Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, son of president-elect Jair, wore his “Trump 2020” baseball cap with pride on November 27, during a visit to Washington D.C. The headgear, more than just an accessory, indicates that the future Brazilian government is running the risk of not just being “aligned” with the U.S., but decidedly “Trumpist,” according to specialists.
This is because, in the two months since his election, Jair Bolsonaro and his government team have already announced that they plan to move their embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while also being more critical of China. Members of his transition team have also expressed a skepticism about climate change. These stances are similar, if not identical, to those of U.S. President Donald Trump.
According to Fernanda Magnotta, coordinator of International Relations at São Paulo-based university FAAP, alignment with the U.S. is hardly a never-before-seen feature of Brazilian foreign policy.
During the period of democratization and after the enactment of the new Brazilian Constitution, presidents Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2002) were significantly close with the U.S. “Both were pro-alignment [with the U.S.] but none of them in the same way we are seeing now,” the specialist stated.
“The debate surrounding alignment with or autonomy from the U.S. is nothing new. In truth, choosing between these two paradigms has been a tradition of Brazilian foreign policy, which operates in a pendular form, swaying from one side to the other. The difference now is that the new government seems to be more than just pro-alignment: it’s also Trumpist, and like Mr. Trump, it is anti-globalist, occidentalist, and bilateralist,” she believes.
In Ms. Magnotta’s opinion, Mr. Bolsonaro’s choice may accrue trade advantages for Brazil through its relationship with the U.S., but also negative consequences on the international stage if the country opts to break with other partners.
“A cooperative re-engagement between Brazil and the U.S. —countries which are important historical partners but whose bilateral relations have been treated with apathy since the Dilma Rousseff government and successive crises—could favor trade, particularly in the industrial sector and high-value manufactured goods,” said Ms. Magnotta.
Other sectors in Brazil which may be benefitted are defense and security, with an increase in technical and strategic cooperation in combatting transnational crimes, as well as the financial sector, with an increase in foreign investment.
However, specialists warn that these benefits would be overshadowed if Brazil was to break with its other trade partners.
“Everything will depend on how Brazil will negotiate its network of relationships, and this is not yet clear. Alignment with the U.S. does not necessarily represent a break with other partners, be they in Latin America, Europe, Africa, or Asia. The majority of governments tend to establish an emphasis in a particular direction without, however, abandoning the rest,” Ms. Magnotta stated.
“In general, they should seek diversification if only for a question of managing risks of dependency and increasing the efficiency of exchanges. If the new government acts pragmatically, that is what it will do. Also because Brazil has important partners today which, if abandoned, would represent severe damage to the Brazilian economy, beyond a diplomatic crisis, such as Mercosur, China, Middle Eastern countries in particular,” she added.
Remaining chums with China
According to Roberto Dumas, professor of International Economics at Ibmec-SP, one of the biggest losses for Brazil would be caused by distancing itself from China.
“It would be healthy to get closer to the U.S. in order not to remain dependent on China, seeing as Brazil’s exportation portfolio to the U.S involves a much higher value (aircraft, coffee, machinery) than that to China, of which 80 percent is commodities. But Brazil needs to get closer to everyone, not just the U.S. No-one is asking them to start a fight with China to get closer to the U.S.,” said Mr. Dumas.
According to the professor, following Mr. Trump’s idea of moving the embassy in Israel to Jerusalem would also cause a significant impact on Brazilian exports to Middle-Eastern countries. “Islamic countries buy the most animal protein in the world. Brazil sells the most halal meat to Islamic countries. Why would they want to start this fight?” he argued.
In the long-term, the Trumpist foreign policy will make diplomatic relations difficult in general, even with the U.S. themselves if Mr. Trump does not win re-election in 2020.
“There was no need for Eduardo Bolsonaro to wear the Trump cap. It could create a bad feeling among future American governments when keeping relations with Mr. Bolsonaro,” said Mr. Dumas.