BRASILIA – Two years later, the US continued to close its market for beef from Brazil in a demonstration that President Donald Trump’s diplomacy with colleague Jair Bolsonaro is a new “betrayal” of an “unrequited love,” according to analysts.
The end of the embargo on Brazilian beef was on Bolsonaro’s agenda at his first meeting with Trump at the White House in March this year. Although the delegation has returned to Brasilia with some promises in its baggage, so far only a few concessions requested by the US have actually materialized.
US-born and naturalized Brazilian, University of Brasilia (UnB) emeritus professor David Fleischer said in an interview that Brazil is still suffering the effects of Operation Weak Meat, triggered by the Federal Police in 2017 and that investigated the main industry companies in the country suspected of tampering with products and paying bribes to inspectors.
“[Trump] promised to Bolsonaro [the end of the embargo], but failed to deliver on his promise. It seems that he does not send the US inspectors fully,” said Fleischer.
“Well, Bolsonaro had already given a counterpart to the American wheat being able to come in without tax, as a goodwill, thinking that in return it would sell meat again. But his goodwill gesture had no effect,” added the UnB emeritus professor.
According to a report in the newspaper O Globo, a mission of US technicians visited Brazilian refrigerators this year after the first meeting between Bolsonaro and Trump. However, the results were not considered satisfactory and, after new information has been sent, a new mission should come to the country to put an end to the embargo. To the newspaper, a Brazilian source did not shy away from saying that “they may be messing us up.”
But not all the fault of the imbroglio rests with Trump and US foreign and trade policy. According to the political scientist and professor at the Department of International Relations at Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ), Mauricio Santoro, Bolsonaro apparently believed that if he had a strong relationship with the US leader, the benefits to Brazil would come.
“We are seeing that this does not happen. There may even be a slightly closer personal approach to it there with Trump, but it has not resulted in any immediate and tangible benefits for the country. To a large extent, this is a foreign policy which continues to be based on the great bureaucracies of both countries, in which a much slower logic of risk and opportunity analysis prevails,” he said.
Worsens with US and eyes on China and India
Asked to talk about the future perspective of trade relations between Brazil and the US, both analysts were not optimistic. In addition to Washington’s low interest in Latin American affairs (except for sporadic episodes linked to Venezuela), the Trump administration has other priorities on the eve of an election year on US soil.
“Trump will run for a reelection next year in the middle of an impeachment process, and this is unparalleled in American history… it will be an extremely difficult campaign. It is to be imagined that in such a scenario, he will become even more protectionist, trying in every way to please interest groups who have a view that they are facing a threat from international competition and that they need to protect themselves from rivals in other countries. It will be more complicated for him to make concessions, some kind of negotiation,” said Santoro.
In such a troubled internal scenario, Trump may have other priorities than those promised to Bolsonaro this year, such as support for Brazil’s entry into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – Washington prioritizes Argentina’s entry into the group, promising support Brasilia in a future moment – or open the American market for sugar and Brazilian meat – frustrations already exposed by the national agribusiness.
For Fleischer, there is no shortage of reasons for the Brazilian government to understand a single maxim.
“He [Trump government] only thinks about himself, just wants glory for him, to increase his reelection. A lot of people think that this trade war with the Chinese they will only end next year to help increase his reelection [ …] They [Bolsonaro and his advisers] were very excited that they would have a free trade agreement with the US, but it is very far from that,” said the emeritus professor at UnB.
Led by Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina, a Brazilian delegation will go to the United States on the 17th of this month, and the US beef embargo is expected to be part of the agenda for discussions with US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. In Brazil, the Bolsonaro government will have to deal with other trading partners, starting with China.
President Xi Jinping is expected for the XI BRICS Summit, which will take place on November 13 and 14 in Brasilia – Russian President Vladimir Putin is also expected by the Brazilian authorities. Brazil ‘s commitment to the bloc needs to be reinforced, especially given Itamaraty’s continued automatic alignment with Washington’s foreign policy.
“Bolsonaro had to change his mind because when he was elected, before taking office, he criticized Communist China, and the Chinese were even very polite, they waited and he changed his mind. China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner, so Bolsonaro was warned by his advisers that this is not the case. So he changed his rhetoric about China,” said Fleischer, speaking of the country still in a trade war with the United States.
Also talking about China, Santoro recalled that, after an initial distrust, Beijing has been opening its market for, for example, Brazilian refrigerators, as well as other products. The political scientist also stressed that the foreign police in the field of trade, in which Brazil has been trying to strengthen ties with Asia and the Middle East, is right.
However, in the same region is concentrated an ally who, according to analysts, is quite annoyed by stances taken by Bolsonaro at the request of the US – Brasilia agreed to abandon its special status at the World Trade Organization (WTO) to be sponsored to join the OECD, not yet knowing if one situation will lead to another.
“I would say that Bolsonaro’s next major overseas trip will probably be to India next year. It is a rather complicated relationship, particularly because of Brazil’s decisions to change historical positions at the WTO, especially this issue of Brazil’s status, from a developing country that caused a huge problem with India, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, needs to be discussed, see how it will look. It’s an important relationship, it’s one of Brazil’s most significant trading partners, it’s a partner in the BRICS, so it’s a relationship to look at carefully in the coming weeks,” Santoro explained.
One episode that resonated strongly with Bolsonaro’s foreign policy critics was his encounter with Trump in one of the corridors of the UN General Assembly in New York. After waiting a long time for the US leader, he eventually said that he loved him and in return received a cold reaction. In the view of the political scientist, the episode summarizes the first year of the relationship between the two countries – and the two presidents.
“What I would say that sums up the opera of this relationship between Brazil and the US in these first months of the Bolsonaro administration, this first year, was Brazil trying to build this preferential relationship with the US and getting a rather cold, rather indifferent response in return. So far that symbolizes so much was that moment when Bolsonaro turns to Trump and said ‘I love you,’ and Trump basically said to him ‘ah, okay. Here.’ I mean, it’s an unrequited love. Let’s describe it that way,” he said.
Bolsonaro’s longings for the US do not reflect Brazilian diplomacy at any time in history, not “when Getúlio Vargas met Franklin Roosevelt, or when the Baron of Rio Branco negotiated a rapprochement with the Americans. Everything has always been very sober, moderate, moderate – nothing that compares to what we are living today,” concluded Santoro.