GZERO Media logo

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.

Khant Thaw Htoo is a young engineer who works in Eni's Sakura Tower office in the heart of Yangon. As an HSE engineer, he monitors the safety and environmental impact of onshore and offshore operations. He also looks out for his parents' well-being, in keeping with Myanmar's traditions.

Learn more about Khant in the final episode of the Faces of Eni series, which focuses on Eni's employees around the world.

On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a remarkable series of executive orders. Boom! The US rejoins the Paris Climate Accord. Bang! The United States rejoins the World Health Organization. Pow! No more ban on immigration from many Muslim-majority countries. Biden's press secretary reminded reporters later in the day that all these orders merely begin complex processes that take time, but the impact is still dramatic.

If you lead a country allied with the US, or you're simply hoping for some specific commitment or clear and credible statement of purpose from the US government, you might feel a little dizzy today. The sight of an American president (Barack Obama) signing his name, of the next president (Donald Trump) erasing that name from the same legislation/bill, and then the following president (Biden) signing it back into law again will raise deep concerns over the long-term reliability of the world's still-most-powerful nation.

More Show less

Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, provides perspective on what corporate business leaders are thinking during the global coronavirus crisis:

Should businesses be pessimistic or optimistic about 2021?

It's easy to be gloomy about the year ahead when faced with the realities of a cold, bleak winter in much of the world. Add to that lockdowns across Europe, surging case numbers and hospitalizations, and dreadful events in the Capitol in the US to name a few reasons for pessimism. But I think there is a case for optimism when it comes to this year. After all, it's true to say that it's always darkest before the dawn, and my conversations with business leaders suggest there are reasons to be positive by 2021.

More Show less

Renowned tech journalist Kara Swisher has no qualms about saying that many of the country's social media companies need to be held accountable for their negative role in our current national discourse. Swisher calls for "a less friendly relationship with tech" by the Biden administration, an "internet bill of rights" around privacy, and an investigation into antitrust issues.

Swisher, who hosts the New York Times podcast Sway, joins Ian Bremmer for the latest episode of GZERO World, airing on public television nationwide beginning this Friday, January 22th. Check local listings.

Brexit pettiness lingers: Here we were naively thinking the Brexit shenanigans were over after the EU and UK agreed to an eleventh-hour post-Brexit trade deal last month. We were wrong — the saga continues. Now, a new row has erupted after the Johnson government said it will not give the EU ambassador in London the same diplomatic status awarded to other representatives of nation states. Unsurprisingly, this announcement peeved Brussels, whose delegates enjoy full diplomatic status in at least 142 other countries. The UK says it will give the EU envoy the same privileges as those given to international organizations, which are subject to change and do not include immunity from detention and taxation given to diplomats under the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations. EU members are furious, with officials accusing London of simply trying to flex its muscles and engaging in "petty" behavior. The two sides will discuss the matter further when UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets EU representatives next week, their first face-to-face since the two sides settled the Brexit quagmire on December 31. Alas, the Brexit nightmare continues.

More Show less
The GZERO World Podcast with Ian Bremmer. Listen now.

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's Newsletter: Signal