What will be Jair Bolsonaro’s foreign policy?

. Oct 30, 2018
foreign policy Brazil's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Brasília.

It’s been less than 48 hours since Jair Bolsonaro was confirmed as Brazil’s president-elect – and there’s still two months before he takes office on January 1, 2019. We still don’t know who will be his pick for Minister of Foreign Affairs, but the challenges on foreign policy are well-known. According to experts on the matter, the new government will have five main issues ahead:

  • Venezuela: the full-scale crisis in the neighboring country has provoked a massive migratory flux towards many Latin American countries – including Brazil. Every day, hundreds of Venezuelan-born families cross the northern border of Roraima to seek a better life. The current administration has opted for keeping an “open borders” policy, asking in multilateral forums for a joint political solution for the crisis.
  • Trade war: Another hot foreign policy issue on the president-elect’s plate is the looming trade war between the world’s largest economies (and Brazil’s main trading partners), the U.S. and China. Brazil, as a major commodity exporter, is stuck in the middle of the crossfire and, in theory, needs to adopt a more balanced approach so as not to enrage either side.
    </span></li> <li><b><i>South America</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;">: The region&#8217;s political situation is another source of headache. The process of regional integration that Brazil has championed since the Workers&#8217; Party came to power, in 2003, is stagnan. Entities such as Unasur and <a href="">Mercosur</a> have lost strength. Brazil has delegated its political stances in the region to the Lima Group (a multilateral body that was established following the Lima Declaration on 8 August 2017 in the Peruvian capital of Lima) &#8211; something that should change if the country seeks a protagonist role in the continent.</span></li> <li><b><i>Europe:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> Jair Bolsonaro will take over at a time when the European Union is as fragile as it has ever been. If Brexit is as hard on the United Kingdom and on the remaining countries as we expect it will be, trade between Brazil and Europe could be harmed. The <a href="">Mercosur-EU deal</a> is in jeopardy.</span></li> <li><b><i>Lack of international credibility:</i></b><span style="font-weight: 400;"> Finally, Mr. Bolsonaro will be tasked with reverting Brazil&#8217;s lack of credibility with international investors. If he fails to do so, investments may dry out and Brazil&#8217;s economic problems may get even worse.</span></li> </ul> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In his first months in office, it is unlikely that Mr. Bolsonaro will manage to amass the necessary congressional muscle to pass the unpopular reforms his future Minister of Finance promises. In order to give the impression that his administration is &#8220;active,&#8221; he might focus his attention on foreign policy &#8211; an area over which the president has more autonomy.</span></p> <h2>Brazil first?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro has said in his first addresses to the nation that he will adopt a nationalist approach, focusing more on bilateral deals instead of multilateral forums. He also promised to &#8220;eliminate ideology&#8221; from foreign policy, guiding his Ministry of Foreign Affairs in accordance with economic interests. This is Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s axis for foreign policy, according to his vague program:</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Ministry of Foreign Affairs needs to serve the values that have always been associated with the Brazilian people. We will seek to increase trade with countries that can aggregate economic and technological value to Brazilian products.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">We will no longer support murderous dictatorships and despise, or even attack, important democracies such as the U.S., Italy, and Israel. We will no longer promote spurious</span> <span style="font-weight: 400;">trade deals nor hand over our people&#8217;s assets to international dictators.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Besides deepening our integration with our Latin American brothers that live in non-authoritarian countries, we need to redirect our axes of partnerships.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">We will approach countries that have been overlooked in the past, but that could offer Brazil so much in terms of trade, science and technology, education, and culture.</span></p> <h2>Bolsonaro v. Maduro</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Experts believe that, once settled in the Presidential Palace, Mr. Bolsonaro will likely step up his rhetoric against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, openly criticizing him &#8211; and demanding a quick solution to the migration crisis.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;I really don&#8217;t know </span><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">how</span></i><span style="font-weight: 400;"> he plans on doing that. I have the impression that the U.S. could intervene in Venezuela, with Mr. Bolsonaro aligning himself with the Americans. If that indeed occurs, it would be a landmark in our diplomatic history of dialogue and pacification,&#8221; said Guilherme Casarões, an International Relations professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas.</span></p> <h2>The Brazilian Trump?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Mr. Bolsonaro clearly wants to have a close relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump, who <a href="">called</a> him on Sunday night to congratulate the Brazilian politician for his win.</span></p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Had a very good conversation with the newly elected President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, who won his race by a substantial margin. We agreed that Brazil and the United States will work closely together on Trade, Military and everything else! Excellent call, wished him congrats!</p> <p>— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) <a href="">October 29, 2018</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Not only does Mr. Bolsonaro admire his American counterpart, but also intends to emulate him &#8211; such as in his decision to transfer the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Transferring the Brazilian Embassy to Jerusalem would lead Muslim majority countries to cut down their halal beef and poultry imports from Brazil,&#8221; says Gunther Rudzit, a professor at São Paulo&#8217;s ESPM International Relations School. &#8220;I&#8217;m sure beef exporting companies will mobilize themselves to explain the possible losses to the president-elect&#8217;s advisors,&#8221; he expects.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to Mr. Casarões, it is likely that Mr. Bolsonaro might pull the trigger on the embassy relocation in an effort to pander to his voter base. &#8220;It&#8217;s not even a demand from Brazil&#8217;s Jewish community. Instead, its evangelical leaders who are asking for it,&#8221; says Casarões.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another Trump-like position that Mr. Bolsonaro could adopt comes in reference to China &#8211; Brazil&#8217;s leading trading partner. The president-elect said that China is not investing in Brazil, but actually &#8220;buying Brazil out.&#8221; According to Professor Rudzit, &#8220;such an approach towards China is a major risk, considering the Asian giant&#8217;s importance for Brazil&#8217;s agricultural producers.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Mr. Bolsonaro will have to review his discourse to fit reality. We will live under the same uncertainty that has been the norm in Trump&#8217;s U.S. The major difference is that we are not nearly as influential nor as strong as the U.S.,&#8221; says Rudzit. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;These attitudes, such as relocating the embassy in Israel or threatening to pull out of international institutions such as the United Nations or supporting interventions in other countries, will all have a major cost to Brazil &#8211; greater than it would on the U.S. Our image is associated with human rights and multilateralism,&#8221; says Casarões.</span></p> <h2>First steps on foreign policy</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Since Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s years, we&#8217;ve lost our parameters of insertion in the international scene,&#8221; says Sidney Ferreira Leite, pro-rector of the Fine Arts University Center. &#8220;We need to redesign our strategy in South America in particular and on the global scene in general. Without knowing what our role is, or what we want it to be, it&#8217;s hard to act,&#8221; he says.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Everything, however, depends on who the new president will name as his Foreign Affairs Minister. &#8220;[Bolsonaro] says he&#8217;ll pick someone from the diplomatic ranks. If that&#8217;s the case, there will be no rupture to the norms, which establish that foreign policy is a matter of state, not of a particular administration,&#8221; says Mr. Leite. &#8220;I don&#8217;t see in Jair Bolsonaro the strength, will, nor capacity to alter Brazil&#8217;s current position in the global scene, which is that of a medium-ranked power with capacity for dialogue and mediation.&#8221;

Beatriz Farrugia

Beatriz Farrugia has ten years of experience working for international news agencies. She is a former editor at ANSA and holds a post-graduate degree in International Relations from Fundação Getulio Vargas

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