This week, the Brazilian ambassador in Beijing, Paulo Estivallet de Mesquita stated – with the typical candour of those who are not limited in their comments by the complicated local networks of sensibilities – that Forum Macao “was never central” to Brazil’s relationship with the Asian country, and that much needs to be done by the organization to promote cooperation business projects in Lusophone countries.
Brazil, China’s largest Portuguese-speaking trade partner, has never seen the locally-based organization as an important platform to develop its business ties with the country.
Between January and April, Brazil was responsible for 78.3 per cent of the trade between China and Portuguese-speaking countries, amounting to some US$16.7 billion, despite a 3.46 per cent decrease post-Covid-19 recovery.
In 2019 China remained the main trading partner of Brazil, with trade worth a total of US$98.1 billion, or 76.6 per cent of all its trade with Lusophone countries.
To put it in perspective, Angola, the country’s usual second place Portuguese-speaking trade partner, reported a bilateral trade volume of US$25.3 billion with China last year, impressive no doubt, but still almost a fourth of Brazil’s.
Undoubtedly, the South American country is interested in maintaining and increasing its bilateral trade relations with China; it just seems they doubt the usefulness of having an active role in the local Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries (Forum Macao).
It is well known that, since the Forum was created in 2003, Brazil has been a minor participatory partner in the Forum, sending only minor government representatives to its ministerial conferences.
In some cases, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs may even see the Forum as harmful to Brazilian interests, as it strengthens China’s presence in the African countries where Brazil has more relations.
Brazil trade representatives have also expressed that the Brazil-China Expansion and Productive Capacity Co-operation Fund was seen as a more viable source of funding than the US $1 billion Fund for Development Co-operation between China and Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPDFund), which is based in Macau.
In comments to Lusa, Mesquita expressed that entrepreneurs have complained about the difficulty in obtaining financing through the fund, due to its high-interest rates.
It will not be easy to draw Brazil’s interest to the organization, and it will always be hard to tout its importance until one of China’s largest trade partners does not give its mind, body, and soul to it.
Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro’s relation with China has been turbulent to say the least, as almost everything else seems to have been since he took office.
In one instance, he considered Chinese investments as a threat to the country’s national security and economic sovereignty, only to later engage in Twitter wars with the Chinese ambassador in the country over the Covid-19 pandemic.
Still, on several occasions, he praised the importance of China as a business partner, but he seems hesitant in this regard, as doing so could raise issues with one of its close friends, the US administration.
Forum Macao is about to move to its new house in Nam Vam Lake, the MOP 692.8 million Service Complex for the Forum for Economic and Trade Co-operation.
The large building was completed and partially inaugurated during President Xi Jinping’s visit in December 2019.
It would be a good goal to work on how to improve its attractiveness as a promotor of China-Lusophone world business relations with all its members fully on board, otherwise, without a bit of the Latin flavour, the complex might feel a bit empty.