April 15, 2013

The new America. The new China. The next superpower.

Over the last few years, Brazil’s economic success has prompted each of these nicknames, and more. But despite being the world’s fifth largest population and the seventh largest economy, the country is struggling to boost its foreign policy.

At an April 4 event organized by the Institute of Latin American Studies (ILAS) and held at SIPA, Luiz Felipe Lampreia — a former foreign affairs minister of Brazil — said his nation couldn’t lead the world without being a regional leader.

“Most countries in Latin America are not ready to accept Brazil as their leader,” Lampreia said.

Ambassador Luiz Felipe Seixas-Correa, Brazil’s consul general in New York, said there are some considerations when it comes to understanding Brazilian foreign policy. He said foreign policy could help the country to develop, but also suggested that Brazil’s region of the world is “not strategic or important.”

“That’s good and bad,” said Seixas-Correa. “We have peace, but the world doesn’t see us as a global player. If we want to play globally, we need prestige,”

Professor Marcos Troyjo, co-director of the BRICLab at SIPA, said Brazil does not know what it wants and what the world wants from them. He said the Brazilian foreign policy is currently subordinated to the economic policy: “Brazil needs a strategy and a foreign policy based on principle.”

The country is isolated, Troyjo continued. “People generally don’t speak foreign languages, and we barely have multinationals. Here at Columbia University I have 35 students in my class, and only five are Americans. In Brazilian universities, however, most faculty members and students are from [Brazil].”

Troyjo pointed out that Brazil's current nominal GDP is 15 percent higher than its GNP, which measures the output generated by a country's enterprises domestically or abroad. He explained that Brazil counts for only about 1 percent of global trade, and that the country has only been able to conclude three free-trade agreements in the past two decades (with Egypt, Israel and Palestine).

Professor Thomas J. Trebat, director of the Columbia Global Center in Rio de Janeiro, said the international community will be “worse off” if Brazil is “not encouraged to express itself and pursue its international goals.”

Trebat said he sees Brazil as a “very complicated country” that is undergoing many economic, political and social transformations. For him, a democratic foreign policy has to be “the voice of an empowered society.”

Trebat mentioned the importance of improving education and innovation as a tool to have a more inclusive society in Brazil.

“In Brazil it’s possible to envision a different future. A New Brazil able to play globally would be good for the whole world.”

— by Valle Avilés Pinedo MIA ’14