the rival of Montreal-based Bombardier. The company employs about 10,000 workers and is a key component for Brazil's capitalist class in developing domestic industrial enterprises.
Brazil, a semicolonial country, is staggering under a $226 billion foreign debt to the banks in imperialist countries like Canada. Five years ago, because of the unequal terms of trade imposed by the imperialist powers on Brazil and other semicolonial countries, the Brazilian government established Pro-ex, a program that offers cut-rate loans to buyers of Brazilian products. Embraer has taken advantage of this program.
At Ottawa's request the WTO originally declared Pro-ex illegal because it offered loans at below market rate. The decision gave Ottawa the go-ahead to slap Can$2.3 billion in trade sanctions against Brazil over a seven-year period. Brazil claims to have met the WTO criteria, which Canada is now challenging. Then, last month Ottawa offered Bombardier financing on 75 percent of a $2 billion jet order.
Henrique Rzezinski, Embraer's vice president of external relations, said: "The fact is that Canada is a mature economy, a stable economy, with social conditions we would love to see in Brazil. Canada no longer needs a Pro-ex.... The message being sent is that Canada exports airplanes, Brazil exports coffee beans, and that's the way it should stay. If Embraer was based in Copenhagen we would not be having the same kind of dispute."
Under the pressure of the protests the editors of the Globe and Mail expressed nervousness over the situation. "What began as a battle for market share between Bombardier Inc. of Montreal and Embraer SA of Brazil, is on the brink of becoming a full-scale trade war, with major implications for the upcoming April summit [of the Americas in Quebec City] and for Canada's relations with the largest country in Latin America."
Food inspectors from Canada, the United States and Brazil were scheduled to end a four-day visit to Brazil February 18 to determine of Brazil's cattle are a health threat.
John Steele is a meat packer and member the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
'Lift the embargo against Brazil now'
Prisoners' rebellion in Brazil exposes dismal conditions (photo box)
U.S. officials challenge Brazil's AIDS program
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