Despatch from Sao Paulo | International

Trump first, Brazil next

Bolsonaro’s foreign policy, focused on Trump’s U.S., triggers outrage in Brazil’s political circles

In a sudden move on Thursday, the World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Roberto Azevedo announced that he would leave his post in August. Mr. Azevedo (in picture) who became the first WTO chief in its 25-year-old history to quit the post, said he was leaving for “family reasons” and to “facilitate the reforms” at the global organisation. The decision by the veteran Brazilian diplomat to leave the WTO when the world is plagued with a pandemic and an economic turmoil in its wake sent shockwaves across the globe — from Beijing to Brasilia.

Even as a guessing game was going on why Mr. Azevedo quit, a hint came from Washington. “I am fine with the decision. You will be seeing many changes, many reforms in the WTO soon,” said U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday, when asked to comment on Mr. Azevedo ’s move. Mr. Trump has been slamming the Geneva-based trade body since his election campaign in 2016, accusing it of an “anti-U.S. bias”. With his trade war with China heating up in recent times, Mr. Trump was going after the WTO with all guns blazing. In January, he dragged the Brazilian diplomat to a press conference at the Davos meeting and declared that they had discussed a “very dramatic” change for the WTO’s future. Mr. Azevedo looked a bit perplexed.

Though it is not known if the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, a self-declared fan of Mr. Trump, played any role in the resignation of Mr. Azevedo whose diplomat-wife is a vocal cheerleader of the far-right leader, international observers see it as a triumph for Mr. Trump. “I was astonished to see his argument about quitting the post to facilitate reforms at the WTO. By choosing to step down in August, he only empowers the Trump administration,” said Rubens Ricupero, a former Brazilian Minister of Finance. “I don’t see any prospect of reform of the WTO as long as Mr. Trump is in power. He wants to have a free hand to apply unilateral sanctions and to use and abuse the anti-dumping procedures,” added Mr. Ricupero, who also served as a Brazilian Ambassador to Washington.

While Mr. Trump may now have his way at the WTO, Brazil has lost a major voice in a multilateral organisation. In fact, Brazilian diplomacy has been retreating since 2019 when Mr. Bolsonaro became President and decided to ally closely with Mr. Trump. This has raised such an alarm in all major political parties that a former President, five former Foreign Ministers, a former Finance Minister and a former senior diplomat, wrote an open letter last week to express their “concern with the way in which the country’s foreign policy has systematically violated the principles of Brazil’s international relations” as defined in its Constitution. “The foreign policy of the current administration does not reflect the views of the majority of Brazilian people. Our intention is to tell our friends in the developing world that we have not turned our backs on them,” said Mr. Ricupero, one of the signatories of the letter.

Concessions to U.S.

In his 16 months as President, Mr. Bolsonaro has granted major concessions, including the use of Brazil’s rocket launching facilities, to the U.S. without getting much in return. Mr. Bolsonaro’s much-flaunted proximity to Mr. Trump has caused frictions with Venezuela and an unease with its major trading partners like China and Iran. “What worries me the most about our foreign policy is that it is not only a total submission to the U.S. agenda but to President Trump’s agenda and to the extreme right-wing in the U.S. Brazil never did anything like that before. In pursuing such policies, we are going against our own interests,” said Celso Amorim, who was Brazil’s Foreign Minister between 2003 and 2010. “Brazil is abandoning the leadership we always had in the international arena,” said Mr. Amorim, who also signed the open letter.

The COVID-19 crisis is now exposing the flaws in Brazil’s foreign policy. As the virus goes out of control and the country struggles to get equipment to contain it, Brazil’s top Ministers have been busy attacking China, with which the country has an annual trade of $100 billion.

“It is a complete disaster. In the short run, we are losing on the assistance from a country that has the most capacity to help in combating the pandemic with equipment we need. In the long run, when the world will reorder itself, China will have a crucial role. If there is any kind of Marshall Plan, it will be a Xi Jinping plan. We will be affected badly by this silly attitude,” said Mr. Amorim, who served as Foreign Minister under two Presidents.

(Shobhan Saxena is a journalist based in Sao Paulo)

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 7:06:28 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/trump-first-brazil-next/article31603218.ece

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