‘Mercosur-EU agreement is priority’

brasilobserver - Feb 11 2016
Ambassador Eduardo dos Santos (photo: Luís Cintra)

(Leia em Português)


Brazilian Ambassador to the UK, Eduardo dos Santos says Brazil needs to diversify its exports


By Ana Toledo

British interpretation of Brazil in 2016 has come without delay. The first cover of the year by The Economist was devoted to the country; in the same month, the Finance Minister, George Osborne, warned that Brazil is part of a “dangerous cocktail of new threats” led by China and its economic slowdown. Internally, the country waits for the end of Carnival to see Congress start work with an agenda full of sensitive issues, for example, the vote on the impeachment process of President Dilma Rousseff, opened in December last year. In addition, in August this year the country will host the first Olympics held in South America, receiving more than 200 delegations in its wonderful city, Rio de Janeiro.

It is in this scenario that Eduardo dos Santos became Brazilian Ambassador to the UK at the end of 2015. In his third passage on British land, each playing a different role, Santos has already been General Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs between 2013 and 2015 and has held the post of Brazilian Ambassador to Paraguay (2008-2012), Switzerland (2006-2008) and Uruguay (2002-2006).

Noting that, even in a recession, Brazil still has favourable points that should not be forgotten, the Ambassador gave an exclusive interview to the Brasil Observer and stressed the importance of bilateral relations with the United Kingdom in this scenario of economic turmoil as well as increased rapprochement between Mercosur and the European Union, among others subjects.


What do you think about this new stage in your diplomatic life?

It’s my third time in the UK, but that does not mean that this new experience is a repetition of the others. Today, the role that I exercise is different and the challenges are new. The role of Brazilian Ambassador here has a special relevance because the UK is a great influence centre; the contacts diversify within the business community, academy, government, parliament, non-governmental organizations, and cultural agents. Moreover, it is a country with which Brazil has historic relations. And it is an important partner in the European Union.


You arrive here at a sensitive moment for Brazil…

The difficulties are undeniable. The country has been going through an economic transition. We had benefits from the commodities boom until recently. This allowed us to enable a very intense social program in Brazil. We strengthened the social safety net, withdrew millions brought out of poverty, we expanded the middle class and access to university. These achievements were made possible by this situation of economic bonanza. Today the sea is rough, but by no means have we lost the confidence of achieving the expected results and restore economic growth in a sustainable manner. This is the goal for Brazil, the government and we have great confidence that an important partner like the United Kingdom will make a contribution in terms of growth, expanding trade, technological and scientific cooperation. I think the intensification of opportunities for this relationship is very important and is what the Embassy has sought to do.


Brazil is also experiencing a tense political situation, now in February the agenda of impeachment should appear again…

This internal issue of Brazil is followed with interest by the public opinion in the UK, the government here. And, of course, it is an issue that requires our attention. But I will not comment on that matter, because I represent the government of President Dilma Rousseff. The important thing is that Brazil shows its democratic rule of law and institutions are working, and this should motivate us to have confidence that we will overcome the challenges.


What are the possible paths for Brazil to get out of this?

It is a scenario with difficulties and challenges that Brazil will have to beat going forward with the adjustments deemed necessary in its economic policy. This has been done by the government, and has been very clear. Brazil has enormous potential, has very strong factors that give it a position to participate in the world business in a very active way. We are the seventh largest economy in the world, we have a population of over 200 million, we are a diversified economy that exports primary products and at the same time, exports industrial products with high technological content. All this gives us confidence. Of course we suffer the impact of international crises, and also suffer the impact of domestic issues. This has forced the government to make adjustments to ensure the balance of public accounts, and ensure it is better able to strengthen trade and investment relations with other partners. This gives us tranquillity to achieve the expected goals.


How do Brazil-UK bilateral relations work?

Relations have recently suffered the impact of this crisis we are commenting, external and internal difficulties, to the point, for example, our trade suffered a significant reduction last year, I believe around 20%, maybe a little more. Both sides, imports as exports. But the UK is traditionally an important trading partner for Brazil. In 2014, the UK was the fourth largest trading partner of Brazil in the EU. Trade with other EU states was also reduced and this is general, it happens with the other partners. The effort we have to do is also of a general nature. Strengthened relations with the European Union as a whole seek to conclude the negotiations on the EU-Mercosur trade agreement, which is a priority today for the Brazilian government, encourage diversification and improvement of our exports to the UK, incorporate more value-added exports, broaden innovation activities in our economic relations.


For years the Mercosur and the European Union have tried to reach a relevant trade agreement. Are there advances in these negotiations? Is Argentina’s new president a favourable factor?

It is a favourable factor and from Mercosur side these negotiations have gained momentum. Both the Embassy here, as several other Embassies in the European Union has made repeated representations to the European governments to support the conclusion of these negotiations. Or rather, support the start of negotiations, because they haven’t even started. This has been promised since 1995 and it’s really frustrating to see that today we still could not achieve a result. Mercosur concluded its internal negotiations in the block and prepared a substantial offer to be submitted to the European side, which involves a considerable amount of bilateral trade. We have reached a level of ambition of 87% of trade. Europeans have already signalled an interest that such offer is improved, which is natural. We have reiterated that the Mercosur offer should be considered a starting point. This is a sign that we are willing to negotiate, but we cannot anticipate the completion of this quota without knowing the content and what is the way of supply on the European side, we did not have access yet. Every negotiation is a procedure whereby a part relinquishes certain purposes. And the other part as well, so we arrive at a common point. That’s our commitment.


Can you comment on the Israeli Ambassador’s indication to Brazil? What is Brazil’s role in the Middle East?

About the problem of the Ambassador indicated by Israel to Brazil, it is not an issue of my jurisdiction. The Foreign Affairs Ministry is dealing with it because it is an internal process. Regarding the role of Brazil, the Middle East is a priority area of ​​activity of Brazilian diplomacy. Brazil has always stood for peace and the peaceful settlement of conflicts, including the Middle East. And in the specific case of the Palestine and Israel, Brazil has always defended the two-state solution. Obviously, our ability to influence the subject is limited. We are not first rate actors within the region, but obviously Brazil believes it has a contribution to make, including the fact we have in our territory the two communities, which live peacefully and harmoniously.


Do you have any news on the Science without Borders?

We are at the point of starting the second phase of the program and I was informed that there will be some adjustments. Above all there is the expectation that there is an emphasis on post-graduation. In the first phase the emphasis was on under-graduation. The Embassy has academic cooperation sector that is dedicated to monitoring and support to students and Brazilian researchers. And besides, we have published the work of these students with the aim of bringing researchers and companies.


Have we had bad luck to have a crisis in the year of the Olympics?

Crises always happen, it is not the first time there is a crisis in Brazil or in the world. I find it very important that Brazil is hosting the Olympic Games as it will be the first time it takes place in South America, and this is a historical fact and Brazil is honoured with this opportunity. The Olympics held in Brazil means a country-wide promotional opportunity, dissemination, strengthening of our international relations. The fact that we are facing an economic crisis does not take away the confidence that the Games will be successful. The world today, in different parts, faces crises; see what is happening in Europe with the problem of immigration, the threats of terrorism, conflicts that still remain in various parts of the world. Therefore, today Brazil and South America, constituting a region of peace, unity, democracy, fraternal coexistence, development, struggle for combating poverty, has very special conditions of international affirmation and above all affirmation of credentials of Brazil as an actor dedicated to peace and international cooperation.

Originally published at Brasil Observer edition 35