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Brazil's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Antonio de Aguiar Patriota

May 31, 2011 // 4:30pm5:30pm
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Antonio de Aguiar Patriota

The new president of the Woodrow Wilson Center, Jane Harman, welcomed former Ambassador to Washington and current Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota to the Center and thanked him for his "instrumental" presence and support "in making the Brazil Institute the primary place in Washington" to discuss bilateral policy issues. "It is a privilege," she announced, "to welcome such a distinguished diplomat and public servant."

Minister Patriota opened by remarking that the more effective a country's domestic policy, the more political capital he believes that country has to invest in foreign policy. Looking domestically, then, Brazil has achieved both qualitative and quantitative achievements. Last year the Brazilian economy grew seven and a half percent at the same time that it is below the world average of unemployment. It has "strong democratic roots" and has worked hard to decrease poverty. Moreover, Patriota observed, Brazil contributes to human rights when it addresses poverty, since reducing poverty "contributes to human dignity" and "[empowers] civilian and political rights." Brazil has also created a ministerial position focused on racial equality and is "quickly" building a more egalitarian society.

Patriota sees this domestic success as allowing "a new perspective for engaging with the rest of the world." In addition, according to Patriota there are certain traits that distinguish Brazil as a major power in the new multipolar international configuration: first, Brazil is "denuclearized by conviction." An anti-nuclear weapons clause is even inscribed in the constitution. Second, it is "quite unusual" for a country to have "essentially cooperative and peaceful" relations with all of its neighbors, but Brazil does. "If you put this together," Patriota observed, "Brazil is uniquely placed to participate actively" in the shaping of a new global governance system. Particularly, Patriota believes in Brazil's capacity to inform the areas of finance, trade, the environment, and peace and security.
Although he presented Brazil's contemporary domestic and diplomatic achievements, Patriota also acknowledged Brazil's challenges, which include a need to address the country's industrial capacity. "We need to take strong measures to increase our competitiveness," Patriota conceded. On a related note, there is "unease" about the "large number of consumer goods imports" from Asia. Questions of urban violence, drug trafficking, and decaying infrastructure also need to be addressed.

In 2012 Brazil will be hosting the "Rio +20" conference, 20 years after the 1992 conference. That will be a "significant venue" to begin to discuss a "new paradigm of [global and local] development." In other areas of multilateralism, Patriota underscored the importance of enhancing outreach with small and underrepresented countries. "We've been outside looking in [at major world powers]," he noted. "We don't want to be part of an elite group" that tries to set the rules without external input. Thus Brazilian foreign policy is also focused on individual relationships and small coalitions. As examples, Patriota cited BRICS and IBSA meetings, the establishment of UNASUR, the "South America/Arab World Summit," which offers a framework for cooperation in areas like trade and culture, and Brazilian agricultural cooperation projects in Africa. In sum, he said, Brazil sees itself as a "benign" pole in a new multipolar framework and is a country that trusts political dialogue. Brazil is focused on working to achieve more dignity for the individual and believes it is "more transformational" when it comes to multilateralism; that is, it would like to see institutions that are more representative of the current global landscape.

During the question and answer session, Minister Patriota was asked about the recent trade dispute with Argentina over automobile import licenses and what that might mean for the future of Mercosur. Patriota replied that "contemporary issues should not overshadow the success" of Mercosur. For example, Paraguay was the second fastest growing economy in the world last year, in large part because of increased trade within Mercosur. In addition, as opposed to trade with China, in which Brazil export commodities and imports high-value added goods, regional trade is beneficial for Brazilian industrial development.

When asked about the Forest Code amendments that were passed in the Brazilian Congress, Patriota said that the debate is a democratic process, and sometimes "democracy can delay more ambitious societal projects." However, Brazil still has the cleanest energy matrix by far, with 46 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources versus 10 percent among OECD countries.

In response to a question on public versus political diplomacy, Patriota argued that public diplomacy is a largely American question. In a globalized world, he emphasized the need for transparency. It is imperative, he believes, for countries to make clear their initiatives and the spirit in which they are undertaken. His speeches are all available on YouTube and his Ministry maintains an active website as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts.
In regards to Honduras and President Zelaya's recent return to his country, Patriota mentioned that although Honduras faces great security and crime challenges, he believes the return demonstrates that there is no contemporary tolerance in Latin America for military adventurism.

Lastly, when asked about India, Patriota believes that Brazil and India are the poles in the global system with the most coincidental agendas, and thus have the opportunity to further develop their bilateral relationship. He lamented that bilateral trade has not developed to its potential mainly because of transportation challenges. In addition, the respective societies have not had much exposure to each other, although a recent telenovela in Brazil was set in Rajasthan and helped introduce Brazilians to the "beauty of India."

Drafted by Jillian Macnaughton,
Paulo Sotero, Director, Brazil Institute

 
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