So far the electoral debate on foreign policy has not been given much importance in the big media, except for a few signed newspaper articles and a O Estado de São Paulo newspaper supplement on the theme, with candidate proposals eclipsed by some pundits’ opinion on foreign policy challenges. The aim here is to conduct a detailed analysis of the foreign policy proposals submitted by the opposition candidates. In this respect, the primary source of information about the proposals presented by candidate Marina Silva, of the PSB, is the recently released government platform, which overall replicates the interview by the then candidate Eduardo Campos to Política Externa journal. In the case of candidate Aécio Neves, of the PSDB, given the inexistence of a government platform, the main source is also the interview the candidate gave to that same journal.
Both Marina and Aécio replicate the accusations of “ideologization” and “partisanization” of the Brazilian diplomacy by the governments headed by the Workers Party (PT), as opposed to what they consider the “true national interest”. Thus, concrete choices rooted in an autonomist vision are considered ideology, whereas choices hinged on free trade or on alignment with the position of great powers are defended as “national interest” or as truths premised on technical discourse. There is no room here to broaden the debate about national interest and foreign policy making. For now, it suffices to signal to a point addressed by a broad literature: in any democracy, the making of a State’s interests, its positions and strategies in the international setting are the outcome of domestic coalitions stemming from electoral processes.
In general lines, as shown next, the proposals of both candidates are quite similar and propose resuming Brazil’s subordinate international position in opposition to the autonomist view that prevailed over the last twelve years of the Lula and Dilma governments and are still present in the proposals of candidate Dilma Rousseff.
Let us see this point by point.
Regional (dis)integration and positioning in the “global production chains”
No doubt this is the highlight in the proposals submitted by Marina and Aécio. Although both rhetorically affirm the importance of regional integration, an analysis of their proposals points to the contrary. Both candidates advocate changes in the integration initiatives under way and the signing of free trade agreements with the Pacific Alliance, the USA, and the European Union, which in practical terms means the end of the Mercosur and the emptying of multilateral fora like the WTO.
“Global production chains” – this is a key idea that appears in both proposals. It means the fragmentation of international production and trade in a number of countries across the world, a division based on each country’s competitive advantages. Although divided in several places, the production process is subordinated to leading companies, headquartered in developed countries, that hold the intellectual property rights on product development, the production process, and on the technologies and equipment used. To countries with a diversified industrial park like Brazil, this would entail huge losses and even the demise of countless industries, with immediate implications for the working world. This would also mean abdicating from autonomous technological development and subordination to the central countries.
(…) The exchange of parts, components, and services is increasingly intensifying inside the transnational innovation, production, and trade networks. The regulation of this process has been done by regional and bilateral agreements that involve the United States, the European Union, and some Asian and Latin-American countries. If, on the one hand, the demand for specialization at some stage of the production process may be met with reservations in emerging countries with a diversified industrial park like Brazil, China, India, and Russia, on the other hand, there is the risk of being marginalized in the technologically more innovative trade flows. (Marina Silva)
(…) Global trade is increasingly less under the aegis of the WTO, and this is due both to the proliferation of free trade agreements and to the very evolution of trade and production, first with intra-firm trade and now with the consolidation of global value chains. The new generation of mega-agreements being negotiated like the TPP and the TTIP includes a substantial part of the world trade and places on the negotiation table themes that go well beyond the WTO disciplines, such as labor, environmental, and foreign exchange issues, data transmission and electronic trade, investment and competition. (Aécio Neves)
Free trade agreements x regional integration – given the nature of the global production chains, the free trade agreements presently being negotiated are broader. Besides tariff reduction, they require a number of agreements on intellectual property, investments, and government procurement that may constrain enormously the State’s margin of action in the implementation of development policies. Themes related to intellectual property and investment rules have nothing to do with trade matters, as they are economic policy tools that the developed countries are trying to include in trade negotiations. This is precisely the agenda pursued by the USA. As the USA cannot push these themes forward at the WTO’s multilateral rounds (in part due to the opposition of the developing countries), it has adopted this strategy in regional mega-agreements, like the negotiations with the European Union and with Asia (Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP). The Pacific Alliance, made up of Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Chile, also follows the same line. The defense of this model led by the USA is among Marina’s and Aécio’s main proposals. A similar consideration is necessary for the political and strategic use of environmental and human rights themes in trade negotiations. As we shall analyze further ahead, despite the legitimacy of such concerns, their use in trade negotiations responds to market-access strategies by the central countries with the aim of restraining their partners’ trade relations with China, for example. This does not mean ignoring environment- and human rights-related issues. On the contrary, it means negotiating them seriously and fighting against their instrumental use.
(…) The requirement for joint negotiation – as a bloc [Mercosur] – has only been set forth in a resolution by the Council of Foreign Relations Ministers, not subject to ratification by national parliaments and thus potentially subject to immediate revocation.
(…) It would be of great help, therefore, to interlink the Mercosur association with the Pacific Alliance, at least for mutually attracting investments and incorporating Brazilian companies in the international value chains. (Marina Silva)
Its trade nature, inhibited by crises in important countries like Argentina and Venezuela, was gradually replaced by an emphasis on other sectors, which is not undesirable per se, yet should not come to be a priority. This is not about disfiguring the Mercosur but, rather, of strengthening it to once again make it fit to engage in effective negotiations with other partners and prepare it for greater trade liberalization. And the Mercosur countries may benefit from the access the countries of the Alliance have to the Asia-Pacific region, today the powerhouse of the world economy. The Pacific Alliance and the Mercosur are complementary and the member countries of both blocs can move toward the setting up of a free trade area. (Aécio Neves)
Free trade agreements are not regional integration processes. Over and beyond trade liberalization, regional integration processes involve cooperation and political, social, cultural, and defense-related coordination, among other areas, as has been done since 2003 in the Mercosur and, later on, also in the Unasur. Thus, the proposals made by Marina and Aécio would clearly mean the end of the Mercosur. Despite the criticisms regarding the imperfect nature of the Mercosur’s customs union, the road is to deepen the process building on the perspective of autonomous regional development and not to once again take the road of subordinated positioning by backtracking to a free trade area. A customs union means adopting an external common tariff (TEC, from the Portuguese). The TEC creates incentives for companies interested in the consumer market made up by the Mercosur countries to make productive investments in the region, thus contributing to the generation of jobs. Free trade agreements eliminate the incentive for productive investment, since production can be shifted to countries with a cheaper labor force and fewer labor rights. Proposing that Brazil should negotiate separate trade agreements, that is, without the other countries of the bloc, means the end of the external common tariff and the end of Mercosur.
Mexico, which joined a free trade area with the USA and Canada in 1994, illustrates the case. The development promise contained in the Nafta failed to materialize. Despite an increase in trade with the USA and Canada, the deal failed to generate growth, investments, jobs, or income. Since 1994, the average annual growth is a meager 2.6%. Income per capita has grown at an average of 1.2% a year, below Brazil’s. Income, productivity, and employment in the manufacturing industry have remained stagnant. Productive investments have also remained below the percentages achieved in Brazil.
Relationship with the United States and Europe
The moment has come for a clear determination to develop a dialogue that is mature, balanced and driven by propositions with Washington that does not dramatize natural differences between partners with recognizably broad economic and political interests.
(…) Also broad is the potential for strengthening the strategic relation with the European Union. We must settle pending matters with a view to formalizing the association with the Mercosur. (Marina Silva)
Moreover, the USA is one of the few countries that contribute to position Brazil in the value chain, even if to a small extent.
Brazil, as the main country in South America and in the Southern Atlantic, areas free of tension and outside the central perimeters of security that concern the USA, should seek a strategic partnership with the USA toward building a space of peace, security, and development in our region, as an element of stability in a multipolar world. (Aécio Neves)
Even though these candidates criticize a supposed distancing between Brazil and its developed partners, these arguments are flawed, or more accurately, are inverted. Brazil has not given up negotiating with the European Union but, given the aforementioned considerations on trade deals, any negotiation must be conducted with extreme caution so as to avoid potential negative impacts on job generation and economic growth. The Mercosur has already made an offer and is awaiting the answer from the European negotiators.
Concerning relations with the United States, the candidates’ words clearly distort what has happened thus far. Since 2003, Brazil/US relations have been very pragmatic. Last year, Brazil and the United States were working on the first State visit by Brazil to the White House to seek to advance in potential cooperation areas. The interruption of this agenda was not a Brazilian initiative but the direct result of espionage actions by the US government against Brazilian companies and government officials, including the President herself. Brazil’s reaction was not emotional but political.
With regard to the “strategic relation” between Brazil and the USA proposed by Aécio Neves, it was precisely in the Lula and Dilma administrations, together with other South-American presidents, that Brazil endeavored in the construction of the region as a peace and stability zone in an increasingly more unstable world on the road to multipolarity. This fundamental partnership has achieved concrete cooperation results in the scope of the Unasur Defense Council, for instance. Yet, contrary to what the PSDB candidate proposes, for the first time stability in the region has been ensured autonomously, without foreign meddling. The candidate’s proposal is to clearly reverse this autonomy, thus presenting the United States with a peaceful and stable region. The point is not about confrontation with the USA, even more so because this has never been a policy adopted by Brazil. The point is to relinquish an independence won through a lot of diplomatic effort.
South-South cooperation and the BRICS
We cannot, however, disregard the differences between the economic, political, cultural, and environmental agendas of the BRICS, as well as the human rights and civil liberties agendas of ach of the countries of the bloc. In order for dialogue in the group to be constructive and realistic, we must acknowledge these differences. (Marina Silva)
The cooperation should be oriented by concentration in a few areas and effective implementation. It may also give room for exercises in rapprochement with other countries, especially developing ones. This exercise in “enlargement” would have a twofold objective: prevent characterization of the group as elitist or closed and dilute perceptions of the group as confrontationist and obstructionist. (Aécio Neves)
South-South cooperation has expanded dramatically over the last years. Naturally, there are clearly distinctive historical differences across the BRICS countries. The point is precisely working together on what has already been agreed upon, like the creation of the new development bank and the common interest in overhauling the structures of international economic governance. South-South is already worth more than North-South trade. The five countries of the BRICS account for 24.5% of the world’s GDP, whereas their votes at the IMF account for only 10.3%. It does not suffice to demand that the presidency of institutions like the IMF and the World Bank stop being monopolies of Europeans and Americans, as advocated by the PSB candidate. The presidency might be symbolic, but we must review the quotas, since today they do not reflect the developing countries’ weight. At the recent BRICS summit held in Fortaleza, President Dilma and the Presidents of China, Russia, India, and South Africa made emphatic statements about the need for reform, which were followed by concrete measures, such as the creation of the new investment bank and the contingency reserve arrangement. We must keep on strengthening the BRICS, and its recently created institutions, instead of weakening the coalition, as advocated by the PSB candidate, by underscoring the differences, or the PSDB candidate, by proposing the enlargement of the bloc and depriving it if its key feature.
Silences: the relation with the African continent
It is worth noting the absence of relations with the African continent in the proposals made by both candidates. Africa has been elected one of the Brazilian diplomacy priorities since 2003, which can be justified by a number of arguments. Firstly, by emphasizing its relations with the African countries, Brazil recognizes its historical and moral debt to the millions of Africans who built our country. From the commercial point of view, it suffices to mention the dramatic increase in the volume of transactions with that continent: according to data by the Department of Foreign Trade of the Ministry of Development, Industry, and Foreign Trade, between 2003 and 201 Brazilian exports to Africa grew by approximately 370%, from de 55 billion in 2003 to 242 billion in 2013, and trade flows rose by approximately 300%, from 121 billion to 481 billion, respectively. It is also worth pointing out the rising interest of the developed countries and China in the African continent, with heavy investments in oil and mineral exploration. From the political point of view, the Africans have been key partners in multilateral institutions, contributing decisively, for example, toward the election of Roberto Azevedo as the WTO Director General and of José Graziano at the FAO general directorship. Neglecting Africa in their proposals is an outright strategic mistake the opposition candidates make.
Both Marina’s and Aécio’s platforms accuse the Brazilian diplomacy of not taking an emphatic stand in favor of human rights, mentioning cases like Syria and Ukraine. In order to avoid reproducing the shallow debate that characterizes good part of the issue, some considerations are called for. First, obviously there is a tension between military interventions to safeguard human rights and respect for state sovereignty. The Brazilian diplomacy has always been guided by these two principles, advocating that any intervention must be sanctioned by the UN Security Council. What Brazil advocates is responsible action in this domain. The foreign policy of the Lula and Dilma administrations has always been concerned with human rights. The idea is to act responsibly to avoid situations like that of present-day Iraq (where the appearance of the feared Islamic State today is a direct result of US intervention against non-existing weapons and in the name of human rights) and of Libya (presently fractured in the midst of a violent civil war after NATO’s intervention). This was the line chosen by President Dilma when she proposed the concept of “responsibility in protecting” during the opening ceremony of the UN General Assembly in 2011. The rationale is that military interventions in defense of human rights must be concerned about its own consequences, that is, an intervention cannot drown a target country in greater conflict and violence than before the intervention. A serious and multilateral discussion about human rights, not politically and unilaterally leveraged by some, has had and will continue to have the support of the Brazilian diplomacy with President Dilma.
Environment and sustainable development
Sustainable development: to bring down the static reading of the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. (Marina Silva)
The great emphasis of the PSB candidate’s platform is, in her own words, to abandon the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” as regards the environment. That principle reflects a concern with the proportional distribution of costs related to environmental preservation among developed and developing countries stemming from the fact that, over centuries of industrialization, the developed countries were responsible for great part of the pollutant emissions that seriously threaten the environment today. Even though all of us are responsible for preserving the environment, the differentiation criterion reflects a principle of justice. Moreover, as highly desirable as it is that all countries should strive to reduce their carbon emissions, we must analyze what is at stake here. To adhere to the developed countries’ view, as proposed by Marina, means ignoring the gigantic technological advantage the developed countries enjoy when compared with the developing nations. Additionally, though heavily reliant on the concept of sustainable development, this concept is quite broad and disputed in the environmental discussions. Marina prefers to ignore, for example, the proactive role of the Brazilian diplomacy in reaching a consensus text at the Rio+20 Conference held in 2012. Without Brazil’s leadership and mediation, the conference was likely to end without any agreement. An important accomplishment in that regard was the inclusion of poverty eradication in the concept of sustainable development. That is, we do defend international environmental agreements that are conducive to increasingly stronger commitments to sustainable development. But we also believe that sustainability should be a right of all rather than becoming a luxury accessible only to those who can afford it.
The critiques of the democratization of the foreign policy
Bringing other voices into the debate on the roads to be taken by our foreign action does not require the creation of a council with concurrent competencies.
(…) Transferring the strategic orientation of our foreign policy to a new forum would go counter an institution and highly skilled cadres who have been giving an invaluable contribution toward the construction of Brazil’s international reputation and position. (Marina Silva)
As to a possible National Foreign Policy Council, it is worth recalling that there is an enormous difference between listening to the broadest sectors of society to coordinate efforts and the risk of allowing State policies to become the apparatus of political-ideological groups, political parties, and movements attuned with any given government. The foreign policy is a State public policy and every mechanism designed to improve it must be conceived in republican terms, which is not what seems to be in the proposals currently being mentioned for the creation of a National Foreign Policy Council. (Aécio Neves)
Before conducting an analysis of the rejection of democratizing the foreign policy making, it is worth situating the discussion. A number of civil society organizations – including universities, human rights and environmental NGOS, social and labor movements – have demanded the democratization of the foreign policy making by through the creation of a national council, in the manner of the ones already in existence for several public policy sectors. Accusing the council of being an apparatus or of having a concurrent competency is, to say the least, a complete lack of knowledge by the opposition presidential candidates. The Federal Constitution is crystal clear when it entrenches the foreign policy as the sole competency of the President of the Republic. The Council has been conceived as a body for consulting society and enabling all sectors interested in the making of the Brazilian diplomacy’s positions to be heard, since, in the absence of such mechanism, only the most powerful interests make themselves heard through informal channels. Besides, the proposal is aimed at all sectors of society, including business. The creation of a consultative body based on social participation is bound to strengthen the role of the Itamaraty in society, contrary to what the opposition candidates want us to believe in.
We have had some autonomist foreign policy experiences in our history, which nonetheless were short-lived in the choking atmosphere of the bipolar setting of the 1960s. With the end of the Cold War, the United States became the only great world power, ushering in a phase of broad unipolarity in international politics. The strategy adopted by the Brazilian diplomacy at that time, with Collor and FHC, was the country’s subordinate position in the globalization processes. In spite of their change rhetoric, the PSB and PSDB candidates want to lead us back to the foreign policy of the 1990s. In the past decade and for the first time, we have a combination of a world setting shifting toward a horizon of multiple centers of power and a diplomacy that has proven capable of occupying a strategic place in this world in transformation on the basis of an autonomous position. Thus, regional integration and the setting up of BRICS are strategic. In international politics, surely the new and the change are not in backtracking to the discredited policies of the 1990s, as proposed by the opposition candidates.
*Terra Budini works for the Secretariat of International Relations of Workers Party (PT)