China’s political influence in Brazil on the rise

In Europe, Brazil is criticized above all for the Bolsonaro government’s environmental and Amazon policies. There is hardly any dialogue anymore. China is using the gap and gaining more and more influence in Brazil via the sustainability agenda.

by Alexander Busch, Latin America correspondent for Handelsblatt and Neue Zürcher Zeitung

 

In Brazil, official seminars on sustainability have been increasing in recent months. Participants include representatives from the state, government, private companies and associations. The topics are sustainability in trade relations, certified trade chains in agro and food, decarbonization of the economy, organic food and even the reduction of slash-and-burn agriculture in the Amazon.

This is surprising in a country like Brazil, where the government’s environmental and rainforest policies are at the center of criticism. Equally surprising is the fact that, for the first time, China is massively represented among the foreign participants in these debates: with high-ranking ministers, bankers and representatives of the academy. Europeans – with the exception of the private sector – are hardly represented. Sustainability is one of the core topics on the bilateral agenda between Europe and Brazil. But that is a thing of the past.

Hardly a week goes by without Brazil being pilloried in Europe. The main focus is on Bolsonaro’s environmental and Amazon policies. The criticism is certainly true. But the question arises as to whether Europe still wants a dialogue with Brazil at all. Rather, it seems that Europe has slammed the doors shut on Brazil.

Beijing is now making clever use of this gap. China’s diplomats have launched a dialogue offensive on the environment and sustainability.

This is strategically smart. After all, the major Asian power is Brazil’s most important trading partner alongside the USA and Europe, and is becoming increasingly influential as an investor. However, relations between China and Brazil are also strained. President Bolsonaro and some of his confidants regularly criticize China.

But unimpressed by this, China’s diplomats are working together with representatives of Brazil’s government and business community on a new sustainability agenda. To this end, China is offering financing and wants to establish a permanent institutionalized exchange of information between the countries. This is to take place at all levels, between governments, entrepreneurs, agro and consumers. As expected, topics such as indigenous protection or human rights are not discussed. From Brazil, numerous high-ranking representatives from companies, ministries and research institutes are involved. These are the contacts that any EU delegation in Brazil would wish to have as dialogue partners.

But from now on, China will have a say in Brazil’s environmental, consumer protection, and sustainability issues, and will help determine future standards and rules in the decarbonized exchange of goods.

China cleverly brings its political-technological agenda into the bilateral discussion via the sustainability issues. Keyword: Huawei’s participation in the 5G network. After all, who can be against faster cell phone networks if they enable smart farming or help build certified, sustainable supply chains?

Europe should be careful not to completely lose influence in Brazil because of its unwillingness to engage in dialogue.

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