Temer has weakened Brazil's role in BRICS

Michel Temer during the 10th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg

Taking stock of the BRICS summit that ended yesterday in South Africa, Plataforma spoke with Brazilian experts about the role of Brazil - the country hosting the meeting in 2018 - in the organization.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, host of the 10th BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) annual summit held in Johannesburg from Wednesday to Friday, invited a number of African countries to attend the summit, assuming an intermediary role between the group's largest investors and the neighboring leaders' interest in attracting foreign investment.

João Lourenço took the opportunity to announce Angola's intention to join the BRICS, an economic bloc that represents a quarter of the planet's geographic area, 43% of the world population, and a fifth of the global gross domestic product. "Your example inspires us and motivates us to work with the ambition of one day adding other letters to the BRICS acronym," the Angolan president said yesterday, after having applied in June to join the Commonwealth and the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

The statement was made during a session dedicated to African countries, in which Michel Temer was no longer present due to agenda constraints. Temer himself had called for closer ties with African countries on Thursday. "Brazil is connected to Africa through history, culture, and blood. Establishing closer ties with Africa is therefore a permanent priority for us," the Brazilian President said.

According to Brazilian experts heard by Plataforma, this statement of intent contradicts Temer's foreign policy.

"Africa was important to Lula's government. New embassies were opened, Brazil increased its cooperation budget and funded several projects, Brazilian companies became international, Brazil's trade to Africa rose from $4 to $24 billion in less than 10 years. In a blink of an eye, this project was interrupted. The budget was substantially reduced and official visits, which are an important part of the diplomatic protocol, vanished from sight. Brazil has been missing out on foreign trade opportunities," says Diego Pautasso, International Relations professor at Vale do Sinos University, Porto Alegre.

Sérgio Veloso, a professor and researcher at the BRICS Policy Center in Rio de Janeiro, is also very critical of Brazil's foreign policy. "It is very disheartening, in this extremely positive moment of renewing the international relevance of emerging countries like Brazil, that Brazil has no capacity to take advantage of it. What is Temer's international agenda? What is the rationale behind Brazil's foreign policy right now? If we were to outline two years of Temer administration, we would have to conclude that this administration's sole purpose was to use the public system for its own survival."

And he goes on to say that "Brazil is fortunate enough to be part of the BRICS, a legacy of another moment in our history, a time when Brazil was able to seek a more prominent role in the international scene." Now Brazil is utterly incapable, inept, weakened by an economic, political and social crisis. Brazil is in no condition to take advantage of this window of opportunity."

Summit in Brazil in 2019

Marcos Troyjo, director of Columbia University's BRICLab in the United States, tackles this subject from another perspective, arguing that when Brazil hosts the BRICS summit next year, the country should adopt a similar stance to that of South Africa in Johannesburg, assuming an intermediary role in the relationship between BRICS and South America.

According to Marcos Troyjo, next year's summit in Brazil, with a new administration emerging from the October presidential elections and a new president to take office on January 1, "is an ideal situation for Brazil." "Next year, when it hosts the BRICS summit, Brazil will be under new management. This is a good opportunity to reaffirm the country's commitment to the BRICS project, to show that Brazil has changed its political economy policy. It is a good opportunity to showcase investment possibilities to the delegations that will come to Brazil, especially with regard to privatizations, concessions and infrastructure, areas in which the country is displaying major gaps," he says.

According to Troyjo, next year's summit is therefore an opportunity to reverse Brazil's loss of international prominence. "With a strong recession in 2015/16, a judicial investigation into the biggest corruption scandal of our history (Operation Car Wash), all this has caused Brazil to lose a lot of influence in the international scene. I have even called this phenomenon 'Brazil's international blackout.'" And he recalls that "in 2009, a cover of The Economist depicted [Rio de Janeiro's] Christ the Redeemer statue taking off towards the constellation of world powers. That rocket went out of orbit and eventually crashed down. So it will be a good opportunity to show that Brazil is back, that it's strong and doing its homework. It is time to occupy an important position on the international scene again," Marcos Troyjo says.

Other experts don't share his optimism. Very briefly, Sérgio Veloso believes that "we cannot predict what the 2019 summit will be like because we don't know what Brazil will be like."

Diego Pautasso shares the same opinion: "If the same bloc is still in power, I don't think there will be any interest in strengthening the south-south axis, where BRICS are located." In the event of a center-left government, it is very likely that the BRICS will once again become a major item on the Brazilian foreign agenda. "

However, he believes that "this emphasis on the south-south axis - both on South American integration and on the presence in Africa - is part of the same conceptual block for which Brazil should take a leading role in terms of international prominence. And all [these elements] have been neglected by the Temer administration. Brazil has completely disappeared from Africa, South American integration is undergoing major setbacks, and the BRICS... just have a look at Temer's agenda for this summit, it is limited to very specific markets such as processed soy. This is a very narrow agenda for a country the size of Brazil, which should have broader ambitions and strategies in the medium and long term."

As for Brazil's role in the BRICS, Diego Pautasso believes that the country "clearly lost interest in the BRICS with the government that emerged from Dilma Rousseff's impeachment. And this weakens Brazil because the country was becoming a very important and active actor within the group. Brazil is suffering from great political uncertainty. Our foreign policy has no clear direction. Brazil has no international integration project."

Summit strengthened BRICS

As for the results of this summit, marked by criticism of Trump's economic protectionism and the announcement of a Novo Banco de Desenvolvimento branch in Sao Paulo (Brazil), experts make a positive assessment.

"This process has significantly strengthened the BRICS, as all previous summits have," says Sérgio Veloso (BRICS Policy Center).

"If we look at the world from a North-South perspective over the past 10 years, the G8 cohesion process is weakening - the last summit was perhaps the most difficult, with the US more and more unwilling to maintain this fundamental strategic alliance and its costs," Veloso points out.

"The Chinese agenda to fill in the void resulting from the US retreat - which China is also implementing through the BRICS - is called 'One Belt, One Road', an infrastructure-based project that is hundreds of times larger than the Marshall Plan. It is an unprecedented project in the history of mankind - it's a lot of money," the BRICS Policy Center professor points out.

Marcos Troyjo is of the same opinion: "Especially now that the G7 and Western powers are a bit out of control, I think that the BRICS come out of the Johannesburg summit stronger."

And he believes that the BRICS bloc faces a major challenge - "trying to figure out the future composition of the New Development Bank from a conceptual perspective." "The founders of the bank - very cleverly, I think - did not call it the BRICS Bank, thus opening the door to new members. At about the same time as the BRICS were created, China authorized the establishment of another investment vehicle called the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), based in Beijing. It includes not only Southeast Asian partners but also the UK, Germany and France. They have managed to attract a more robust capital structure to invest in Southeast Asia. With regard to the New Development Bank, the BRICS may also welcome new members such as Indonesia, South Korea or even more mature economies, such as Germany, albeit in a minority position. This would increase the capital available to fund infrastructure projects," he says.

Diego Pautasso also recalls that the creation of the New Development Bank in 2014 was not only a BRICS project but "mostly a Chinese strategy to reform the international system." "China works with organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank to expand its influence while fostering new organizations in the financial sector. Such is the case not only of the BRICS bank but also of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the new Silk Road Fund, and other mechanisms designed to create development funding alternatives while boosting their Euro-Asian integration strategies, such as the new silk road ['One Belt, One Road']."

It should be recalled that the 'One Belt, One Road' project, launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, has not only secured a CNY 100 billion fund (about $15.5 billion) but also an additional commitment from Chinese banks to loan CNY 380 billion (about $60 billion).

BRICLab Director Marcos Troyjo mentions another challenge: boosting trade among BRICS countries. "China's bilateral trade with Russia, Brazil, India and South Africa - the overall sum of this trade volume - is less than half of the trade volume between China and the United States," which demonstrates, according to Troyjo, the potential for growth in trade among the five BRICS countries.