With Trump Consumed by Shutdown, Brazilian President Makes Inroads at Davos

January 23, 2019

By Carlo Versano

He's known as the "Trump of the Tropics." Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, may grab headlines for his far-right, populist rhetoric and positions ー he's staunchly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-affirmative action, and anti-drug decriminalization ーbut he differs from President Trump in one major respect, which is currently on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Bolsonaro wants to form closer economic ties with the developed world, as he made clear in a speech to the global elite gathered in the snowy Swiss enclave.

“We represent a turning point in the eyes of the Brazilian people — a turning point in which ideological bias will no longer take place,” he told attendees on Tuesday.

Vanessa Neumann, the founder of the risk consultancy firm Asymmetrica and author of the book "Blood Profits," told Cheddar that Bolsonaro is at Davos in an attempt to shed his global image as a populist bomb thrower by making clear that the Brazilian economy, the world's ninth largest, is open for business and investment from the outside world.

"He's talking that talk to investors," Neumann said.

Bolsonaro is "the unintended winner" in the ongoing U.S.-China trade war, she noted, as Brazil is a major producer of consumer staples that range from soybeans to beef to oil ー commodities that the Chinese are now importing from Latin America rather than the U.S.

But Bolsonaro is also cognizant that he needs to forge an alliance with the White House. "He wants to increase trade with the U.S.," Neumann said.

Luckily for him, Trump sees in Bolsonaro a kindred spirit, evidenced by his New Year's Day tweet as Bolsonaro took office:

"Congratulations to President @JairBolsonaro who just made a great inauguration speech — the U.S.A. is with you!”

Meanwhile, conservationists and climate change activists worry that part of that openness will come at the expense of Brazil's vast natural beauty ー particularly its protected rainforests. On his first day in office, Bolsonaro transferred rainforest protections to a ministry that is heavily influenced by the agribusiness lobby. He pulled out of hosting a UN climate change conference and is expected by some to follow the U.S. by canceling Brazil's participation in the Paris climate accord, though he has not done so yet.

Bolsonaro's appearance at Davos suggests he is focused on re-engaging with the world economically, even if his domestic policies are far less liberal.

Neumann noted a famous saying about Brazil: It's a country of the future ... and it always will be.

For full interview click here.