America first



The Bolsonarist agenda was not able to generate any concrete result even in terms of the foreign policy objectives proposed by its formulators.

The identification of relevant points on the agenda between Brazil and the United States as of January 2019 brings significant elements regarding the change in orientation of the Bolsonaro administration in relation to important aspects of the previous diplomatic tradition. But also aspects of continuity in relation to the Temer administration.

Regarding the possibility of extreme changes in Brazilian foreign policy, there are divergent opinions. There are even greater divergences regarding the ability of the changes to produce results in the national interest. According to Minister Ernesto Araújo in an article published in 2017, the Itamaraty learns that Brazil must avoid all submission to a bloc, aiming at an autonomous foreign policy. However, the Minister argues the need for deep identification with the West, for him represented by Trump, and that Brazil's foreign policy needs a foreign political goal and also a theopolitical one, indicating the need for total repositioning.

There are other analyzes regarding the significance of the ongoing changes. According to Sebastião Velasco e Cruz, in a 2019 article, the interpretation of the current foreign policy can only gain meaning if the instrumental perspective of private interests is adopted to strengthen the Bolsonaro group itself. Diplomat Paulo Roberto de Almeida, a strong critic of the Workers' Party policy, analyzes the external action of the Bolsonaro administration as having led Brazil to break completely with its own history. He argues that there is total alignment with the United States, especially with Trump's diplomacy, and claims that there is extreme subservience. Guilherme Casarões also argues that there is a separation between Bolsonaro's foreign policy and that of previous decades, which valued rapprochement with the Global South, while still having rapprochements with the West, prioritizing the multilateral path. Maria Regina Soares de Lima and Marianna Albuquerque, with a different argument, claim that the ostensive use of ideology and even the alignment with the United States are not new in Brazilian politics, the new elements, for them, would be the methods used and the instrumental search from chaos.

Although Trump and Bolsonaro share affinities and ideological values, when analyzing episodes that made up a significant part of the Brazilian administration’s agenda from January 2019, or agreements signed during his mandate, the lack of real reciprocity is evident. Let us think of some cases, such as the merger of Boeing with Embraer, the Alcântara Agreement on Technological Safeguards (AST) and the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Agreement (RDT&E) and the exemption of Visas for North Americans, as well as such as the US position and the government's interest in joining the OECD. Let us also think about economic-commercial relations in general.

The asymmetric merger of Embraer with Boeing, under negotiation for years, accelerated in the Temer government, concluded after Bolsonaro took office, was in line with the proposal of economic policy makers. Therefore, from the point of view of management's interests, the sale would have gone through successfully. On the other hand, it was not effectively a merger, but a sale, where the original Embraer group, by contract, would hold 20% of the capital of the new company. The sale would make the design technology, according to its critics and the international literature on the subject, also subordinate to the new owner. Brazil would lose R&D development capacity. The economic crisis that started in 2020, with intense repercussions on the aviation sector, and Boeing's withdrawal from the deal on April 25 confirms the negative consequences of the agreement. Even before its failure was known, from the point of view of national capacity building, the assessment is negative.

The Alcântara Agreement on Technological Safeguards (AST) and the Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Agreement (RDT&E) had their negotiations initiated in previous governments. The Bolsonaro government believes in strategic gains from the military and technological partnership with the United States. However, there are criticisms of their consequences. Different segments of society – political, economic, scientific and military elites – evaluate these agreements according to their values ​​in terms of autonomy, sovereignty, multilateralism and possibilities for specific gains. Criticisms that negatively evaluate the agreements show how risks exist, without any of the results pointed out by the government being assured.

Regarding the exemption of visas for North American tourists and other countries through Brazil, the government considered that the interest of the tourism industry should override the Brazilian diplomatic tradition and even the principle of reciprocity, enshrined in international law. The criticism is that this measure represented a strange unilateral concession to the principles defended by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It compromised Brazil's bargaining power on an issue that, in principle, could be negotiated seeking equivalent counterparts. Even though it is negotiating membership of the Global Entry – of interest to Brazilian businessmen – this episode highlights the low level of reciprocity in meeting the North American part of Brazilian demands.

Regarding the interest in joining the OECD, the country's cooperation with this organization has a long history. The support of the United States from January 2019 and even before, for full entry is interpreted as part of the partnership, albeit without reciprocity. For this reason, the Brazilian administration was unilaterally willing to renounce its developing country status in the WTO. However, the oscillation of US government support reinforces the idea of ​​concessions. The repeated positions taken by Trump and his Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross indicate their ability to use their excess power in relation to other countries for their own interests. The Brazilian agenda showed low bargaining power. Additionally, the United States removed Brazil from the benefits of its General System of Preferences and, as a result, may impose more barriers to the importation of products. If that were the case, Brazil could have used a joint alliance strategy with the other BRICS countries to negotiate its accession to the OECD and thus envision greater strategic gains, strengthening multilateralism.

In terms of trade relations, there is a strongly demanding agenda on the part of businessmen, generally represented by associations such as the National Confederation of Industry (CNI), the Business Council Brazil United States (CEBEU) and the American Chamber of Commerce in Brazil ( AMCHAM). These demands from the business community do not present substantive news when compared to previous periods. The idea of ​​reducing tariff barriers and accessing the US consumer market is a historical agenda. Since the Temer administration, these demands have had greater projection. With Bolsonaro, these business groups expect to move forward with a trade rules agreement, which has been on the agenda of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) since March 2020, after the meeting of the two presidents in Florida. The business strategy would be not to enter into tariff issues at that first moment, so as not to need parliamentary approval and not to raise questions within the Mercosur framework. Business associations are also pressing for a more comprehensive agreement that could move towards a free trade area in the long term. Representatives of the Democratic Party – which has a majority in the US House of Representatives – on the Budget and Tax Committee (Ways and Means), on June 3, 2020, declared that they are against any trade agreement with Bolsonaro's Brazil. It is noteworthy that this is the most important commission in the US Congress. The CNI, in a document released in May 2020, shows interest in maintaining Mercosur due to the importance of a customs union for the weakened Brazilian industry. Therefore, any agreement is difficult, precisely because of the image of the Bolsonaro government.

What is new in 2019 in the commercial area is the attitude of the Brazilian government, involved in the belief that improving relations with the United States and the Trump administration is an absolute priority. As we are examining, this posture does not find any reciprocity. A clear example is the unilateral expansion of the ethanol import quota, which directly benefits US producers, without having negotiated the opening of the Brazilian sugar market with the US. In the same direction, the creation of a tariff-free quota for US wheat, despite Mercosur rules, which negatively affected Brazil's relations with Argentina, and was also criticized by wheat producers in Rio Grande do Sul . Even with such measures, Trump did not spare statements and threats to Brazilian exports of steel and aluminum, claiming that Brazil was purposely devaluing its currency. Nor did he commit himself and did not take any position to ensure that he would not use the surcharges again. The signals are clear: the United States, supported by its favorable asymmetrical position, makes no promises. Concretizing the objectives of the Brazilian agenda will depend on the United States meeting its own interests, as evidenced by the slogan “American First”.

When examining the macroeconomic data, especially those of the trade balance, Brazil is one of the few countries in the world that has been maintaining a deficit in its balance sheet for years, precisely with the United States. Considering the few countries with which the United States has surpluses, it is noted that in relation to Brazil the surplus in favor of the North Americans increased by US$ 3,9 billion from 2018 to 2019. which the United States had greater growth of this same surplus. Even knowing that the importance of bilateral relations goes far beyond trade numbers, the fact is that this deficit is not an object of negotiation.

Considering these facts, we can perceive a radical change of international orientation. It is important to point out that many of the negotiations did not originate in this government, but the way in which they were carried out demonstrated the change in values ​​and strategies.

With regard to the expected gains from this change, our interpretation is that on balance, the answer depends on the Worldview from which it departs. The argument of the economic areas of Bolsonaro's team is that rapprochement with the United States is important for its potential benefits. This position had been defended during the period of the PT governments by its opponents. Part of the hard core of the Bolsonaro administration considers the close relationship with the US government to be necessary and of greater interest to Brazil. Both economically, strategically and politically. The expected gains, especially by the government's economic wing, would be in the sense of positioning Brazil as a reliable country for developed countries and thus attracting more investments, reinforcing the demands for greater insertion in global value chains. According to its formulators, it would involve a strategy to reduce the role of the State in the economy. Until February 2020, therefore before the depression resulting from COVID-19, there were no positive results.

The question remains: if the strategy is a loser, will the Brazilian position be weakened by the deterioration of international trust in Brazil due to the growing crisis of its institutions, which encourages the administration to pursue this path of subaltern alignment?

Currently, the concept of a new cold war prevails, hence the notoriously absurd attacks on potential US adversaries, such as China. The engine that drives relations with the United States are alignment, therefore the rejection of multilateralism, the prevalence of international law, the distance from Latin America and the BRICS, etc. These are questions totally removed from the declared historical objectives of foreign policy, according to an article published on May 8, 2020 in Folha de S. Paulo by all former foreign ministers since 1990.

Bolsonaro points to the rejection of technologies not developed by the United States, including in innovative and defining fields for the 5st century, such as 7G, artificial intelligence, etc., in the expectation of gains with the Americans. However, Trump, host of the next G19, proposes to also invite Russia, South Korea, India and Australia when the meeting takes place, but Brazil is not mentioned, at least until now. When the US president mentions the countries with the worst performance in the fight against COVID-XNUMX, Brazil is always mentioned with prominence, and for this reason, it has adopted measures to prevent Brazilians from having access to their country.

The study of the verification of the agenda and the process of bilateral negotiations with the United States shows that expectations and demands are constantly frustrated. The Bolsonarist agenda was not able to generate any concrete result even in terms of the foreign policy objectives proposed by its formulators. If it has not been able to produce any results in relation to the country with which the greatest concessions were made, the confrontation with a large part of the international community, countries and organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN ), will have high costs, which can only be remedied in decades.

* Laís F. Thomaz is a professor at the Federal University of Goiás (UFG).

**Tullo Vigevani He is a professor at the São Paulo State University (Unesp) and a researcher at the Center for Contemporary Culture Studies (CEDEC).

Both are researchers at the National Institute of Science and Technology for Studies on the United States (INCT-INEU).

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