Bolsonaro’s ‘Reckless’ Diplomacy May Cost Brazil Dearly


President-elect Jair Bolsonaro (PSL) pledged to fulfill one of his campaign promises and move the Brazilian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognizing the holy city as Israel’s capital. To comment on the subject, a political scientist at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, commented.

The statement confirming the commitment to change the embassy was given to the Israeli newspaper “Israel Hayom.” In his first interview for the international press after confirmation of his election. Bolsonaro also said in the interview that he will close the embassy of Palestine in Brasilia. After the interview, Bolsonaro announced the decision on their social networks.

The move follows the steps taken by US President Donald Trump, who announced the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as early as December 2017. The embassy’s move was made on May 14 this year. The measure was followed by Guatemala and Paraguay, but the latter gave up the idea shortly afterwards.

The possible change of the Brazilian embassy has been criticized for changing Brazil’s diplomatic posture and opening space for political conflicts with Arab countries, important trading partners of Brazilian companies.

Jerusalem is considered a holy city for the three main monotheistic religions of the world, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is also disputed between Palestine and Israel, who want the city to be the capital of their respective states.

The new Brazilian stance hurts the interests of the Arab countries. These countries today form the so-called Arab League, a political and economic bloc that brings together 22 countries. They are: Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Qatar, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Palestine, Oman, Somalia, Sudan and Tunisia. Syria is also a member of the Arab League, but is suspended from the organization.

Arnaldo Francisco Cardoso, a political scientist and professor at Universidade Presbiteriana Mackenzie, classified Bolsonaro’s attitude as reckless, pointing out that foreign policy is a delicate object and can have political and economic consequences.

“I think it was a little reckless to say the new president when he disregards the fact that when we talk about foreign policy we are talking about a public policy. A public policy that is built over time involving society is important. It is an important instrument of this State policy,” said Cardoso.

The political scientist also added that this policy deals with a national interest.

“But this policy of the State always having its main motivation the search for the national interest.” In this sense, the national interest in a democratic country is manifested in society as a whole.

What is the economic impact of this measure on Brazil?

According to figures released by the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Services, until October 2018, Brazil maintained a negative trade balance with Israel. The difference between exports and imports between the two countries in the period was $647.4 million in deficit for Brazil.

In relation to the countries of the Arab League, Brazil has a surplus in the trade balance of $3.1 billion, in other words, it sells more than it buys. With the exception of China in the trade balance, this figure corresponds to almost 13% of the balance of Brazilian trade abroad.

Between January and October 2018, these Arab countries bought almost $9.3 billion in Brazilian products.

The main Brazilian export product for these countries is the bovine halal and chicken meat, prepared according to the Muslim ritual. Trade with the Arabs also includes soybeans, corn and ore.

The controversy over Bolsonaro’s statements caused the Egyptian government to react in advance. On Monday (5), the Egyptians canceled a visit to a Brazilian delegation that included businessmen, diplomats and also Brazilian Foreign Minister Aloysio Nunes. The Brazilian chancellor had a meeting with the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Although officially the cancellation was motivated by agenda issues, analysts interpreted the action as a way of rebuking Bolsonaro’s speeches.

Egypt is the largest Brazilian trading partner among the Arab League countries and accounts for almost 20% of Brazilian exports to these countries, with a trade surplus favorable to Brazil of $1.5 billion.

On Thursday, federal deputy Tereza Cristina (DEM-MS), a ruralist leader appointed as future minister of Agriculture by the president-elect, said that the Brazilian meat industry is worried about Bolsonaro’s position.

She told Jornal do Brasil that the issue would be discussed with the president-elect and pointed out that she has received worried links from people linked to the Brazilian beef industry, which has important commercial ties with the Arab market. Brazil is currently the world leader in halal meat exports.

Embassy change has little room for economic advantages

“We have data about our commercial interests with the region and it is undoubtedly very significant. And a political decision such as the case of the embassy change can have negative consequences for the commercial and economic relations of the region,” recalled Arnaldo Cardoso.

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The political scientist also pointed out that there is no room to think of positive trade aspects in this movement, since Brazil and Israel already have a free trade agreement in place, which shows that there is a political bias for the embassy change.

“If we consider that we have a free trade agreement with Israel already, an agreement that has been in place since 2010. If we take our volume of exports to Israel, even if it enjoys a condition of reducing taxes and reducing tariff barriers for this trade, it is still much smaller than that of the Arab countries as a whole,” he said.

Cardoso also emphasized that the Arab market outstrips the market with Israel economically.

“Let’s remember that if we are talking about the Arab League we are talking about 21 countries, so there is no possibility that the Israeli market will compensate for any loss of trade with the Arab countries,” the researcher said.

One reason for the rapprochement with Israel is an alignment with the policies pursued by President Donald Trump’s administration in the United States, a country historically allied with the Israeli state.

However, even with political accusations directed at the United States, Arnaldo Francisco Cardoso does not see a favorable picture for Brazil in the commercial relations with the North Americans, which could compensate for possible retaliations.

“This year Brazil will experience a number of very bad numbers of important sectors of Brazilian production and exports due to trade restrictions imposed by the US government, we just have to look at the steel and aluminum sector. It will have a very significant reduction in exports of steel and aluminum to the United States,” he said.

In May, the United States government announced the application of surcharges on its steel and aluminum imports, which included Brazil. This movement followed a series of protectionist measures in relation to several US allied countries. The main affected has been China.

Despite negotiations with the US government, Brazil did not get relief from the imposed taxes. Brazil is the second largest steel exporter to the United States, according to the US Department of Commerce.

According to data from January to October of this year of the Ministry of Industry, Foreign Trade and Service, there was a decrease in the intensity of trade relations between Brazil and the United States. If in 2017 the trade balance in this same period between countries had a surplus of $1.5 billion, this year the trade balance is at $130 million.

Even so, the US remains the second largest importer of Brazilian products in the world, behind only China. However, the trade balance with the United States has the smallest surplus among Brazil’s five largest trading partners.

While the trade surplus with the US is $130 million, this amount reaches $23 billion with the Chinese. With Argentina, Brazil’s third largest trading partner, this figure is $4.15 billion.

“It does not seem to me that in this episode prudence guided this statement”

“Brazil’s first export contract to Middle Eastern countries came in 1979. Since then we have been working hard to consolidate Brazil as a reliable supplier. The demands of these countries, including when we talk about the halal chicken slaughter technique, it’s a construction for decades,” explains political scientist Arnaldo Francisco Cardoso.

He points out that the Brazilian position in the Arab market is the result of years of diplomatic and business efforts that have elevated the country to a leading position in sectors such as halal meat, leaving traditional suppliers behind, such as France.

Cardoso believes that foreign policy should have “prudence” as its orientation.

“This is why I repeat that it seems to me very unwise: I would cite here an author of political realism, Hans Morgenthau, who says that the main guiding principle of a policy must be prudence. It is a necessary virtue of a foreign policy, prudence. And it does not seem to me that in this episode prudence guided this statement,” he explained.

The political scientist, however, warns that the future government’s foreign policy discussions are speculative, and sees the president-elect’s nod to a balanced view on the formation of the diplomatic team to be announced.

“And it seems to me that the president-elect and his government team have made the right decision to announce that a Brazilian diplomat, a professional in Brazil’s diplomatic career, will be sought to fill the post of foreign minister,” emphasized Cardoso.

According to him, the names that circulate for the formation of the Brazilian foreign ministry must follow a prudent orientation and that points more towards a state policy that respects the Brazilian identity in foreign relations.

He points out that if this policy is not treated as a state, the country runs the risk of losing international credibility.

“In diplomacy, the word has a lot of importance. In diplomacy, it is important to take great care of the words, and it seems that the president-elect does not know that,” he concluded.

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