Niu Haibin
Associate Research Fellow
Center for American Studies
Institute for Foreign Policy Studies Deputy Director
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Jan 01 0001
Brazil and Africa:Partnership for Sustainable Growth
By NIU Haibin
As the 6th largest world economy, Brazil has built strong economic ties with every corner of the world. Africa is not an exception. Under the leadership of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and president Dilma Rousseff Brazil’s cooperation with Africa has been expanding from traditional Lusophone African countries to the whole continent. Brazil has established a strong institutional network to promote the cooperation between not only the country and Africa but South America and Africa as well. The cooperation is comprehensive and strategic in terms of its broad agenda. Both sides across the South Atlantic are building a sustainable partnership on growth under the framework of boosting South-South cooperation.
I. Increasing Influence
The rapidly changing Africa has attracted growing interest of Brazil. During the presidency of Lula (2003-2010) 17 new Brazilian embassies were opened in Africa giving Brazil official representation in 37 of the 54 African nations, and Lula made 12 trips to Africa, visiting 21 countries. Lula was invited to 13th African Union Summit in 2009 for his excellent performance in promoting Brazil/South America’s relationship with Africa. Brazilian investments in Africa are concentrated in Portuguese-speaking African countries and Brazil is now in a position to increase its investments to the whole African continent. The Brazilian National Development Bank (BNDES) continually finances Brazilian projects in Africa. Three Brazilian companies, Vale, Petrobras, and Eletrobras, are major players in African market. Vale is planning to scale up investment in Africa to US$15-20 billion during 2010-2015.[①] Brazil’s trade with Africa increased more than sixfold from 2000 to 2011, from US$ 4.2 billion to US$ 27 billion. Africa has become Brazil’s fourth largest trading partner after China, Argentina, and the United States, if we don’t treat EU as a whole.

The collaboration between Brazil and African countries serves not only Brazil’s commercial interests, but also its strategic ambitions of being the leader of the South Atlantic and even the developing world leader, and pursuing a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. The newly established mechanism for strategic dialogue between Brazil and Nigeria has a very broad international agenda and reflects their willingness to play a larger role in the current international system.[②] Brazil’s 2012 signed defense agreement with Angola shows the country’s desire to be a full partner rather than strictly an economic one. Brazil’s influence is being also well recognized by other emerging economies such as China since both countries have held consultations twice on African affairs at vice foreign minister’s level.[③]

Different from the much criticized Chinese and Indian investments in Africa for reasons of overlooking local job creation and environmental protection, Brazil’s presence on the continent is quietly and well accepted. This difference can be partially explained by its geographic proximity and cultural similarity. Brazil has today one of the largest populations of African Diaspora because of the transatlantic slave trade history. Nowadays, the African Union is developing dialogue with the Diaspora across the world. However, the key factor for Brazil’s soft power in Africa is that Brazil has developed strong cooperation on social issues like building HIV treatment centers, knowledge transfer, and vocational training, etc. Because of the similar geological and climatic conditions, Brazilian technology is easily adapted to Africa, which provides an advantage for Brazil to transfer agriculture technology to Africa. Based on the expertise of its domestic Zero Hunger strategy and strong agriculture sector, Brazil not only shares its agriculture technology but also funds the project set up by the UNFAO and WFP to enhance food security in African countries.

II. Institutional Cooperation
Over the past decade, Brazil’s linkage with Africa has been much institutionalized by building some influential trans-regional institutions. The first Summit of South America-Africa (ASA) was held in 2006 with the co-initiative of Nigeria and Brazil. While Brazil hasn’t been the host of this summit until now, it plays a leadership role and provides key support to the summit by acting as a coordinator in South America. The ASA with 60 members has a broad agenda covering multilateral cooperation, peace and security, democracy and human rights, trade and investment, among others. An earlier and still working version of the trans-regional cooperation is the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZPCSA), which was also a Brazilian initiative. In 1994 a Declaration on the Denuclearization of the South Atlantic was adopted at a meeting of ZPCSA in Brasilia. Brazil also signed many bilateral acts with the AU, such as the Technical Cooperation Agreement between Brazil and the AU in 2007. The Brazil-Africa Forum on Politics, Cooperation and Trade has been a major institutional platform.

Besides the bi-regional/lateral cooperation approach, Brazil also values developing cooperation with Africa through multilateral institutions. Brazil has a membership in almost all important multilateral institutions with an African agenda. These institutions include Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), the Africa-Brazil Cooperation Programme on Social Development, IBSA Dialogue Forum, and BRICS summit, just name some of them. The CPLP has a strategic and broad cooperation agenda beyond strengthening the Portuguese language in the world. IBSA offers an institutional cooperation mechanism with Africa’s major player South Africa and builds a fund for alleviation of hunger and poverty that has partially been used to address the needs of some African least developed countries. All of these trans-regional and multilateral mechanisms have a South-South cooperation agenda including a concern over Africa’s development and contribution to the reform of the structure of world power and the establishment of a decentralized order.

BRICS, including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, is an emerging group of major developing countries with rising international influence. As a founding member of the group, Brazil intends to treat BRICS an instrument to project and consolidate itself as a recognized global actor. This is not to say that Brazil doesn’t intend to serve the interests of the developing world with the BRICS membership. Just as Prof. Alcides Costa Vaz pointed out that historically, Brazilian interest in international coalitions has been directly linked to the importance assigned to the strengthening of multilateral institutions as instruments to channel the demands and concerns of the developing world.[④] The second BRICS summit in Brazil emphasized the Africa-related issues such as development, fight against poverty, etc. and stressed the group’s characters in dealing with them. As the host of the fifth BRICS summit, South Africa put Africa as the theme of the summit with priorities on integration and industrialization. The BRICS bloc is going to be a more substantial institution if the fifth summit manages to establish a BRICS-led development bank. Brazil definitely will have an additional option to boost its engagement with Africa more effectively through this multilateral forum.

In dealing with African countries, a successful BRICS summit in Durban will help Brazil benefit more from its BRICS identity besides its other identities as a developing, South Atlantic, and Lusophone country. BRICS Bank initiative will be helpful to build regional infrastructure that can strengthen Brazil’s commercial ties with the continent. Brazil’s relationship with Africa also highlights the increasing relevance of BRICS as a group with Africa’s sustainable development. Brazilian companies’ deep involvement in Africa’s energy, infrastructure and mining sectors shows that the country has big influence on the theme of the fifth BRICS summit. Brazil also has developed cooperation with some BRICS peers regarding Africa’s development. The above mentioned IBSA fund is such a case. The bilateral official dialogue on African affairs with China is another case. Since South Africa’s BRICS membership will definitely bring the Africa theme into the grouping’s long-term agenda, BRICS will be an institutional platform for its members including Brazil to coordinate their African policies.

III. Challenges Ahead
Though influence in Africa increasing significantly, Brazil still faces strong competitions from its BRICS peers especially China and India. As a recently published report by the World Bank says, Brazil’s trade with Africa grew slowly between 2003 and 2008, and then fell between 2009 and 2010, with the worsening of the global economic crisis and the aggressive actions by the Asian countries in the region.[⑤] China is also exploring Macau as a platform to enhance its cultural and social linkages with Lusophone African countries. Facing the competition pressure from other emerging economies, BRICS is a useful platform for Brazil to coordinate major emerging economies’ policy towards Africa. The fifth BRICS summit is used not only for South Africa to consolidate its regional leadership but also for BRICS members to show international community their capacity in promoting international development. Brazil has done a lot in preparing for more influential BRICS. One achievement is that it has a leading center, BRICS Policy Center, focusing on BRICS agenda building. Its rising national comprehensive power and fruitful international development cooperation experience will help the BRICS to play a larger role in international development causes.

It is noteworthy that Brazil’s approaches to Africa mainly are bilateral/bioregional cooperation and trilateral cooperation with developed countries. Brazil has very few experiences in conducting multilateral cooperation on African issues with major emerging powers such as China and Russia. The IBSA dialogue forum experience can’t give a full guideline for a more diversified BRICS when forging cooperation on African affairs. One key challenge is how to forge consensus on dealing with failing states or human rights issues in the region. The cooperation of BRICS members on Libya in 2011 when all of them serve as members of the UN Security Council offered a mixed picture. Though the theme of the fifth BRICS summit will focus on Africa’s development issue, the grouping has to face the security challenge in near future. It takes time for BRICS members to cultivate a unified and comprehensive approach to Africa.

BRICS members’ growing influence in Africa is absorbing special attention from the international community, which requires a more responsible and transparent Africa policy. Generally speaking, Brazil has a relatively transparent development policy towards Africa, which will help the BRICS as a whole to improve its image. However, Brazil has its own challenges. The threat of producing bio-fuel in Africa to food security is a case in point. In order to enhance its trade volume with Africa, Brazil needs to invest more to improve Africa’s poor infrastructure. Furthermore, the sharing effects of Brazil’s experience in addressing domestic challenges will be testified on the African continent more carefully. Since African countries are eager to learn from Brazil’s successes, in the long run, to consolidate its soft power in Africa will also require Brazil to improve its own governance at domestic fronts.

Source of documents

more details:

[①] The Africa Development Bank Group Chief Economist Complex, “Brazil’s Economic Engagement with Africa,” Africa Economic Brief, Vol. 2, Issue 5, May 11, 2011.
[④] See Prof. Alcides Costa Vaz, “Perspective: Brazil,” in Francis A. Kornegay & Lesley Masters eds., From BRIC To BRICS, Institute for Global Dialogue, 2011, pp. 63-68.
[⑤] “Bridging the Atlantic, Brazil and Sub-Saharan Africa: Partnering for Growth,” World Bank report, 2012.