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Building BRICS of Foreign Aid: Putting the “B” in BRICS

October 15, 2012

Brazil has a solid place among the BRICS countries, but what is it about Brazil that has enabled it to stand along with the emerging economies of Russia, India, China, and South Africa? Its increased involvement in Africa may be the answer.

Trade flows between Brazil and Africa have grown from $4.3 billion in 2002 to $27.6 billion in 2011 with more than 80% of Brazil’s imports from African being mineral products and crude materials, while Africa tends to import more diversified commodities such as cereal, dairy, car parts etc. Currently, Brazil is lending $150 million to Kenya for infrastructure projects in the congestion-clogged capital of Nairobi. Brazilian assistance is not just monetary, as the two countries have recently formed a Strategic Partnership and approved a draft Agreement on Cooperation in regards to defense.  These two agreements will promote projects of common interests such as diplomacy, public safety, defense, economy, trade, energy, culture, the training of military personal and more. Brazilian assistance to Africa is different from the typical African aid. Brazilian assistance is not just development assistance—its business.

Brazilian businesses are making impacts in Africa. Some businesses are establishing themselves in Guinea, Nigeria and Sudan, but the largest businesses are located in Angola and Mozambique. For example, Odebrecht, is a Brazilian construction company located in Angola that has become one of the largest employers in the area, and Vale, a mining company that has begun a $6 billion coal expansion project in Mozambique. What may make Brazil stand out most in Africa is its businesses focus on hiring locally, and president Dilma Rousseff insists that Brazilian businesses continue to employ within Africa and respect domestic law and human rights.

In order to understand Brazil’s increased presence in Africa one must look back in history: prior to 1888 Brazil  imported 10 times as many slaves as the United States.  In the words of its president, Lula da Silva, Brazil’s involvement in the slave trade left Brazil with a “historic debt” to Africa. This history has no doubt had an impact on Brazilian foreign policy towards the African continent along with Brazil’s economic incentives, which became most apparent in the later half of the 1900s. In the 1970s, in the hopes of increased independence from the U.S., Brazil began focusing on the potential of the creation of new Brazilian markets in Africa and found the most success in Angola.

Since the 1990s, Brazil has been increasingly involved in South-South Cooperation, the focus on cooperation between countries of the global south to nurture development. Brazil became more involved after the past election of President Lula, who embraced the Brazilian desire to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and saw increased international involvement as a potential key to the achievement of this goal. Involvement in Africa has been supported by current President Rousseff, who has added incentives to focus on Africa with the recent euro crisis.

Brazil’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs bears much responsibility for Brazil’s progress in international development, as it has ensured that the country continues to focus on its South-South relations and avoid dependence on industrialized countries. The Ministry, along with other bureaucracies with interests in spreading their technical skills, Brazilian business, NGOs, and social movements have helped Brazil in its internationalization.

The involvement of Brazilian bureaucracies specializing in agriculture, health, and education make up a significant amount of Brazil’s development efforts as it has offered tools and policies that help developing countries.  The Brazilian business sector has placed a strong emphasis on Brazilian internationalization, and many Brazilian corporations cites the Foreign Ministry as key asset in beginning the business’ relations abroad. As for NGOs and social movements, the World Social Forum and the Landless Peasant Movements (MST) led to a greater freedom for civil society both domestically and internationally.

Furthermore, Brazil has made it a priority to be involved in multilateral cooperation frameworks, such as the India, Brazil, South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum and the G22 in order to stay present in the international affairs sphere.

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