Webcast Recap

On Sept. 23, the Brazil Institute, the Inter-American Dialogue, the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI), and Prospectiva Consulting hosted the conference "Leadership and Responsibility in the New Brazilian International Agenda." This conference was convened to discuss Brazil's new international profile, and to analyze both its rise and challenges from political and business perspectives. Two questions in particular guided the discussion: is this growth and new-found influence sustainable and how will Brazil use this recently-gained international position? The first panel discussed Brazil-U.S. relations specifically; the second looked at Brazil's rise from the private sector's point of view; and the third examined Brazil foreign policy, both current and future.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Thomas Shannon and Ernesto Fraga Araújo, minister at the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, who spoke on behalf of Ambassador Mauro Vieira, agreed that Brazil and the United States still have a lot of relevance for each other and can play a positive role in each other's foreign policy agendas. Ambassador Shannon declared that both countries have begun a process of understanding Brazil's new position in the world, citing the plethora of cabinet- and subcabinet-level meetings that have taken place recently. These meetings have been able to create a structure for relations, including a number of agreements and memoranda of understanding signed, which helped both sides navigate the potentially explosive conflicts over cotton subsidies and Iran. Minister Araújo traced the parallel history of the two countries, especially how the United States has provided an example for Brazilian democracy. Due to these shared values and historical legacies, he believes that the two countries have the potential for a close, unique relationship.

In the view of Ricardo Mendes, executive director of Prospectiva Consulting, Brazilian foreign policy has changed surprisingly little. While Brazil's new influence is due largely to its impressive economic expansion, the government has not adapted as quickly as the business sector, and he hopes that this sector will be able to pressure the government into further domestic reforms and a more business-friendly foreign policy, or risk losing its recent gains. Donna Hrinak, senior director of Latin American Government Relations for Pepsico, Inc., echoed the need for continuing domestic reform, especially improving education and workforce skills, physical and bureaucratic infrastructure, and regulatory agencies, to fully realize its investment potential that has already been stoked by the growing middle class consumption.

However, Brazil and its private sector already have a more constructive role to play in global business, including international development, and need to take on more of the costs that leadership entails. Brazilian public and private sectors have taken different positions on many issues in regards to Brazil's new standing, with the business community many times leading the transformation, pointed out Joel Velasco, chief representative for North America of the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA). The last step will be the ability to clearly enumerate a national interest, and then pursue those goals openly, which is something that the business community and President Lula have embraced. This can cause friction when they have different ideas on national interest, but when they align – such as on climate change – it has the potential to substantially affect outcomes.

Brazil's new profile entails taking more decisions, according to Denise Gregory, executive director of the Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI). Increasingly, questions of foreign policy are becoming central to public debate, and Brazil will have to continue to abandon its inward-focus and outward indifference, while still persisting in furthering domestic reform. Professor Albert Fishlow of Columbia University stated that Brazil has been frustrated in its foreign policy efforts, which have been propelled partly by a desire for a UN Security Council seat and partly as a mechanism for appeasing the left wing of the PT. He stressed, however, that since Brazil's influence rests on its economic growth, a sense of priority will be necessary in the next administration to ensure that this growth continues.

Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute, pointed to the recognized need in Brazil to strengthen and consolidate the country's current growth pattern by investing massively to improve its human and physical capital. He also highlighted Brazil's continued challenge to tackle issues such as corruption, lack of accountability and microeconomic reforms. On a positive note, Brazilians are beginning to see themselves and their government as responsible for their problems, giving rise to hope that these reforms will be real and substantive, as the country begins to navigate the uncharted territory of its newly found global prominence. In conclusion, Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, noted a few leadership challenges in areas such as regional integration and international trade agreements that Brazil will have to face or risk losing its international standing. Furthermore, many of the domestic issues it will need to tackle – the energy sector, climate change, and nuclear power – will most likely lead to friction with the United States; and diplomacy between the two needs to deepen.

By J.C. Hodges
Paulo Sotero, Brazil Institute