BFederal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was there around the turn of the year, as was Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. At the end of January, Chancellor Olaf Scholz flew in, now Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir are coming: Brazil and its neighboring countries are currently high on the federal government’s travel list. On Saturday, the two Green Ministers set off with a business delegation, and they are not scheduled to return until Thursday. Such long journeys are unusual – especially when the points of contention in the coalition are piling up in Berlin.
But the federal government wants to seize the moment, and it has a name: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his right-wing populist predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, the Europeans gave the largest economy in Latin America a wide berth. Political and economic relations are now to be strengthened. Berlin observes with concern how the trade conflict between the USA and China is escalating and at the same time China and India are eagerly doing business with Russia. Together with Russia, India and China, Brazil forms the so-called BRIC group of emerging economies. The West is keen to avoid this becoming an anti-Western trading bloc.
Looking for alternatives to deforestation
One topic that should be at the top of the list during Habeck’s and Özdemir’s visit is the still unratified free trade agreement between the EU and the South American economic community Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement would create the largest free trade area in the world. After 20 years of negotiations, the contract is in place, but it has not come into force because of criticism from Europe of Bolsonaro’s lax attitude to climate and forest protection.
Since the change of government in Brazil, the signs are better. Although there is still no sign of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, the new government in Brasília has made it clear that it will do more to protect the forest and the indigenous peoples. Financial and technological help from Europe is welcome. It is also about the question of what alternatives can be offered to the millions of people in this area. Because protection alone neither creates jobs nor feeds the population.
Ingo Kramer, Chairman of the Latin America Initiative (LAI) of German industry, is pleased that talks are taking place again. But he also has warning words ready for the tour group. “Europe likes to think of itself as the hub of the world. But we can’t walk through the Amazon region with a raised index finger, that doesn’t go down well with the people there,” says Kramer. “How would we react if the Brazilians told us not to put wind turbines on the coast with cables running through the Wadden Sea?”
Focusing on Amazonia does not do justice to Brazil’s economic potential anyway. With a population of more than 200 million people, Brazil offers a market that is of great importance for German companies. Hundreds of German companies have settled in the state of São Paulo alone. The German Chamber of Commerce there is one of the largest in the world. Irrespective of the size of the Brazilian economy, the fact that Habeck will open the German-Brazilian Business Days in Belo Horizonte on Sunday is not a matter of course – his predecessor was primarily drawn to Asia and the USA.
Worry about agricultural imports
But Latin America could become an important partner for the ecological transformation of Europe. Not only raw materials such as the lithium required for car batteries can be found in the region. The potential for the efficient production of renewable energies – and thus also of green hydrogen – is great. In many countries, most of the energy is already being generated with renewables.
However, Brazil also plays an important role as a food producer. This in turn is the reason why not only conservationists, but also farmers in Europe see the Mercosur agreement critically. “The same high EU standards are not applied to agricultural imports as to EU agriculture,” says Farmers’ President Joachim Rukwied. He calls for completely new negotiations.
In Colombia, the second destination of the trip, the new government of leftist President Gustavo Petro is pursuing the ambitious goal of abandoning oil and coal production altogether. Economists doubt that the country will be able to do this in the immediate future, given that fossil fuel exports and royalties are its main sources of income.
Germany, too, has recently imported more coal from Colombia since it no longer obtains this energy source, which is still essential for power generation, from Russia. Latin America expert Ingo Kramer advises looking beyond coal: “In Colombia, pretty much all the geological forms that exist in Latin America come together in one country.” The country has so far been underestimated by German politicians and by companies not in a long time. “It’s not without reason that there are daily direct connections from Frankfurt to Bogotá.”