Front runner in Brazil’s presidential race vows to rethink membership of Mercosur bloc

Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro attends a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil October 11, 2018. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes

Anthony Boadle

The far-right front-runner in Brazil’s presidential race plans to put foreign policy in the hands of a diplomat who has praised the nationalist agenda of U.S. President Donald Trump that has shaken the global order, an adviser to the candidate said.

Policy experts said the pick fits conservative firebrand Jair Bolsonaro’s plan to make Brazil’s most dramatic foreign policy shift in decades.

Bolsonaro has already vowed to rethink membership in developing nation blocs Mercosur and BRICS and move the country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, embracing Trump as few in Latin America have done.

That represents a direct reversal of nearly a decade and a half of diplomacy under leftist Workers Party (PT) governments, which focussed on alliances with South American neighbours and other emerging powers.

With a commanding lead just a dozen days before a run-off against Fernando Haddad of the PT, Bolsonaro has already begun naming members of a future cabinet, but has not confirmed his pick for foreign minister.

Ernesto Fraga Araújo, head of the United States and Canada department at the foreign ministry, is Bolsonaro’s first choice for the role, according to Paulo Kramer, a politics professor who advises the Bolsonaro campaign.

In unusual behaviour for a Brazilian diplomat, Fraga Araújo has used a personal blog dedicated to arguments “Against Globalism” to call for Brazilians to back Bolsonaro’s campaign. But it was an article called “Trump and the West” in a diplomatic journal that showed the Bolsonaro camp how much the 51-year-old diplomat shared their world view, Kramer said.

Fraga Araújo argued in the paper that Trump is saving Western Christian civilization from radical Islam and “globalist cultural Marxism” by standing up for national identity, family values and the Christian faith as Europe has not.

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Brazil has a chance to recover its “Western soul,” embrace Trump’s brand of nationalism, and pursue its national interests instead of being tied to blocs of nations, he wrote.

Bolsonaro’s attitude towards South American neighbours has been chillier, especially socialist Venezuela, which he has pledged to confront firmly. Still, his aides said he would not cut off diplomatic ties or close the border because that would shut out refugees flowing into Brazil.

He has publicly disdained the fractious Mercosur trade bloc, which Brazil founded with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

“Bolsonaro’s foreign policy will be pragmatic. It will not discriminate against any nation and will follow the best interests of Brazil,” said Kramer, his foreign policy adviser.

It comes as negotiators of a free trade deal between the European Union and South American bloc Mercosur want to wrap up by September, but differences over beef, sugar and the auto industry could dash those hopes,

EU resistance to open access to some Mercosur food exports remains a central obstacle to completing the long-delayed agreement which has angered EU farmers and has been under negotiation since 1995.

The EU commission has offered to allow imports of 99,000t Mercosur beef a year, which is less than the European offer made in 2004.

The IFA President Joe Healy has said that Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan cannot allow Trade Commissioner Malmstrom to make any additional offers to the Brazilians in the Mercosur trade negotiations.

He said, “Commissioner Malmstrom has already gone way too far in her reckless sell out of European beef farmers for the benefit of Brazilian big business and the European auto sector."


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