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BRAZIL FIRST? BOLSONARO’S FOREIGN POLICY

BRAZIL FIRST? BOLSONARO’S FOREIGN POLICY

Throughout Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro’s rise to power, his controversial views on domestic issues have been front and center. But as the right-wing populist prepares to take office early next year, it’s also worth considering how he may seek to change Brazil’s foreign policy and global role.


Since the 1990s, Brazil has frequently made common cause with other developing countries to advance mutual interests, even when it required taking stances in opposition to Europe and the United States. Brazil has long seen itself as a progressive force in global affairs on a range of issues, including the development of global responses to climate change. From the mid-2000s onward, the then-ruling Workers Party (PT) made a particular point of strengthening Brazil’s ties with the other large developing countries of the “Global South”, like China, India, Russia, and South Africa.

Bolsonaro has pledged to smash all of that. He wants to refashion Brazil’s foreign policy in a way that both supports and replicates US President Donald Trump’s transactional, assertively nationalistic approach to global affairs. Here are the areas where Bolsonaro may seek to move boldly and quickly to put his stamp on foreign policy.

China – Bolsonaro is no fan. He’s criticized China’s political system and repeated long-standing Brazilian concerns that Chinese firms buy up Brazilian land and resources while undercutting its manufacturers. Earlier this year, he ruffled feathers in Beijing by making an official visit to Taiwan. He clearly seeks to pivot away from Beijing, but he’ll have to trade carefully: China has been Brazil’s largest trade and investment partner for almost a decade, and key industries such as agriculture and mining are eager to avoid clashes with an important source of both demand and investment.

Venezuela  The president-elect will likely support tighter sanctions and stricter measures to stop the flow of Venezuelan refugees into Brazil as its northern neighbor’s economy continues to collapse. He may find an ally in Colombia’s new security-minded president, Ivan Duque, whose country has absorbed more Venezuelan refugees than any other. If talk about a possible US-backed military intervention heats up again, watch the military-minded Bolsonaro closely.

Israel – Bolsonaro says he wants to follow Trump’s lead by moving the Brazilian embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This would be popular among Brazil’s large evangelical population, a solid base of support for the devout Bolsonaro. However, it would cause frictions with Brazil’s huge meat industry, which counts Arab countries among its largest export markets.

The environment – Bolsonaro is a climate change skeptic, and although he has backed off earlier pledges to remove Brazil from the Paris Climate Accord (which would entail a messy fight for him in Congress), he has promised to ease environmental licensing requirements for infrastructure projects, Brazil’s lucrative cattle, forestry, and mining industries. It isn’t clear how much that would impact the already-accelerating deforestation of the Amazon, but environmental activists are already concerned.

Trade – Brazil is a highly protectionist country. Bolsonaro’s economic team wants to change that – by lowering some of Brazil’s tariffs, leaving behind a cumbersome regional customs union in South America and, over the longer term, striking new agreements with the European Union and the US.

In contrast with domestic policy, where Bolsonaro will have to slog through a fractious congress, foreign policy is an area where the Brazilian president is largely unconstrained. If the going gets tough at home, Bolsonaro may look abroad for some quick wins.

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Learn more about how carbon created life on Earth in the second episode of Eni's Story of CO2 series.

As we enter the homestretch of the US presidential election — which is set to be the most contentious, and possibly contested, in generations — Americans are also voting on 35 seats up for grabs in a battle for the control of the Senate. The 100-member body is currently held 53-47 by the Republican Party, but many individual races are wide open, and the Democrats are confident they can flip the upper chamber of Congress.

Either way, the result will have a profound impact not only on domestic policy, but also on US foreign relations and other issues with global reach. Here are a few areas where what US senators decide reverberates well beyond American shores.

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On September 23, GZERO Media — in partnership with Microsoft and Eurasia Group — gathered global experts to discuss global recovery from the coronavirus pandemic in a livestream panel. Our panel for the discussion Crisis Response & Recovery: Reimagining while Rebuilding, included:

  • Brad Smith, President, Microsoft
  • Ian Bremmer, President and Founder, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media
  • Jeh Johnson, Partner, Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, LLP and former Secretary of Homeland Security.
  • John Frank, Vice President, UN Affairs at Microsoft
  • Susan Glasser, staff writer and Washington columnist, The New Yorker (moderator)

Special appearances by UN Secretary-General António Guterres, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde, and comedian/host Trevor Noah.

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Jon Lieber, who leads Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, offers insights on the Supreme Court vacancy:

Will Senate Republicans, who stopped a Supreme Court nomination in 2016, because it was too close to an election, pay a political price for the change in tactics this time around?

Not only do I think they won't pay a political price, I think in many cases, they're going to benefit. Changing the balance of power on the Supreme Court has been a career-long quest for many conservatives and many Republicans. And that's why you've seen so many of them fall in line behind the President's nomination before we even know who it is.

At this point, do Senate Democrats have any hope of stopping President Trump from filling the ninth seat on the Supreme Court?

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In a special GZERO Media livestream on global response and recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Eurasia Group & GZERO Media president Ian Bremmer discussed the difference between Europe's unified approach to economic stimulus and the deeply divided and political nature of the current conversation in the US. While initial stimulus support was bipartisan, there is little chance of Democrats and Republicans coming together again ahead of the November 3 presidential election. "It's red state versus blue state. President Trump's saying that coronavirus isn't so bad if you take the blue states out. He's president of the blue states, you can't take the blue states out," Bremmer told moderator Susan Glasser of The New Yorker.

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Panel: How will the world recover from COVID-19?

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