IS BRAZIL PLAN­NING TO QUIT BRICS?

Un­der Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer Brazil seems to be mov­ing away from the Brics ideal of chal­leng­ing the con­trol of global af­fairs by the West, rais­ing ques­tions about its con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Finweek English Edition - - IN DEPTH BRICS - Ed­i­to­rial@fin­week.co.za

vladimirPutin’s snub of Brazil­ian pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer was one of the most talked about mo­ments of the re­cent 8th Brics sum­mit in In­dia’s sea­side re­sort of Goa. The Rus­sian leader pri­vately met all the Brics heads of state ex­cept Te­mer.

And in an em­bar­rass­ing video, Brazil’s for­eign min­is­ter, Jose Serra, re­vealed his un­fa­mil­iar­ity with the Brics group by strug­gling to re­mem­ber the names of its mem­bers. He couldn’t re­call South Africa’s place in the acro­nym Brics.

Made up of Brazil, Rus­sia, In­dia, China and SA, the eight-year-old for­ma­tion came with the prom­ise that it would shake up global pol­i­tics. In par­tic­u­lar it promised to chal­lenge the con­trol of global af­fairs by the West.

Brazil seems to be mov­ing away from those ideals, rais­ing ques­tions about its con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of the Brics.

Since Te­mer took of­fice in Au­gust 2016, fol­low­ing the con­tro­ver­sial im­peach­ment of his pre­de­ces­sor Dilma Rouss­eff, the di­rec­tion of Brazil’s in­ter­na­tional en­gage­ments has un­doubt­edly tilted back to the sphere of West­ern in­ter­ests. His ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­lib­er­ately dis­man­tling the poli­cies and political lega­cies of Brazil’s for­mer pres­i­dent Lula da Silva, in­clud­ing his for­eign pol­icy. One of the cen­tral pil­lars of Da Silva’s ap­proach to in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions was the recog­ni­tion of lead­ing states from the global south as key al­lies in build­ing a new geog­ra­phy of global pol­i­tics.

Lula’s strate­gic fo­cus spurred new mod­els of re­gional in­te­gra­tion and political co-op­er­a­tion. Build­ing re­la­tions with bod­ies like the Union of South Amer­i­can Na­tions be­came a pri­or­ity. But Serra has made pub­lic his an­i­mos­ity to­wards his pre­de­ces­sors’ for­eign pol­icy of build­ing close links with left-lean­ing re­gional play­ers such as Venezuela and Bo­livia.

The change of fo­cus is also ap­par­ent in Brazil’s re­la­tion­ship with Africa.

Brazil and Africa

The es­tab­lish­ment of the In­dia, Brazil and SA di­a­logue fo­rum in 2003 un­der the lead­er­ship of Lula and then South African pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki was a land­mark mo­ment within the con­text of cre­at­ing a new model of south­south re­la­tions.

By the same to­ken, Brazil re­fo­cused its strate­gic and economic agen­das to­wards Africa. This came with a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on Por­tuguese-speak­ing coun­tries and SA.

African coun­tries be­came the re­cip­i­ent of a sig­nif­i­cant part of the in­ter­na­tional co-op­er­a­tion pro­vided by Brazil. The im­por­tance of the con­ti­nent is well il­lus­trated by the fact that Brazil dra­mat­i­cally in­creased the num­ber of em­bassies in Africa from 2003 to 2008. Only the US, China, France and Rus­sia had more diplo­matic mis­sions on the con­ti­nent than Brazil (37 in to­tal).

But Brazil’s new for­eign pol­icy calls for a re­view of Africa’s mis­sions. Serra re­cently re­quested a study to ac­count for the costs of the coun­try’s diplo­matic rep­re­sen­ta­tions on the con­ti­nent. This may have im­por­tant con­se­quences for re­la­tion­ships as well as co-op­er­a­tion with African coun­tries. Brazil­ian pres­i­dent

Brazil­ian contradictions

Un­der Te­mer’s pre­de­ces­sor Rouss­eff, Brazil’s for­eign pol­icy lost the im­pe­tus and cen­tral­ity it had shown dur­ing the pre­vi­ous eight years. But the gen­eral di­rec­tion was kept un­touched.

The Brics is the most em­blem­atic ex­am­ple of the in­vest­ment of Brazil’s diplomacy since the early 2000s in strong as­so­ci­a­tions among emerg­ing states.

As one of Brics’ found­ing mem­bers, Brazil was led by two pres­i­dents who fun­da­men­tally shared a set of con­cerns re­lated to the role and dom­i­nance of the US in global gov­er­nance struc­tures. This is no longer the case.

De­spite un­cer­tain­ties re­lated to Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion, there are in­di­ca­tions that Brazil will re­turn to a for­eign pol­icy more aligned with US in­ter­ests. This is likely to lead to ten­sions with at least two core Brics states – Rus­sia and China.

Te­mer en­dorsed the fi­nal Goa Dec­la­ra­tion. In fact, his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s rhetoric of align­ment with the US and the de­nial of the legacy left by his pre­de­ces­sors con­tra­dict what was set out in the dec­la­ra­tion.

One of the clear contradictions be­tween Te­mer’s views and the Goa Dec­la­ra­tion is re­form of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. This po­si­tion, one of the most im­por­tant de­mands of Brazil­ian diplomacy for at least three decades, has ap­par­ently been dis­carded by Serra.

Also high­lighted in the Goa Dec­la­ra­tion was Brics’ sup­port for the mul­ti­lat­eral trade regime, un­der­pinned by the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion. This stands against a pos­si­ble re­place­ment of mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism by pluri­lat­eral and bi­lat­eral ini­tia­tives. In his in­au­gu­ral speech Serra said that Brazil would pri­ori­tise bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions, a move away from Brazil’s in­vest­ment in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism within the WTO. This is a view strongly sup­ported by Washington.

These in­con­sis­ten­cies make it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the strat­egy be­hind Brazil­ian for­eign pol­icy. They also raise two ques­tions: why should Brazil con­tinue in Brics? And why should the other mem­bers ac­cept its con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship?

From the per­spec­tive of its other mem­bers, there seems to be some rea­son­able jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for a Bric­sim­posed political quar­an­tine on Brazil, at least un­til the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in 2018. In Goa Putin quite bla­tantly showed his sus­pi­cion of, and un­will­ing­ness to en­gage with, the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion in Brasília.

Michel Te­mer

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