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BRAZIL: Guedes gets it wrong in Davos, Bolsonaro gets it right in Brasilia

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Economy Minister Paulo Guedes’ comment at the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week that the environment’s worst enemy is poverty disappointed those who expected him to focus solely on significant improvements to the economy and investment opportunities in the country over the next few years. Guedes entered territory that is normally associated with President Jair Bolsonaro, who did not go to Davos this year precisely to avoid questions about the environment. More importantly, however, the president atypically did not cheer on his super minister for agreeing with him in public, at an iconic international venue, on one of his most controversial positions. Guedes’ Davos performance is less important than new trends in Bolsonaro’s behavior.

The president will continue to cater to his resilient supporter base that sits between a quarter and a third of the electorate, while hoping to lure additional centrist voters on the basis of the economy by the 2022 elections. He will continue to be outspoken about the main tenets of his campaign platform, whether in the Christian-values, law-and-order, or even economic spheres. His approach has been to go as far as he can and then blame Congress or insurmountable vested interests for failing to get what he wants. The determining factor, however, is what he does after being thwarted in his efforts to advance his core agenda.

In the case of the values and security agendas, he concedes to the defeat but is resilient in pursuing the fight in other arenas, such as the media or social networks. In the case of economic issues, however, he concedes, lays down his arms, and acts on it. That has been the case with China and Argentina, despite early aggressive narratives against the Chinese government and the new Argentine president. Affairs with foreign countries are geopolitical in nature but in both cases the president changed his approach due to the economic importance of bilateral relations. In the case of China, Bolsonaro met Xi Jinping in the space of two weeks in both Beijing and Brasilia (the BRICS Summit) and struck agreements in the middle of the US-China trade war despite his otherwise categorical alignment with US President Donald Trump.

The environment has been a late comer to Bolsonaro but the WEF served to make the president notice that the issue may have serious economic implications for Brazil unless he starts changing his ways. This is why it is no coincidence that while Guedes is saying the wrong thing in Davos, Bolsonaro is announcing the right thing in Brasilia: the creation of an Amazon Council to be headed by Vice-President Hamilton Mourao and of a National Environmental Force formed by the federal environmental protection police, and administrative inspectors at all levels of government.

A poll released yesterday, 22 January, showed that the approval of both the government and the president’s own performance have improved since August 2019 on the back of withdrawals from the Guarantee Fund for Employees (FGTS) and the payment of a thirteenth salary to beneficiaries of the cash transfer program Bolsa Familia. “Fixing” the environment addresses the key to securing economic growth: attracting, not shunning, investors.

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BRAZIL: Guedes gets it wrong in Davos, Bolsonaro gets it right in Brasilia

Economy Minister Paulo Guedes’ comment at the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week that the environment’s worst enemy is poverty disappointed those who expected