Faced with the expected increase in EU and US pressure on Brazil on the environmental issue, the Bolsonaro government has once again resorted to the good old reasoning of protectionism. For Vice-President Hamilton Mourão, Emmanuel Macron’s statements on Brazilian soybean production “externalize the political interests of French farmers”.
The repetition of this cliché reveals the lack of preparation of a generation of Brazilian politicians to face the new reality of world trade. In the distant 1970s, when Mourão forged his vision of the world and Brazil faced the first international pressures, agriculture was in fact one of the engines of the French economy.
Since then, it represents less than 5% of the working population, against 30% in 1970. Agriculture remains symbolically relevant – the abandonment of “old France” is a flag of the extreme right and a fantastic object of contemporary literature. . But agriculture, one of the few growing sectors, has lost much of its political capital.
What drives Emmanuel Macron and European leaders is the awareness of public opinion. Reports from the European Commission and the European Investment Bank show that the percentage of Europeans concerned about global warming has not only increased exponentially over the past 30 years, reaching 92% in 2018, but has also started to guide political preferences.
This translates into the growth of green parties and ownership of the environmental agenda by movements from all political backgrounds. The Greens play a central role in the European Parliament and will be key players in the next elections in France and Germany.
The Brazilian agribusiness agenda will always be a good deal. Regional soybean production represents less than 3% of European agriculture and is expected to grow by 40% during this decade. But this is a secondary factor close to the importance that the environmental issue has acquired in the continent’s electoral politics.
In addition to economic and electoral protectionism, Brazil must face a third protectionism: the charismatic. The Brazilian productive sector is a collateral victim of the unpopularity of tropical populists in Europe. Opinion polls clearly show that the Donald Trump administration has rekindled animosity against the United States, which had eased during the Obama years. A new wave of leadership took advantage of the signal.
Angela Merkel’s successor in the German centrist and conservative ranks, Armin Laschet, made it clear in his first speech that the axis of cooperation with Washington is a thing of the past and advocated a pragmatic opening up to Turkey, China and to Russia.
In the near future, when the EU completes its Asian turn, only the modest Iberian Peninsula will continue to advocate deepening cooperation with Latin America. As the historic opportunity for a deal between Mercosur and Europe disappears on the horizon, Brazil’s political class continues to live in an old world like the Cold War.
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