The Middle East and the Brazilian quest to be perceived as a global power
When former Brazilian President Lula first visited the Middle East in 2003 in an effort to enhance relations between Brazil and Arab countries, he acted through the Foreign Policy of Diversification of Partnerships, whereby Brazil was searching for new strategic partners in order to implement its development agenda. He said in a speech in the headquarters of the League of Arab States that the Brazilian and Arab populations have strong cultural and historical ties, based on the fact that Brazil is a home to millions of Arab descendants, who were a key-factor in not only the construction of the Brazilian identity, but also in its cultural and socio-economic development. Furthermore, Brazil and Latin America are together vast economic markets, which require political incentives to facilitate both financial and cultural exchange, as well as the exchange of commodities. This has been achieved gradually: Brazil’s status as an observer to the Arab League represented a step forward in the integration process of the two regions, as well as a step forward for Brazil and Arab countries in adopting parallel positions on the international stage.
Brazil and the current international geo-political world order: an emerging global power?
Brazil is considered to be an emerging power with a wide variety of natural resources as well as a large labour force. These internal variables, along with the fact that the country was one of the first to recover from the current economic and financial crisis, give Brazil the status of leading economic power in South America, where it is perceived as a regional leader. Therefore, Brazil’s ability to coexist peacefully with its neighbours whilst promoting and contributing to regional development is vital to the projection of its international image.
Brazilian foreign affairs currently focus on strengthening institutions with partners in order to increase technological cooperation. The diplomatic approaches of Diversification of Partnerships and South-South Cooperation with other developing countries improved cooperation in a variety of issues, as well as in different places besides Latin America.
Brazil is a reasonably stable democratic country, well-connected to the global economy; it has a conservative macroeconomic approach as well as a growing middle class; it is auto-sufficient in the agricultural sector as well as actively exploring new markets: for example, negotiated carbon credits with developed countries that have to cut emissions under the Kyoto Protocol; as well as having a significant capacity to produce bio fuels and to generate energy from a variety of resources, such as hydropower plants.
Therefore, one could argue that Brazil is a system-affecting country, a middle power or a regional power, which means that it is a state that may have an impact on the international system if it acts in conjunction with a small group of countries as well as through an international institution. As a middle power, Brazil has limitations, however it has been trying to overcome such limitations by acting in multilateral forums as well as by emphasising the benefits of regional integration.
Brazil has a variety of available natural resources as well as a vast territory that provides opportunities to develop and increase its power in the international system. Being the fifth largest country in the world, with a territory of 8,514,877 square kilometres, it shares borders with most South American countries. Furthermore, since the Lula administration, Brazil has been improving domestic macroeconomic stability, increasing foreign reserves, as well as becoming a net external creditor in 2008. For the last thirty years, Brazil has experienced a surplus in exports, as well as an increasing annual growth rate.
Brazil and the diversification of partnerships policy: possibilities to enhance trade relations with partners outside Latin America
Since the beginning of the twentieth century, Brazil has participated in international forums that have played important roles in shaping the current international system: for example, it participated in the negotiations that led to the creation of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), and the Uruguay Round that led to the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Brazil aspires to defend the special treatment given by the WTO to developing countries and participates in regional integration movements such as Mercosur, an economic and political agreement among Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, the South American Community of Nations (CASA), and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
In addition, to promote closer relations with different partners and regions, Brazil participates in integration movements such as the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA), a mechanism for bi-regional cooperation and a forum for political coordination. New partnerships are emerging, and in 2010 Brazil played a key role in the nuclear agreement achieved between itself, Iran and Turkey. Despite the fact that the UN sanctions on Iran remain in place, the achievement of an agreement meant that Brazil was acting outside its regional sphere of influence, as well as with a varied range of partners outside Latin America. Brazil has been participating actively in topics at the UN level and has become a provider of foreign exchange liquidity to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and a long-term capital provider to the World Bank. So then, Brazil’s policies have provided space to develop exports, which currently focus on agricultural commodities, textiles, aircraft, electrical equipment, automobiles and automotive parts, to the Middle East, especially the GCC countries.
The Middle East and its economic interests
As an emerging power, Brazil aspires to develop its economy whilst expanding its spheres of influence. The Middle East is a promising source of income for Brazil because of demand for agricultural commodities, which represent a significant part of Brazilian production. Brazil is right to focus on the GCC countries because 90% of their food related products are imported. The GCC is a market that has hundreds of millions of people where conditions to grow agricultural products to meet demand are limited. Brazil has an opportunity to increase exports to the region, especially because it is already a popular food partner among the products certified by Cibal Halal (Brazilian Islamic Centre for Halal Food Stuff Association).
Even though the Arab Spring may end up having a range of impacts on different governments, the demand for agricultural products will not be significantly affected. Currently, over 30% of all Brazilian poultry exports go to the Middle East, and in 2010 around US$141.8 million worth of poultry were exported to the region, which represented an increase of 37%. Between 2003 and 2009, the trade flow between Brazil and some Middle Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman, among others, increased from US$2.54 billion to US$6.89 billion. As far as trade relations with the Middle East are concerned, Brazilian exports to GCC countries are seeing a continued increase. To keep trade flows on the up, events are being promoted to bring the GCC countries closer to Brazil, such as the Brazil Trade Middle East event that happened in 2010 to consider ways to enhance commercial ties.
Moreover, the Second Latin America Middle East Investors Forum (LAMEIF) discussed how the regions enhance their economic ties. As a region, Latin America has the potential to receive billions of dollars worth of capital investment from GCC countries, which in total are more than one trillion dollars a year. Also, GCC countries import more Brazilian products than Brazil imports from them due to the fact that GCC exports are mainly based on the energy sector, which is already widely developed in Brazil. Relations among countries of these two regions are evolving into strategic partnerships, since GCC investors are now looking at Latin America as a source of goods required to develop the Middle East, such as agricultural commodities and infrastructure materials.
The two regions have lots of things in common and the governments of these countries are enhancing ties through the implementation of agencies, such as the Brazil-Arab News Agency (ANBA), which deals with issues related to commerce, politics, energy, cultural exchange, and tourism, among others; the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, which has been promoting economic, cultural, and tourist exchanges between Arab and Brazilian populations in order to develop, consolidate and expand the relationship and knowledge transfer flow between them. Among developing countries Brazil is ranked number two when it comes to attracting foreign direct investment. Whilst it is keen on maintaining closer ties with possible trade partners, Arab countries also have an interest in Brazil and Latin America as a whole.
In 2008, the former Secretary-General of the LAS said that South America was crucial to Arab countries. Brazil is attracting investors from GCC countries, especially after the Focus Country Briefing held in Dubai in April 2011. This briefing focused on the promotion of trade opportunities in Brazil, aided by the opportunities related to Brazil’s nomination to host the FIFA World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016. From 2005 to 2009, Brazilian exports of products not related to oil to Dubai, for example, increased by over 100%. There are now direct flights from Rio de Janeiro to Dubai, which is facilitating new trade opportunities. Relations between the UAE and Brazil are steadily improving, particularly since a trade deal between Dubai, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo in the construction, finance and retail sectors was agreed. Due to the increase in trade between Brazil and the UAE, freight flights are also on the rise; two large helicopters were handed over to the Brazilian oil company, Petrobras, in order to enable direct transportation between São Paulo and Dubai.
For many developing countries, multilateral approaches to foreign policy are widely seen as crucial to successful implementation and this is certainly true of Brazilian foreign policy, given that it has been investing in the creation and maintenance of regional integration movements such as BRIC, IBAS, the G-4, G-20, Mercosur, CASA, and UNASUR. With regard the Middle East, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations, has expressed a desire to intensify relations with the Arab world economically in order to develop the Policies of Diversification of Partnerships. Due to the fact that Brazil is home to a large Arab community, the pursuit of closer ties with the Middle East is a natural move. Brazil has already been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council ten times, and has participated in efforts to reform the council based on the premise that it should include more permanent members with veto power in order to make it more representative, since the world order has so drastically changed since its creation in 1946. Following the Brazilian approach of acting multilaterally, BRIC leaders have jointly supported reform of the UNSC, where Brazil, India and South Africa are not only currently non-permanent members, but also aspire to a permanent seat on the council, while Russia and China, currently permanent members, support the role these countries can play in international politics.
The Brazilian Foreign Minister also stated that the maintenance of closer relations with Arab countries would help promote a sophisticated level of political dialogue on regional issues, for example, the Israeli-Palestine conflict, especially because Brazil has good relations with both sides of the equation. Since India and South Africa also have good relations with both sides, these countries could engage jointly – in the IBSA context – in order to assist in the peace process.
Concerning Brazil’s role in the Middle East Peace Process, Lula went to the region to try to portray Brazil as a mediator. To the Brazilian Government it meant a great step forward, since it showed that the efforts put in to enhancing ties with the Middle East can provide positive outcomes. After efforts to bolster peace between Palestine and Israel, the Brazilian Government recognised the Palestinian State in December 2010 according to the 1967 borders. Brazil’s partners within BRIC and IBSA also recognised the Palestinian State while maintaining sound relations with Israel. Since 2006, Brazil has played an active role in assisting in the construction of the Palestinian State through the supply of resources, as well as being active in international conferences, funds, and agencies, whilst having increasingly good relations with Israel, which became the first to sign a FTA with Mercosur, shortly to be followed by Palestine. Taking Brazil’s lead, other countries from the region also recognised Palestine within the 1967 borders. After Brazil recognised Palestinian sovereignty over the 1967 borders, former US President Jimmy Carter publicly stated that Brazil could not only help, but also lead in the peace process in the region.
In the current context of events in the Middle East, the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff defended dialogue with the Syrian Government based on the argument that force should not be applied before all other options are exhausted. According to the President, the decision to use force should come from an international consensus, and following this approach, Brazil, India and South Africa through IBSA engaged in direct negotiations with the Syrian Government, during which Brazil defended the UN statements against the use of violence. It is possible to argue therefore that Brazilian power outside its regional sphere of influence is increasing, based on the fact that negotiations among the IBSA delegation and the Syrian Government led the latter to admit that mistakes were committed by the police forces in repressing rioters. The IBSA delegations not only condemned the practice of violence from both the Government and rioters, but they also called for adherence to international law, as well as for the creation of a special commission to analyse the situation.
Brazil passed through two decades of dictatorship, whereby student organisations were dissolved, leaders of the trade union movement were attacked and the press was censured. Nowadays Brazil is a consolidated democracy, so parallels can be drawn between what Brazil went through in the past and what is happening in parts of the Arab world today. Brazilian democracy was gradually developed and reinstituted. The same might be expected from some Middle Eastern countries, since religious institutions together with members of the political opposition and human rights activists were the stepping stone to democratic rule in Brazil. Current events are creating a new political paradigm in the Middle East, but the region could take Latin America’s example of gradually constructing solid democracies in the near future. Even President Obama said in a visit to Rio de Janeiro that Brazil is proof that authoritarian governments can be transformed into solid democracies. One could argue that Lula created the space for a new strategic frontline for Brazilian foreign policy, at the same time as having an active role in South America, since the region is the launch pad from which Brazil can project itself internationally.
If Middle Eastern countries gradually install democratic systems, relations between the two regions will likely improve. Currently, the main focus of relations among them is trade – the largest Brazilian trade surplus is with Arab countries. It can be argued that through the foreign policy of Diversification of Partnerships, Brazil has been increasingly involved in political issues outside its regional sphere of influence, having received visits from the Presidents of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Iran, who are all clearly key players in current events in the Middle East.
Such events are the result of a foreign policy approach implemented gradually since the time of the Lula Administration, wherein the Middle East started to receive particular attention. Since 2003, the number of presidential and ministerial visits to the region increased significantly, as well as the number of visits accompanied by business missions, and the participation in fairs and exhibitions. It could be argued that Brazilian economic growth was the stepping stone to the development of new partnerships of trade and investment: after the ASPA Summits, for example, relations between the region and Brazil encroached on issues beyond purely trade related matters, culture and politics being two examples.
Being South America’s regional leader, Brazil’s foreign policy is formulated in order to guarantee autonomy while enhancing power, at the same time as combining praxis with theory in order to develop new ways of strategic insertion in the international sphere. Integration movements in this region are the stepping stone for Brazil, since as a middle power, it has more chance of achieving its foreign policy goals via multilateral approaches. The policy of Diversification of Partnerships is part of the Brazilian grand strategy to portray itself as a player within the centre of international politics, a new yet innovative player both inside and outside of Latin America.
Having said that, Brazil has been increasingly searching for international forums in order to obtain formal consensus in key issues, instead of just engaging in bandwagon initiatives and therefore, it would be fair to say that Brazil is an emerging global power. Since Brazil also has been growing at high rates and it is expected to continue on growing annually around 5% per annum until 2014, the opportunity is there to enhance development whilst expanding political ties with possible trading partners and regions in order to bolster its profile as a neutral power that actually has the potential of acting outside its usual regional sphere of influence.
As far as the Middle East is concerned, Brazil is neither dependent on Middle Eastern oil, nor does it have any direct national security interests; Brazil has no colonial legacy in the region, not is it a large arms exporter. But Brazil regards the region as a crucial trade partner, so through an improvement in trade relations Brazil aspires to portray itself as a legitimate emerging global actor.
As far as new possible markets for Brazilian products are concerned, the GCC countries are populous, and are increasing at a rate of 3.3% per annum on average, three times more than the global annual rate for the past decade. Relative to population growth, demand for food will naturally increase. Currently, even though the per capita rate of food consumption for the GCC countries is below the average of developed countries, such rates are expected to grow significantly. The estimated per annum increase for food consumption in GCC countries is 4.6% between 2011 and 2015. Such consumption rates, combined with the fact that the region is benefitting from rising oil prices, result in rising per capita levels of income, which are likely only to continue rising.
Fundamentally, the Middle East is a huge potential market for Brazilian exports, a crucial plank in Brazil’s Diversification of Partnerships agenda. Besides trade, Brazil has also an opportunity to engage in cultural exchange, sustainable development, expertise, and technology transfer initiatives, among others, which in turn might also enhance relations in other areas besides trade with the countries in the Middle East.
Brazil is not only a country in which millions of Arabs and Jews peacefully coexist in a daily basis, but Latin America as a region has also recently passed through a process of re-democratisation, where the population protested against authoritarian governments. A comparison can be made with the recent events in the Arab Spring, where due to an emerging middle class people fought for better treatment generally and better employment prospects specifically. Events like the ASPA Summit can facilitate the exchange of knowledge between the two regions, given that a declaration has already been made concerning political issues, the peace process, and economic cooperation.
As far as the viability of strategic foreign policy approaches such as the Diversification of Partnerships is concerned, the Middle East is a determining factor in the Brazilian quest to be perceived as a global power, since the region, and particularly the GCC countries, can offer Brazil opportunities to diversify and enhance economic relations. Such economic relations are the stepping stone for Brazil to act extra-regionally, as well as a good way for Brazil to resist systemic pressures whilst improving the state economically in order to increase investment rates and public savings, which in turn will provide the domestic conditions to compete in an interdependent international anarchic system.