GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Beyond the BRICS: A Regional and Global Political Economy of Brazil-GCC Relations
Paper Proposal Text :
From its inception, the BRICS grouping – originally BRIC, reflecting South Africa’s later entrance – has caused much hand-wringing in Western capitals.
In the same way that several decades ago the famed International Relations theorist Stephen Krasner (1985, 29) – in his suggestively titled Structural Conflict: The Third World against Global Liberalism – argued that the Global South is structurally determined by its place at the bottom of the global hierarchy to engage in “normatively suspect” efforts to rewrite the rules of the global economic system in its favor, many present-day commentators refer to the machinations of the BRICS – such as recent plans for a “New Development Bank” – as threats to the (presumably benevolent) U.S.-led global economic order and the dollar’s hegemonic position in global exchange.
Yet this construction of events assumes too much coherence and purposive action among BRICS members, who remain highly disparate in political and economic terms, have shown little interest in substantive institutionalization, and – to varying degrees – are less than sanguine about China’s rise and the predominant role it plays within this grouping. This is perhaps particularly the case for Brazil, whose significant industrial base has been melting away in the face of Chinese competition.
This is not to declare the irrelevance of the BRICS, but rather to suggest caution for those who fear – or cheer – the bloc’s rise as a countering force to U.S. hegemony.
However, Brazil’s participation within the BRICS has indeed solidified the country’s position as both South and Latin America’s leading state, a notable phenomenon in its own right. In that regard, Brazil’s increasing engagement with the GCC has done much to spur other Latin American countries – from Argentina and Chile to Mexico and Ecuador – to do the same. Such efforts have included the opening of embassies and trade offices in the region, increased commercial and political ties, and a general awakening throughout much of Latin America concerning the overall political and economic importance of not only the GCC countries, but the broader Arab world and Middle East.
This paper analyzes Brazil’s relations with the GCC countries by examining the wider web of political and economic ties in which the Brazil-GCC axis is embedded. That is, I seek to situate Brazil-GCC relations within the much broader context of Brazil’s regional leadership in South/Latin America, its role in BRICS, and its bilateral relationship with China. This “global political economy” approach provides a much more satisfying and holistic account than efforts which seek to analyze these relations in isolation.
To preview my argument, then, Brazil’s relations with the GCC are about much more than the GCC. Indeed, my analysis indicates that:
-As noted, efforts by numerous actors in Brazil – both public and private – to establish themselves in the GCC countries have inspired other Latin American actors to make similar efforts, both because of the inspiring example set by Brazilian leadership – cemented, again, through the Brazilian state’s presence in BRICS – and out of fear of being left behind by Brazil’s dramatic advances
-Brazilian actors are much less interested in the GCC countries as potential political allies than they are in the region’s new “global cities” such as Dubai, which are seen as “logistics hubs” from which they can gain access to important Middle Eastern and Asian markets
-Several facets of increased Brazilian-GCC interactions – such as the establishment of direct flights linking the regions through Qatar Airways (Doha), Emirates (Dubai), and Etihad (Abu Dhabi), which are often used by connecting passengers to fly between Latin American and China – speak directly to an accompanying boom in Sino-Brazilian relations; however, as suggested earlier, efforts for increased Sino-Brazilian cooperation through the BRICS apparatus are limited by the adverse impact of Chinese imports on Brazilian producers, as well as the many other political and economic differences that separate the two countries
Thus, viewing Brazil within the context of the BRICS provides a valuable lens for understanding the country’s blossoming relations with the GCC. However, to better understand potential avenues for further Brazil-GCC ties, we must also grasp Brazil’s relations with the rest of Latin America, its lukewarm relationship with China, and the role ascribed to Dubai in particular by Brazilian actors as a central node in their global economic strategies.
As this analysis suggests, while Brazilian interest in the GCC is substantial, it is mainly economic as opposed to political in nature, and is motivated less by interest in the GCC per se than in the GCC’s privileged position in what the then-Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim referred to as a “new world economic geography.” In turn, the fissures between Brazil and other members of the BRICS – particularly China – prevent the elaboration of a common BRICS approach to the GCC. Instead, Brazil’s natural peer group and sphere of influence as it reaches out to the GCC is South/Latin America.
Thus, careful analysis of the Brazil-GCC and Sino-Brazilian relationships reveals a much more nuanced story than that proffered by many Western commentators. While avenues for greater Brazil-GCC collaboration exist – again, mostly on economic issues – they do not represent a challenge to the global economic system, but rather its continuing entrenchment.