The leaders of Ecuador business organizations worry that their interests are being ignored in the ongoing talks between the government and indigenous organizations. “They are talking about imposing cost controls on hundreds of products and the companies that produce and manufacture them have no place at the table,” says Christian Wahli, president of the Ecuador Association of Food and Beverage Manufacturers.
According th Wahli, the livelihood of thousands of companies and millions of workers are at stake. “If the proposals presented by Conaie are accepted, Ecuador would be reduced to the failed state status of Venezuela and Cuba, where informal and black markets would dominate the production and sale of food and other essential products,” he says. “We are very uncomfortable that we are not being consulted in the discussions.”
Wahli says there are agreements that can be reached between government and indigenous negotiators and that changes are needed in the current system of price controls. “There needs to be support for underprivileged population,” he says. “This is matter of fairness. On the other hand, we cannot tear down the productive system that employees a large portion of the country’s workforce and we cannot revisit agreements we have already made in trade agreements. This would be sheer madness. We cannot allow those representing seven percent of the population to dictate the rules for the market and for the rest of the country.”
University of Guayaquil economist Carla González agrees that business should be represented in the talks. “I don’t worry that the government will agree to all the Conaie demands but I believe leaders of the productive sector should be represented due to their importance to the economy,” she says. “Many of the price control demands are unrealistic and cannot, in fact, be implemented since they involve international market factors. This is why representatives of business should be allowed to share their perspective.”
Wahli claims that reducing restrictions on industry and revising employment laws are the best way to advance the interest of the indigenous and poor population. “Eliminate the red tape, reduce the regulations and change the rules that restrict employment, and you will see price reductions that will benefit everyone,” he says. “This is where the talks should focus. Price controls are useless without changes that will encourage the agricultural and production sectors to improve their processes and prices.”
In the government-indigenous talks, González says Ecuador cannot be considered in isolation. “We must look at international conditions and international markets, since we are inextricably connected with them,” she says. “Consider the huge impact the war in Ukraine is having on banana export and fertilizer imports. Consider the high inflation rate caused by the war and the pandemic. Consider the devastation to the transportation interests, internationally and domestically, caused by high fuel costs. Conaie says we should ignore these things but they cannot be ignored.”