The American presidential elections are approaching and the possibility of a Joe Biden victory becomes more and more a concrete possibility.
But what consequences could this victory have for Brazil?
It is well known that Bolsonaro, and his entire clan, is a huge fan of Trump. Since he was elected, he has transformed a relationship that should be state vs state, into a government vs government, if not a real personal relationship with Trump.
It must be said, however, that this sort of Bolsonaro idolatry of Trump has never generated great benefits for Brazil, not even from an economic point of view.
In other words, if for Bolsonaro Trump represents the only international reference, for Trump Brazil is an ally of little importance at the geopolitical level. The gestures of submission by the Bolsonaro government towards the USA (threat of exit from the WHO and abandonment of the Paris agreements on the environment, to name just the two most striking examples) have never been matched with concrete gestures of support by Trump and therefore of the USA (not even the support of Brazil’s entry into the OECD). On the contrary, true to his “America first” line, Trump had no doubts in creating tariffs or non-tariff barriers to protect US companies from competition from Brazilian industry (see the case of ethanol quotas and export barriers. of Brazilian steel and aluminum).
Despite the poor results of this policy of privilege of the relationship with Trump, his eventual non-re-election can cause serious damage to Brazil. The fact of not having cultivated state vs state diplomatic relations would have the first consequence of having to build a new relationship from scratch and with US interlocutors who are certainly not benevolent.
Biden’s agenda is exactly the opposite of Trump’s (and, consequently, Bolsonaro’s) and favors the fight against global warming, the Paris agreement, the preservation of the Amazon, the protection of indigenous peoples, the protection of human rights, gender policies and is against the culture war. So, on what basis would this relationship be reconstructed? What common points could there be? According to Rubens Ricupero, a renowned expert in international relations and former Brazilian ambassador to Washington, there are two possibilities: either Bolsonaro maintains his positions unchanged, however manifesting them in a more moderate way, or he starts a dialogue on these issues, modifying his positions and aligning them more to those of most Western countries.
The internal political price of a radical change would probably be too high, which is why Bolsonaro – in the event of Biden’s election – is likely to try to keep a very low profile, without exposing himself unnecessarily on issues in which he would find himself isolated.
The problem is that on issues related to the preservation of the Amazon and the protection of indigenous peoples, the positions of the Democratic Party are very harsh towards Brazil.
The Democratic majority in the Ways and Means Commission, a key commission for any negotiation, sent a letter two months ago to the USTR, the US government’s foreign trade department, saying that was opposed to any negotiation or agreement involving the increase of Brazilian exports to the United States. The letter stated that the Brazilian government cannot benefit from trade with the United States because it is destroying the Amazon, violating the rights of workers and indigenous peoples. Therefore, unless the Democrats change their minds, the possibility of finding a deal with the possible future government is very remote today.
Biden himself, during the election campaign, openly criticized the environmental policy of the Bolsonaro government. His proposal is to create an international fund of 20 billion dollars to protect the Amazon, which should be managed by the Brazilian government. If there were not enough interventions to slow the fires and deforestation in the region, heavy economic sanctions would be triggered against Brazil.
In the hypothesis of a “slam” (victory by Biden and conquest of the democratic majority also in the Senate) the scenario would be even more adverse to Brazil. With the support of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives both with a Democratic majority), Biden would have an easy time to pass laws and reforms, unlike Trump, who in his first term could not count on the Republican control of the House of Representatives.
In conclusion, in the event of Biden’s victory, Bolsonaro will need a high dose of “realpolitik” to minimize the risk of strong repercussions at all levels and avoid political isolation that would also be extremely damaging to trade.