By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Six of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s overseas trips in 2013 have already been announced and appear to show greater attention to Africa and the BRICS group of emerging nations. As with the fifteen countries she visited in 2012, there will be a clear focus on economics with potential import-export deals invariably topping her 2013 agenda.
Nearly half of President Rousseff’s trips were made to Latin American countries in 2012. She oversaw the Mercosur economic bloc as it gained two members – Venezuela and Bolivia – and also suspended Paraguay.
Yet Rousseff made almost as many trips to Europe – most notably to Spain to hash out a raft of business deals, as well as a December trip to Russia in the face a ban on imports of meat, the main Brazilian export to Russia.
President Rousseff also traveled to the United Kingdom for the Olympics – the finale of which saw Brazil handed the baton as 2016 Olympic host nation.
The visits cement Brazil’s position as chief bridge nation between Latin America and Europe and, as if to underline this, the president’s first trip of 2013 will be to the Chilean capital, Santiago, for a joint summit of the Latin American and Caribbean States Community (CELAC) and the European Union, aiming to facilitate trade between the two regions.
The president will also travel to the United States to continue the established tradition of the Brazilian leader giving the opening speech at the UN General Assembly. Despite Brazil’s affiliation with the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) group, the president made just one journey to Asia and none to Africa.
However, both regions are slated to feature more prominently in 2013: the president is set to travel to Africa in February to take part in the Africa-South America Summit in Equatorial Guinea.
At the end of March, BRICS leaders will gather in South Africa for the bloc’s annual summit; Rousseff is also expected to travel separately to India, and also to Russia in September to represent Brazil at the G20 Summit of the world’s twenty leading economies.
After recent years saw frenzied interest around Brazil’s booming economy, the outgoing year was dominated, both domestically and internationally, by speculation over whether Brazil would be able to get back to growth, and whether momentum had be lost from its financial system.
President Rousseff and Finance Minister Guido Mantega have been extremely defensive of Brazil’s policies to stimulate growth, but other nations have criticized Brazil for being overly protectionist.
For its part, Brazil has continually called on “rich countries” (Brazil’s position as the world’s sixth largest economy not-withstanding) to do more to get their economies back to sustained growth, singling out in particular those countries implementing quantitative easing, such as the U.S., for harsh criticism.
It was also a year when the Brazilian economy itself went through a significant downturn in its own financial fortunes, with GDP growth estimated at 1.0-1.5 percent – a far cry from the 7.5 percent growth seen in 2010. The government has remained optimistic however that growth of at least four percent can be achieved after such a dismal 2012; this will prove a key point of interest for economists and commentators alike in 2013.
The new year appears to be one when Brazil returns interest to African nations and also starts making greater inroads on other parts of Asia, as demand from China dropped in 2012. However, Europe will undoubtedly remain of critical interest to Brazil, as many of its nations remain in dire economic straits and have a direct impact on the Brazilian economy.
With Brazil’s importance on the world stage increasing, and President Rousseff now one of the most powerful voices in the world, commentators say more attention is now being paid to Brazil’s foreign policy, and equally the Brazilian government is having to be more conscious than ever over the destinations of president’s overseas visits.