Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Thoughts on Brazil and Cotton (yes, Cotton)

There will be plenty coming from me soon about the airport situation in Brazil (lots has happened in the two weeks I was in Brasília), but first, the exciting world of cotton subsidies (yes, cotton subsidies). Boz points us to a blurb on how Brazil has successfully demonstrated to the World Trade Organization that the U.S. failed to overhaul subsidies by overproducing cotton in an effort to drive down global cotton prices, hurting other cotton producing countries. Even to me, this is generally extremely boring stuff (I just don't care that much about international economies at that level), but what Randy points out gives the story a lot more merit beyond the international economics framework. Brazil didn't just represent itself in this complaint - it also represented Mali, Burkina Faso, and other cotton-producing African nations that may not have had the resources to ably contest the U.S.'s excesses.

All of this matters for one very simple reason: Brazil has spent the last 5 years building alliances with the "developed" and the "developing" world. Whereas the previous administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso was basically interested in increasing dependency on nations like France and the United States by privatizing anything and everything he could in Brazil, Lula has had a more open approach that has looked as much to relations with developing nations for economic growth and global reputation as it has to the U.S. and Europe. He has had no problem trying to set up trade deals with states like Saudi Arabia, China, and many nations in Africa. In short, Lula has talked to anybody and everybody, from Bush to Chavez, from King Faud to Hu Jintao.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. Certainly, some of the efforts to trade relations and friendship-formation between Brazil and other countries may not play out, but that doesn't ultimately matter. By simply branching out and extending Brazil's relations to other developing countries, Brazil has managed to lay the foundation for a future as a global leader within the international community in ways it has never achieved thus far while increasing its economic growth via trade agreements with non-traditional (but still completely useful) trade partners.

The narrative in the United States by and large emphasizes that Venezuela's Chavez is the only leader challenging the U.S.'s hegemony and building alliances with non-European/non-North American governments. Certainly it may seem that way - without question, Chavez is more boisterous, louder, adn more confrontational. But while he launches all his rhetoric and has his photo taken with leaders of Iran or Zimbabwe, Lula has been quietly moving around the world, talking as much with Bush (see the recent talks between Lula and Bush in the area of ethanol development) as with leaders of Africa, Latin America, and Europe, even while taking on the U.S. where it hurts Brazil's own growth (as in the case of the cotton subsidies or in Lula's current insistence that, this time, Brazil will not back down in the global trade talks in Doha) and the growth of other countries in the developing world, as the filing of the cotton-subsidies case against the U.S. on behalf of African countries demonstrates. By quietly building such relationships, downplaying bombast and quietly negotiating, Lula has spent the last five years building very fruitful international relations that will only improve over time, and while the middle-class in Brazil may hate him now, there can be no question that, in this arena, Lula has done better than any president in recent memory in helping Brazil to truly grow.