Brazil: Picking a Fight with the U.S. Is not Smart

Brazil: Picking a Fight with the U.S. Is not Smart

At the recent WTO talks in Cancun, Brazil was impatient and
was singled out by the U.S. as one of
the countries responsible
for the impasse which led to the talks breaking down.
Brazilian President
Lula’s aggressive public stance put it
openly against the U.S. and the E.U. This was foolish.


John Fitzpatrick


A few months ago I wrote an article for
Brazzil (The Rise of Brazilian Empire —
in which I argued that Brazil had grown to its present size because, over the
previous 500 years, Brazilians had expanded their territory in an imperialistic manner. They stole land from native Indians
and grabbed, annexed or, in some cases, "bought" it Mafia-style from neighboring countries by making them an offer
they could not refuse. The point was to remind those Brazilians who are fond of accusing other countries—particularly
the United States—of imperialistic bullying, to recall their own history.

Few (Brazilian) readers agreed with me and many of the critics displayed a lack of knowledge of their own
country’s history. Others accused me of twisting the facts, even though I had used Brazilian sources as well as
English-language material in researching the article.

I understand the reaction of these readers to some extent because, in living memory, Brazil has not acted
aggressively towards its neighbors. Brazil’s present boundaries were fixed within the first two decades of the twentieth century.
Since then, Brazil has shown no desire to widen them, although one wonders whether the ever-increasing Brazilian presence
in eastern Paraguay will lead to this region being annexed or "bought" one day.

Having reached its present size, the concern of Brazilian governments has been to protect this vast area, especially
the sparsely populated Amazon region. Internal strife, which led to the creation of the Fascist-style "New State" in the
1940s, and later two decades of military rule, from 1964 to 1985, meant that Brazil had enough domestic problems to
resolve without meddling in other countries’ affairs.

However, now that democracy is virtually consolidated, there are signs that Brazil is starting to reconsider whether
it should continue with this head-in-the-sand policy, or take on a more active role in regional and world affairs. The
"Great Wall" of Brazil looks as though it might be pulled down.

Lula Flexes His Muscles…

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has raised Brazil’s profile internationally since he took office last January. He
has made appearances at the summit meeting of the G-7 group of developed nations and at the United Nations, and has
met every main Latin America leader. In his usual direct way, Lula has used these forums to stress his pet
themes—ending hunger, poverty, giving poorer countries a better deal in terms of trade.

In a world that has become disillusioned with globalization and wary of accepting the leadership of the U.S.
under President George W. Bush, Lula offers an attractive alternative to many. He is personally impressive and has
overcome enormous challenges to reach his current position. He comes from a developing country with a good public image,
thanks to the attractive Brazilian culture and nice guy sports personalities like the late Ayrton Senna, Pelé and Ronaldo.

Brazil is seen as a tolerant multicultural society, and someone like Lula is much more appealing to the large global
anti-American audience than tyrants like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden or Fidel Castro. China and India may be
much larger than Brazil in terms of population, but the cultural differences between their societies and those of the
developed world and Latin America are too different for their leaders to provide role models.

Unlike his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who liked to act the statesman on the international stage and
favored chummy meetings with people like Bill Clinton, Jacques Chirac and Tony Blair, Lula prefers to talk to the world
community as a whole. We saw this in his recent U.N. speech, when he called for a global campaign to end hunger. This was
to be done through setting up a committee of world leaders. Since Lula did not consult these world leaders in advance,
the idea has got nowhere.

…and Throws Down the Gauntlet

There are now signs that Lula may be going further than just ignoring the developing world and actually challenging
it. By doing so, he is in danger of making a big mistake. Lula’s strategy is to base this challenge on international trade
rather than on ideological issues. This is not surprising.

Despite his impeccable left-wing credentials, Lula is a pragmatist—a former trade union leader whose main aim was
to get a better deal for those he represented. Lula may have dreamed of ending the capitalist system but his goals
were tangible ones, such as a pay increase or extra days paid holidays for his union members. By picking international trade
as a battleground he has chosen his ground well, since he will win a lot of support. But whether his tactics to achieve his
aim will work remains doubtful.

Most people would accept that developing countries like Brazil get a raw deal when it comes to trading with the
world’s richer nations. Unfair discrimination against Brazilian goods, high import tariffs and quota systems are among
the weapons used to protect U.S. and European producers. The Europeans have formed their own fortress, known as
the European Union, while the U.S., Canada and Mexico are together in NAFTA. The have-nots have tried to respond
by forming trade blocs like Mercosur, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, but these smaller groupings
are no match for the E.U. or NAFTA.

Yet, despite this rather gloomy situation, things are not as bad as they might be. First of all, the World Trade
Organization exists as a forum to establish rules and arbitrate differences. Although its proceedings are slow and cumbersome, it
has often come out on the side of developing countries, including Brazil.

However, at the recent WTO talks in Cancun, Brazil was impatient and was singled out by the U.S. as one of the
countries responsible for the impasse which led to the talks breaking down. In turn, Brazil blamed the other side. Whether
Brazil was right or wrong made little difference, since its aggressive public stance put it openly against the U.S. and the E.U.
This was foolish, and if these talks are to get under way again, Brazil will have to backtrack.

G-22, G-18, G-12… What Next, G-1?

By banding together with the so-called G-22 group of developing countries to take on the developed world, Brazil
has painted itself into a corner. Within days of being formed, the G-22 became the G-20, and then the G-18 as
several countries left. At the time of writing, the Group is the G-12—or G-X as Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim
called it. His Argentinean counterpart dubbed it the "Floating G".

Another way for Brazil to get a better deal is through the establishment of the proposed FTAA, or Free Trade Area of
the Americas, linking North, Central and South America in a single trade bloc. Such a grouping without a heavyweight
like Brazil would be a weaker body, so Brazil has much to gain. But unfortunately, the government is also taking the bull in
a china shop approach to this issue.

At recent preparatory talks held in Trinidad, Brazil laid down a number of conditions on areas it thinks should be
covered by the FTAA. Unfortunately, most of the other 34 participants favored the wider stance adopted by the Americans,
and Brazil was sidelined. Talks at the ministerial level are due to be held in Miami in November with the aim of having
the FTAA set up by January 2005. Unless it changes its attitude to world trade issues and these negotiations, Brazil could
find itself marginalized globally and regionally.

This blundering approach to important international issues may be blamed on the fact that Lula’s government is
still finding its way. If so, then it will have to learn quickly. Fortunately there are wiser voices within the administration
that are being heard. A major row has erupted between the Foreign Ministry and two of the "hands-on" ministries
responsible for ensuring that Brazil earns money as opposed to spending it—Agriculture and Foreign Trade.

Media reports say that neither the Trade Minister, Luiz Furlan, nor the Agriculture Minister, Roberto Rodrigues,
was informed of the Brazilian approach at the Trinidad meeting. Furlan was quoted as saying NGOs had been consulted
but not him. Considering that Brazil’s export boom is being led by the farm sector, and that Furlan has been a
tireless exponent of greater, more open foreign trade, this failure to take their views into consideration is astonishing.

Lula summoned a meeting of most of those concerned and banged heads together. From now on, the Foreign
Ministry will have to consider the views of these ministries before taking international initiatives. Hopefully for Brazil,
this meeting was not too little too late. As for Lula, it would help him to learn rather quickly that international
relations require a more delicate touch.


John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995.
He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—, which
specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at

© John Fitzpatrick 2003

This article appeared originally in
Infobrazil, at

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