Even when absent, Jair Bolsonaro’s presence will be felt at the G20 summit

. Nov 29, 2018
g20 International partners are trying to understand if President-elect Jair Bolsaonro will fulfill his radical promises or if it is all exalted rhetoric. Jair Bolsonaro won't attend the G20 Summit, in Buenos Aires

On November 30, the G20 Summit kicks off in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It will be the first time the leaders of the 20 largest economies in the world will meet in South America. It is also the first major international event since Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil. Even though he has not been sworn in yet (and chose not to attend the event), it will be a sort of “debut” of his platform on the world stage.

Incumbent President Michel Temer invited Mr. Bolsonaro to join him on the trip, but the president-elect refused for medical reasons. He is still using a colostomy bag, a result of the stabbing that almost killed him during the electoral campaign.

It is expected that the trade war between the U.S. and China will be the main topic of the summit. “This issue is very important to Brazil,” according to Maurício Santoro, a political scientist at the Rio de Janeiro State University and a columnist for The Brazilian Report. China is Brazil’s largest trading partner, currently accounting for 28 percent of Brazilian exports. The U.S. is our second largest trading partner, with half of that percentage (14 percent).”

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Together, China and the U.S. make up for more than 40 percent of Brazilian foreign trade. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s team has been signaling that the next president wants to have a special relationship with the U.S. and to get closer to Donald Trump,&#8221; Mr. Santoro says. Bolsonaro supports a foreign policy that rejects multilateral bodies and negotiations such as the G20 Summit. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The hostility demonstrated toward China is new in Brazilian international politics, he believes. &#8220;It is the first time that we are seeing an important political leader using this vocabulary [toward China],&#8221; he says. Therefore, if the Asian and American giants reach an agreement (or not), it will have direct repercussions on Brazilian foreign policy.</span></p> <h2>Foreign partners want to understand Bolsonaro</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Though he will not be in Buenos Aires, Mr. Bolsonaro will be present at the summit, according to the researcher. Not physically, of course, but with the expectations he has created in the international community. Michel Temer has become a lame duck president and what the other nations will be really interested in is in how the new government will behave from the moment it takes office. &#8220;There is a great expectation from Brazil&#8217;s partners in being able to understand Mr. Bolsonaro, to understand to what extent the things he says are in fact what he intends to do, or whether it is just exalted rhetoric.&#8221;</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">By seeking an almost automatic alignment with the U.S., Brazil tends to have an even more secondary role in international politics. The country&#8217;s decline, however, is not new. For Mr. Santoro, this downward trend began in Dilma Rousseff&#8217;s second term and became worse during Mr. Temer&#8217;s administration. &#8220;The descent,&#8221; he says, &#8220;will continue with Bolsonaro.&#8221; There are several factors that explain this phenomenon. First, a deep economic recession, &#8220;which had more of an impact on Brazil than the Depression of the 1930s.&#8221; Second, the series of political crises, which makes it very difficult for international observers to follow Brazilian politics. Lastly, a divided society in a polarised political scenario. This makes Brazil&#8217;s international presence &#8220;very fragile,&#8221; he says. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">And the future does not seem promising. Brazil&#8217;s best moments on the global scene happened when the country had political stability, a certain level of economic prosperity, and a strong president who was either interested in foreign policy or delegated this role of diplomatic articulation to a strong chancellor, Mr. Santoro believes. &#8220;None of these elements of success are present in Brazil today&#8221;, he says.

Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.

Our content is protected by copyright. Want to republish The Brazilian Report? Email us at