“Brazil is back”
Winning the election was only the first step: the road to restoring Brazil’s image in the world may still be arduous as the new administration attempts to deal with a global recession, war in Europe, and the climate emergency.
Borrowing from the Joe Biden playbook, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva told his countrymen that “Brazil is back” on the night of his election last Sunday (October 30). But what does this return mean—and how will it affect International Geneva, knowing that “the strengthening of the multilateral system and climate change will be at the heart of Brazil's foreign policy,” as Celso Amorin, Lula’s foreign policy advisor and a former Ambassador to the UN in Geneva told The G|O? Jamil Chade gives us a preview of what Brazil’s priorities in Geneva will be. Brazil’s foreign policy ambitions go well beyond this city. They are truly global. In a way, the Bolsonaro years obfuscated Brazil’s historical presence on the world stage. Bolsonaro’s defeat represents more than Lula’s return, it allows for a rediscovery of the country’s ability to be a global player at a moment of great geopolitical tensions, with the multilateral system arguably at a point of possible paralysis.
Multilateralism and Multipolarity, a recent policy paper published in Portuguese and English by the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI), offers a sweeping historical and prospective analysis of Brazil’s renewed foreign policy ambitions. The paper is an absolute must-read to understand what role Brazil intends to play in the coming years within the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and beyond.
“With its considerable economic strength and common values, Europe will play a central role in Brazil’s efforts to avoid the downward spiral of growing confrontation between Washington and Beijing.” - Antonio Patriota
With a geopolitical order increasingly conditioned by the US-China rivalry, the authors write: “To describe the contemporary geopolitical distribution of power as multipolar can represent not only an analytical perspective but also a political statement, inasmuch as it expresses a rejection of the idea that we are unavoidably marching towards a new bipolar world order. Multipolarity can be seen as multidimensional to the extent that global influence, whether military, economic or diplomatic, relies on a variety of geopolitical dynamics in which the main actors are not necessarily only Washington and Beijing. As a member of the G20 and a country that has a global diplomatic presence, it is possible to argue that Brazil—without claiming to be a major military power—wields international influence in at least the economic and diplomatic dimensions of this multipolarity.” “With its considerable economic strength and common values, Europe will play a central role […] in Brazil’s efforts to avoid the downward spiral of growing confrontation between Washington and Beijing,” Antonio Patriota, the paper’s editor, told me.
Under Bolsonaro, Brazil considerably reduced its international footprint. When fighting its debt crisis and galloping inflation, the country concentrated its energy on economic diplomacy. “But Brazil,” Patriota—himself a former Foreign Minister in Dilma Roussef’s government and a former Ambassador to the UN in New York—told me, “has had original ideas on human rights, on the environment, on peace and security. It is a country that can play all the instruments in the orchestra, it doesn’t have to concentrate only on the horns and violins.”
By Jamil Chade
“Brazil is back,” said Lula in his victory speech on Sunday, pledging to rejoin the international community, reminding the world that Brazil was “too big to be relegated to this sad role of pariah.” He inherits a divided country, with some of its institutions weakened. Brazil’s image abroad has undoubtedly been tarnished. Lula wasted no time in making sure his message had been heard. As soon as the results were declared, he received calls from Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, and Olaf Scholz, as well as a visit by Alberto Fernandez, from Argentina. In the first 24 hours, he had already spoken to over 20 leaders from every corner of the world.
There is more than mere symbolism in these calls. The signal couldn’t be clearer: Brazil sees Europe, Latin America, and other emerging countries as essential partners in preventing the creation of a bi-polar world defined by the US-China rivalry and in returning Brazil to its rightful place on the world stage. The new president will deliver his vision and message face to face: he’s already announced his intention to visit key capitals before the beginning of his term on January 1, 2023.
Lula’s foreign policy strategy, right down to the messaging, have been honed for months by his team, most prominently by a very familiar figure in International Geneva, Celso Amorim. “The strengthening of the multilateral system and climate change will be at the heart of Brazil’s foreign policy,” Amorim told me. Brazil, he says, wants to “be part” of the debate on global issues and to foster dialogue.
Brazil's most seasoned diplomat was his country’s representative at the UN here. He chaired the negotiations that led to the agreement between the WHO and the tobacco industry and was highly instrumental in forging an alliance between emerging countries at the WTO, where he led discussions about IP rights.
The affable and softly-spoken Amorim is the multilateral game player par excellence. He left the table to become Lula’s Foreign minister and, later, Defense Minister in Dilma Rousseff’s government. Is he in for a repeat? Itamaraty, Brazil’s foreign ministry, seems to be his for the taking. However, at 80, could the demands of that particular job be too taxing? Lula might decide that his trusted ally and foreign policy adviser could continue to play a central role in shaping Brazil’s renewed foreign policy without having to hop around the world and instead create for him a position of special adviser—a role close to that played by a national security adviser in the US government.
LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE CHANGE, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND GLOBAL GOVERNANCE
Lula and Amorim are not newcomers, both have a track record, and neither will have to prove themselves on the world stage. But the road to restoring Brazil’s image in the world may still be arduous as the new administration attempts to deal with a global recession, war in Europe, and the climate emergency. Winning the election was only the first step. Very serious damage has been done by Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s image and standing in the world. The ousted president’s denial of climate change and the environmental calamity he has created in allowing the deforestation of the Amazon have also had serious economic consequences for Brazil’s economy, as a number of sovereign wealth funds suspended their investments in the country. Lula and his team will have to convince the world that, despite the country being as divided and highly polarized as ever, they will be able to deliver.
The president-elect knows that Brazil can only improve its standing in the international community if it makes fighting the climate emergency and stopping the deforestation of the Amazon a priority of his administration, and he used his first speech to make it clear that the environmental issue is among his priorities. “Brazil is ready to resume its role in the fight against the climate crisis, protecting all biomass, especially the Amazon forest,” he said.
During his previous time in government, he pointed out, “we were able to reduce by 80% the deforestation of the Amazon, considerably reducing the emission of gases that cause global warming. Now, we will fight for zero deforestation of the Amazon. Brazil and the planet need a living Amazon,” he declared.
The entire world will be watching to see real results. Lula is moving swiftly, by suggesting the creation of an alliance among emerging countries to defend the forests. He hopes to get help from wealthy Europe and America and beyond. Strong and sustained leadership on fighting climate change could also boost Brazil’s influence in emerging countries in Africa and Asia. 20 years ago, access to medicine and agricultural trade catapulted Brazil into international prominence. Climate change, his new leaders say, will do the same again. There are already signs that this is the case: Lula is keen to convene a major international conference in Brazil addressing the issue of deforestation, and the leaders of Egypt have invited him to attend the COP27, an event that will bring together nations from around the world.
Brazil’s renewed diplomatic effort won’t stop at climate change. Another priority for Lula is a change to global governance: “We will fight again for […] the inclusion of more countries in the United Nations Security Council, and for the end of the veto right that undermines the balance between nations,” said the president-elect.
The country’s active and forceful return to the international scene should also see an end to the systematic assault on gender equality, and the relentless attempts by the Bolsonaro regime to overturn or weaken international agreements on fundamental rights signed thirty years ago. The “Geneva Consensus”, a broad and loose anti-abortion coalition put together by Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump, will now be officially abandoned. What with reforms at the WTO and the WHO, not to mention human rights issues, whoever ends up being the country’s top diplomat—Celso Amorim or any other—will certainly have to carry a weighty “Geneva Portfolio.”
A NEW TRADE STRATEGY
Strengthening and reforming the WTO is on Lula’s agenda. But his team has already indicated that this does not mean abandoning issues supposedly considered “of the past,” such as agricultural subsidies. Furthermore, the WTO’s court system, widely used by Lula and Amorim during the president’s first term 15 years ago, is considered to be of strategic importance. Therefore, the search for a dialogue with the US to unblock the situation by allowing the nomination of new judges to the Appellate Body (WTO’s supreme trade dispute body) will also be treated as a pressing concern.
There are questions, however, about the new administration’s strategy with regard to regional trade agreements. After 20 years of negotiations, Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazilian government finally concluded the trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union in 2019. But the ratification of the treaty never occurred, as European governments began to place conditions on the agreement relating to environmental commitments by Brazil.
For the new Brazilian government, accepting the agreement as it stands may open a new page for the strategic relationship between Brazil and Europe, but it would be on a level that is insufficient for Brazilian exporters since the conditions accepted by Bolsonaro fall short of agribusiness’ goals. If, on the other hand, Brazil wishes to reopen the negotiation, it would also have to accede to Europe’s strict environmental demands.
In his first speech, Lula said he would consider taking a new path: “We want fairer international trade, to resume our partnerships with the United States and the European Union on new bases. We are not interested in trade agreements that condemn our country to an eternal role as an exporter of commodities and raw materials,” he said. In a column published in the French newspaper Le Monde on Saturday, Lula suggested that he would not rule out reviewing the agreement with Europe; however, he also made it clear that he considers that alliance as key in facing the US-China rivalry. There is a balance to be struck.
ACCESS TO MEDICINES AT THE WTO AND WHO
According to members of Lula's team, another focus of the new Brazilian diplomacy in Geneva will be to restore the country’s leadership in the debate over access to medicines and vaccines. Back in 2002, Amorim was key in reforming the TRIPS agreement at the WTO, so emerging economies were shocked at Bolsonaro’s initial decision to ally with developed countries, at the most critical moment of the pandemic, on the matter of a vaccine waiver. While India and South Africa insisted that the production of generic versions of vaccines be permitted, Brazil echoed the positions of the EU, Switzerland, and the US, claiming that breaking patents was not the correct way to assure vaccines reach poor countries. In fact, Brazil was the only developing country to take such a stance.
Bolsonaro ended up softening his stance in the face of domestic pressure but avoided taking the lead in the process of questioning patents. Now, however, the order is to return to a posture of championing access to medicine as a key health issue, both at the WHO and WTO. In part, this is also seen as a possible shortcut to re-establishing Brazil’s role as a spokesperson for the emerging world and to help Lula regain the sympathy of African and Asian governments.
A DEMOCRATIC MANDATE WITH A GLOBAL ENDORSEMENT
The ambitious and wide-ranging foreign policy goals of the Lula administration require that the world sees him as the legitimate leader. No surprise, then, that following his election victory, Lula’s team abroad focused on ensuring that Bolsonaro’s questioning of the result had no backing from other nations.
After weeks of detailed coordination, Western democracies rushed to congratulate Lula on his victory. They sent telegrams and messages on social networks as early as Sunday night. Their goal was to create a cordon sanitaire to prevent Bolsonaro from repeating Donald Trump’s strategy of claiming the election had been unfair—and to assuage fears that the chaotic scenario in Bolivia would be repeated.
By congratulating Lula, what Joe Biden, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and many others did was to signal that they trusted the electoral process and the results of the electronic ballot boxes. Significantly, Bolsonaro’s traditional partners in Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, Hungary, Israel, Italy and Poland also accepted the election result, with almost 100 countries, including China, congratulating Lula on his victory by the end of Tuesday. However, there was another message behind those well-wishes: from now on, they recognized that the legitimate power in Brazil lies with Lula.
-JC, with PHM