IAt early stages Baron Rio Blanco, Brazil’s foreign minister in the 20th century, vowed to make the United States the country’s main ally and trading partner. Today, the second role is occupied by China, which buys more than a quarter of Brazilian production. Brazil’s merchandise exports to China were worth $89 billion last year. But Brazil’s northern neighbor remains very important. On February 10, as of our press time, Brazil’s new leftist president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, was scheduled to visit President Joe Biden in Washington. This will be the first international trip outside Latin America this semester.
Lula (as we all know) has said that he wants to discuss and possibly consolidate Brazil’s role in the “new geopolitics” with Biden. But securing Brazil’s place in the global order will be a trickier diplomatic feat than it was during his previous two presidency, from 2003 to 2010.
First, Lula needs to détente with his right-wing populist predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro. A fan of Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has not damaged Brazil’s relationship with the United States, but has become somewhat tense under the Biden administration. He joins Vladimir Putin and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the last to acknowledge Mr Biden’s 2020 election Winning world leaders. Mr Bolsonaro is less concerned with what foreigners think of Brazil. He has drawn global condemnation as deforestation in the Amazon accelerated under his leadership.
Lula also faces a tricky balancing act. Brazilian diplomacy is generally neutral. Governments on both the left and the right have tried to stay out of the big dispute. During his first two terms, Lula sought to expand Brazil’s global influence while maintaining America’s good name.
In 2009, he helped give concrete form BRICS countries, a group of emerging economies. He opened 35 new embassies, mainly in Africa and Latin America. Even so, Lula has close ties to presidents such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Mr Obama even quipped: “Love this man. He’s the most popular politician on earth.” And the US is Brazil’s biggest foreign investor. Its direct investment flows have remained fairly stable in recent years. $12 billion in 2021, more than a quarter of all foreign direct investment in Brazil.
Now that Sino-US relations are more tense, it may be more difficult for Lula to please the two countries. In November, Mr. Biden announced, us The International Development Finance Corporation will invest $30 million in mining company TechMet to process cobalt and nickel in Brazil. This is an attempt to act as a check and balance on Chinese investors. His government also said it would support Brazil’s efforts to join the European Union. OECDa club of mostly rich countries, once its environmental policies get back on track.
US foreign policy may also push Lula to his side. During their meeting, Mr Biden may try to persuade the Brazilians to publicly support Ukraine. Last May, Lula claimed that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was “as responsible as Mr Putin” for the war. Lula grudgingly conceded that the Russian president’s invasion of Ukraine was “a mistake” after a meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz in the capital Brasilia last month. But he refused to send ammunition to the country and criticized the EU for not doing more to facilitate peace talks.By contrast, when Mr Bolsonaro was in office, Brazil condemned the Russian invasion United Nations security council.
At the same time, Lula is also facing problems at home. He won the election by just 1.8 percentage points. A week after Lula took office, Bolsonaro supporters stormed Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace. Unrest may return. His government needs to pass tough economic reforms to avert a fiscal crisis.
In the past, Lula used foreign policy as a tool to boost his popularity at home, said Rubens Ricupero, Brazil’s ambassador to Washington in the 1990s. Lula now plans to take an international trip once a month; in fact, he’s going to China in March. This time the trick probably won’t work. ■