Economics Minister Habeck wants to tie Brazil more closely to Germany

Salvador It is the longest trip abroad to date by Economics Minister Robert Habeck. Together with Cem Özdemir, the Green Minister for Agriculture and Food, Habeck will be on the road in Brazil and Colombia with a business delegation for six days.

The appearance of the ministerial duo is part of the South America offensive that Berlin launched with the change of government in Brazil: Since the Social Democrat Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took office there on January 1, Federal President Walter Steinmeier, Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Ministers for the Environment, Steffi Lemke, and for Economic Cooperation, Svenja Schulze, visited Brazil.

The German government’s massive interest in Brazil contrasts with the last decade of relations between Berlin and what is by far the largest economy in Latin America. Since 2015, when Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Brazil with her cabinet to arrange regular government consultations with the country as a strategic partner, hardly a German minister has visited Brazil.

Raw materials, climate, energy – Germany wants to tie Brazil closely to itself

The politically questionable impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff in 2016, and finally the election of right-wing populist Jair Bolsonaro in 2018 and his catastrophic environmental policy had made Brazil a sort of no-go area for German governments.

That has now changed: Germany wants to tie Brazil closely to itself again, as has worked well for many decades. It is about securing raw materials, climate protection, supply with sustainable energies, political alliances and economic cooperation – all topics that have become immensely important with the geopolitical changes.

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“Brazil and Colombia play a key role in global climate protection,” says the Ministry of Economic Affairs. “We have to use the momentum to work closely with these partners in order to achieve our climate policy and economic policy goals.”

In fact, the timing for closer cooperation between Brazil and Germany is better than it has been for a long time. Because for the first time both countries meet again on an equal footing. Brazil needs technology to make its shrinking industry competitive again. Close ties with Europe are important for Lula’s ambitious foreign policy in order to increase Brazil’s negotiating power in the round of large emerging economies.

Ukraine war, China – South America has become economically more important

Brazil appears to be the perfect partner for the German economy in South America: “Lula wants to reunite South America behind Brazil and tacitly represent it as a regional power,” says Oliver Stuenkel, Professor of International Politics at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas University in São Paulo. “It’s an advantage for us Europeans if we now have a central contact for the continent in Brazil again.”

Because South America has become strategically more important for Germany’s economy – both because of Russia’s war against Ukraine and because of the new ice age between the USA and China. Not only because South America produces sustainable energy as well as food and raw materials that Germany urgently needs.

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German companies no longer need Brazil and South America just as suppliers of energy and raw materials – the region is also becoming significantly more important as a location and sales market: because if investments by German companies in China are viewed increasingly critically and could be restricted in the future, Latin America is likely to be one of the beneficiaries.

As early as 2022, Brazil and Mexico have recorded more foreign investments than they have in many years. With $91 billion in foreign investment, Brazil is the fourth recipient country in the world. Foreign corporations invested $35 billion in Mexico in 2022, more than they did seven years ago.

Trade agreement Mercosur is about to be signed

Habeck and Özdemir will therefore begin their visit to Brazil at the German-Brazilian Business Days in Belo Horizonte. This is about securing raw materials, green hydrogen, reforestation and specialist training – but also the free trade agreement between the European Union (EU) and the Mercosur countries.

The EU and the countries of the Common South American Market (Mercosur) have just agreed in Buenos Aires to present a contract that will be signed by the end of July. Brussels wants to negotiate additional environmental regulations, the South American member states want to protect their small and medium-sized businesses and only award state contracts nationally.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that she will be in South America in April to promote the agreement. “Concluding the agreement on the largest free trade zone would be a triumph for both Brazil and Europe,” says Stuenkel. The negotiators hope that the agreement could be ratified under Spain’s EU presidency in the second half of the year.

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The presence of Green Agriculture Minister Özdemir in Brazil is all the more important: Mercosur mainly exports agricultural products to Europe. There, environmentalists and farmers are fighting against imports from South America.

If Özdemir can be convinced of the seriousness of Brazil’s environmental and Amazon policies, he could become a key supporter of the Mercosur agreement in Europe. A stopover is therefore planned in the Amazon metropolis of Manaus, where the ministers want to visit reforestation projects before continuing on to the Colombian capital of Bogotá.

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