Now is not the moment for Brazil’s politicians to score senseless points against China – its biggest trading partner.
In 2019 Brazil exported US$ 64.2 billion to China – 27% of its total exports in the year. China was the largest buyer of Brazilian exports – primarily farm and mining products.
China is also one of Brazil’s largest foreign investors. It has bought stakes in Brazilian energy, transport and logistics. The lower house of Brazil’s Congress has passed a new regulatory framework enabling foreign investment also in water infrastructure utilities (though this has inexplicably been held up in the Senate since November).
Brazil’s diplomacy has always had a reputation for working strictly for the national interest, completely sidelining any party or political interests. At this moment Brazil urgently needs to re-establish this tradition – and focus on improving trading and diplomatic relations with China. This is especially true because there may be some major challenges for Brazilian exports in the medium term.
First, there is the prospect of a world recession resulting from the pandemic – in which lower purchases of Brazilian goods would dent the country’s trade balance.
Second, it looks as if Brazil may finish up paying part of the bill for the settling of scores between Trump and Xi Jinping: when they agree an armistice in their trade war, it will probably require that China increases its purchases of US farm products. And that would likely mean buying less Brazilian products: former Brazilian ambassador Sergio Amaral estimates that, as a result of the agreement with the US, China will buy US$10 billion less of farm products from China.
This is a challenging picture. And it is a lamentable moment for senseless attacks by Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro (son of Brazil’s president), blaming China for the coronavirus crisis, and by Brazil’s education minister Abraham Weintraub, which have only exacerbated relations between the two countries.
What is needed at this moment is trade diplomacy – to reduce friction, and to pre-empt any reduction in our sales to China. Our agriculture minister, Tereza Cristina Corrêa da Costa, and our Infrastructure Minister, Tarcísio Freitas, are currently working hard on improving mutual understanding with the Chinese government. By transforming trade relations and diplomacy into one more populist and party platform – to gain applause from local followers, to the detriment of the national interest – Brazil risks showing that in this government state policy and party policy are perilously mixed. The losers in this state of affairs would be Brazil, its productive sector, and its exports.