Coauthor Cintya Feitosa
At a time of renewed expectations about Brazil’s role in international politics, the country will host, in 2024, the group of the world’s top 20 economies: G20. The Brazilian presidency will be an essential moment for the country to present the new government’s credentials at a high-level economic forum. It could also be a unique opportunity to bring a regional agenda representing Latin America to the G20.
Although proportionally underrepresented, the region has three countries in the G20: Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico. Historically, none of the three countries have coordinated political positions or articulated a regional identity. The question should be, therefore, what are the ways for the three countries to take advantage of the Brazilian presidency’s window of opportunity to build a Latin American agenda for the group?
The intention to broaden the region’s participation in the discussions was reflected in Brazil’s invitation to Paraguay and Uruguay to participate in the G20 next year. The inclusion of the guests is related to the interest of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s government in expanding the representation of developing countries in international forums and strengthening Mercosur. Paraguay and Uruguay assume the pro tempore presidency of Mercosur in 2024 and, together with Brazil and Argentina, ensure that all active Mercosur members are present at the G20 for at least one year.
The timing for the G20 to adopt a Latin American agenda is promising, but not without difficulties. The region has been one of the hardest hit, economically and socially, by the Covid-19 pandemic and the effects of the war in Ukraine, suffering from high inflation and debt and increasing poverty and food insecurity.
Historically, there has been little effective coordination among Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico in the G20 agenda. The three have different roles and priorities in international relations, raising questions about whether they should be analyzed as a group simply because they are Latin American and share similarities in their development strategies. Outside the G20, the three countries have built different political and economic identities. Mexico, for example, maintains strong ties with the United States, mainly due to NAFTA, while Brazil and Argentina have undertaken projects to diversify their partnerships.
The trajectory of their relationship shows, however, some possible paths to follow. Between 2008 and 2015, when the region had several progressive governments that emphasized regional integration, there were flashes of good practices. Brazil and Argentina acted in the G20 as strategic allies, anticipating priorities, coordinating positions, and positioning themselves as Latin American voices. This was not a mere coincidence, but a reflection of a political decision to position regional integration as a pillar of their foreign policies. Both countries jointly advocated the adoption of counter-cyclical policies to contain the 2008 crisis, the reform of the IMF, the emphasis on currency evasion and the regulation of tax havens, the conclusion of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in accordance with its original “development round” mandate, and the need to ensure the sustainability of sovereign debts.
However, this coordination mechanism did not include Mexico, due to its decision to align itself with the United States in economic forums. Therefore, liaison with Mexico was more ad hoc and limited to specific aspects of mutual interest. Nevertheless, all three actively participated in developing country coordination forums. The last Mexican presidency of the G20 was in 2012, and the country incorporated some priorities common to developing countries: food security, commodity price volatility, sustainable development, green growth, and climate change.
From 2016 onwards, however, conservative and right-wing governments engendered a regional context of competition and fragmentation. When Argentina assumed the presidency of the bloc in 2018, the country was at a particularly weak moment in terms of its regional vision. There was an expectation of a common platform. The political context was not in its favor. On the one hand, multilateral forums were under constant attack from Donald Trump. On the other hand, domestic issues made it difficult for the three Latin countries to engage. Mexico was trying to stimulate debates on the migration issue, Argentina was going through the persistent economic and political crisis, and Brazil, still under the government of Michel Temer, but having already elected Jair Bolsonaro, was sending clear messages that the region was not a priority. In the background, the space for debates on Latin America was constantly summarized in the Venezuelan crisis.
It is time for our representatives to be prepared to represent regional needs and expectations on the G20 agenda concretely. The international opportunity converges with internal realignments in Brazil that emphasize the regional agenda. Upon assuming the Presidency of the Republic in his third term, Lula identified the global agenda of eradicating hunger and fighting poverty, reconnecting with Latin American countries, and leading the fight against global climate change as foreign policy priorities.
Together with the Pan-Amazonian countries, Brazil is hosting the Belém Summit, with the aim of promoting greater regional integration in reducing deforestation and promoting sustainable development in the region, and strengthening the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO); in the Convention on Climate Change, the country has negotiated as a bloc with Argentina and Uruguay, to mention a few examples.
There are issues of collective interest that unite us, such as the impact of climate change and opportunities for the energy transition; the need to defend the fair commercialization of raw materials; integrated planning regarding the extraction of strategic minerals present in the region; reform of the international financial system and the institutionalization of mechanisms for transferring resources and technology to the countries of the Global South. The Brazilian presidency, therefore, represents an undeniable window of opportunity to bring together all these priorities, vital agendas to the region.
Nevertheless, to achieve this result, it is necessary to take a step back. Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico must first agree and recognize the importance of moving forward on a shared agenda. They must also jointly prioritize and decide on mechanisms and policy objectives. If we miss this opportunity, Latin America will once again be left behind by the decisions made by others. And we will always be countries or the region “of the future”, which never arrives. As the saying goes: Who does not have a sit at the table is on the menu.
*Cintya Feitosa, International Relations Advisor at the Institute for Climate and Society (iCS).
Translated from Portuguese by Janaína Ruviaro da Silva