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What to expect for U.S.-Brazil relations with a Biden White House

. Nov 07, 2020
As Biden clinches his win over Trump, experts weigh in on how a change of power in the U.S. will affect the Bolsonaro administration Image: André Chiavassa/TBR

Often dubbed the “Trump of the Tropics” by international media outlets, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has always welcomed comparisons to his American counterpart. He has often aped Donald Trump’s rhetoric and demeanor, and has centered his entire foreign policy agenda around having a good relationship with the U.S. president.

In practical terms, that relationship has brought some results, such as a recent limited deal to facilitate trade — which had been discussed before Mr. Bolsonaro took office — Brazil’s anointment as a “major non-NATO ally,” support for Brazilian membership to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a technology safeguards agreement, and multiple coordination forums.

Critics, however, say these wins are not enough to justify

the subservient posture from Latin America&#8217;s biggest economy —&nbsp;indeed, <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/10/15/brazil-trade-with-u-s-sees-worst-result-in-11-years/">trade with the U.S. fell to an 11-year low</a>, and Mr. Trump has not shied away from slapping import quotas on Brazilian steel, despite numerous concessions made to facilitate the entry of U.S. ethanol in Brazil.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Regardless, as networks call Nevada and Philadelphia for Joe Biden, the Democratic challenger has <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/07/us/politics/biden-election.html">topped the mark of 270 electoral college votes</a> and will become the next President of the United States, barring an unlikely judicial turnaround.</p> <p>Many analyses state that a Trump loss may leave the writing on the wall for Mr. Bolsonaro — but, as <a href="https://brazilian.report/opinion/2020/10/26/a-loss-for-trump-is-a-loss-for-bolsonaro-not-so-fast/">columnist Benjamin Fogel has shown</a>, such assertions might be more the expression of wishful thinking rather than an accurate reading of Brazilian politics.</p> <p>Brazil and U.S. relations have remained steady throughout decades —&nbsp;never too hot, nor too cold. They will most likely stay that way, though some areas do demand attention:</p> <h2>Biden win could force cabinet reshuffling</h2> <p>As <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> has explained since before Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s inauguration, his administration consists of an ideological patchwork of different — and often conflicting — interests. And a Biden win could give momentum to new members of the Bolsonaro coalition to shape the administration, getting rid of any cabinet members considered to be &#8220;too radical&#8221; in the process.</p> <p>As Brasília correspondent Débora Álvares reported, the <a href="https://brazilian.report/newsletters/brazil-daily/2020/10/16/exclusive-biden-win-could-lead-to-cabinet-reshuffle-in-brazil/">main target is Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo</a>, an unapologetic Trump supporter whose anti-China positions have irritated agricultural producers.</p> <p>But Environment Minister Ricardo Salles could also be transferred elsewhere, as a token gesture to avoid a hard stance from the U.S. During a presidential debate, Mr. Biden said he would call for a world effort to offer Brazil USD 20 billion to end Amazon deforestation, or face unspecified “economic consequences.” Replacing Mr. Salles could send a signal that Brazil is marching in the right direction.</p> <h2>Economic opportunities</h2> <p>Indeed, providing Brazil sends the correct message with regard to environmental issues, specialists on both sides are confident of a deepening of trade relations under a Biden government.&nbsp;</p> <p>Researcher Carlos Gustavo Poggio, a Ph.D. in international studies, suggests that Jair Bolsonaro will adopt a moderate tone toward the new U.S. president, even though this was the first time in history an American presidential candidate has positioned himself so strongly against a Brazilian government.</p> <p>&#8220;There may be some friction at the beginning [of the Biden government], but, in the long term, Brazil is very likely to adopt a pragmatic stance,&#8221; says Mr. Poggio.</p> <p>Indeed, aides to Economy Minister Paulo Guedes told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong> that their team is not alarmed by Biden&#8217;s electoral victory. They believe that commercial relations will not change. In fact, a report from American commerce chamber Amcham suggests that a Biden win could open up new opportunities for Brazil-U.S. trade. The organization highlights the country as being an important regional player, and that relations between the two would be expected to mirror those of Brazil with the European Union, which is more demanding of effective environmental policies.</p> <p>&#8220;If Joe Biden is elected, Brazil can expect larger engagement from the U.S. in international issues. On the other hand, there will be an increased focus on topics related to climate change, preserving the Amazon, and the rights of minorities,&#8221; reads the report, published in October.</p> <p>According to Márcio Coimbra, former chief editor of the Institute of World Politics and consultant for ACG Analytics in Washington, Messrs. Bolsonaro and Biden are both expected to yield in their confrontations over recent months. &#8220;The U.S. cannot dispense of having Brazil as an ally in South America, or in the trade war with China,&#8221; he adds.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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