Monday, 14 July 2014

Brazilian development cooperation: critical juncture or hiatus?

As the fans head home after the FIFA World Cup final, Brazil is preparing to be in the spotlight again, but this time for an event with major development policy implications, as host nation for the 2014 BRICS Summit.

International interest in Brazil’s international development cooperation has soared in the last few years.

Some hoped Brazil would blaze a new trail in international cooperation. This perceived potential for Brazil as a leader in development cooperation is also one of the reasons why there is an increased interest domestically in Brazil’s international role.

In reality, however, the country still faces many obstacles to be able to build on its strengths and accumulated knowledge to shape new paths in international cooperation.

Brazil’s increased engagement in development cooperation

Though Brazil has been engaging as a provider of development cooperation since the ‘70s, this increased to unprecedented levels during the Lula administration (2002-2010), with the internationalisation of its social polices, as well as rising disbursements. Public debate in the country has slowly been picking up, and now a growing number of national institutions, civil society organisations, social movements and think tanks are debating South-South Cooperation (SSC), the term used to describe a broad framework for collaboration among countries of the South in the political, economic, social, cultural, and technical domains

A number of new developments have brought both excitement and concern to the small Brazilian SSC community.
Credit: Governo de Sergipe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 2013, President Dilma Rousseff announced the creation of a new cooperation agency, which would combine both the cooperation and trade portfolio. In the same year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs committed to establishing a foreign policy council.

Currently, a White Paper on foreign policy is being drafted. These internal and external factors indicate that Brazilian SSC could be at a critical juncture, and one that potentially will see a deeper, more long-term engagement in development cooperation.

But Brazil’s prominent international role has been accompanied by persistent national development challenges, partly due to the lack of a public policy and lack of an institutional framework to ensure overall planning, coordination and a sustainable flow of resources for SSC. Additionally, the role and contribution of civil society to development cooperation is not fully recognised by the government, diminishing its potential for innovation and impact.

To complicate the scenario, support for development cooperation has also plummeted in recent years, as Dilma Rousseff does not share her predecessor’s enthusiasm.

Although the president announced the creation of a new cooepration agency, this proposal has not taken off. Moreover, though there are no official figures, the budget for cooperation initiatives has decreased significantly since 2010. In this context, can we expect Brazil to be a leader in reinventing a crumbling development cooperation system?

No single model for Brazilian development cooperation 

Brazil’s development cooperation has several modalities – technical cooperation, education, science and technology, humanitarian cooperation, and financial cooperation - and it involves a multitude of actors including governmental agencies, the private sector and civil society. Some argue that the current structure of SSC is extremely fragmented, and that this leads to lack of coordination and coherence of Brazil’s engagement with the Global South. Others emphasise that the fact that country’s cooperation involves various institutions should be seen as one of the key advantages of its SSC.

The COBRADI reports (PDF), which shared, for the first time, comprehensive official data on Brazilian development cooperation, and a growing number of academic studies, are helping to assess the complex puzzle that represents the diversity of Brazilian cooperation. Yet, there are still many information gaps, and civil society has recently begun actively demanding more transparency and accountability.

What is clear is that there is no single model for Brazilian development cooperation but many policies and multiple practices, deeply influenced by the implementing agencies and partners involved. However, consistent features are emerging, in publications and debates, of a  seemingly unique and distinctive kind of Brazilian government-led cooperation:

  • It is implemented by people with first hand-experience, i.e. public servants that have experience in implementing policies and programmes in Brazil
  • Increasingly there has been an enmeshment of modalities in flagship projects, blurring the lines between technical, humanitarian and financial cooperation, and trade.
  • Its most innovative actors pursue structuring cooperation, meaning their objective is to strengthen partners’ institutions in order to increase their autonomy, or self-reliance.

Brazil’s elections provide short hiatus to work out future directions

Interesting discussions are taking place about what kind of international development cooperation policy, and agency, the country should have. Should SSC guiding principles (such as mutual benefits and being demand-driven) be accompanied by others political principles that Brazilians favour (human rights, for instance)? How far can cooperation, trade and investment interests be aligned without the country exporting its own internal conflicts (such as the case of ProSavannah in Mozambique)? Where should the development agency be anchored?

Credit: coolloud (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
2014 is unlikely to see great changes in Brazilian development cooperation, as all attention is on pressing domestic issues, not least because of the presidential elections this autumn. The opening days of the World Cup saw a resumption of protests in the streets, and while these died down as World Cup fever set in, activists are now mobilising around the new protest focus of the BRICS Summit. Academics and practitioners involved in the field are hoping this will give them time to unpack some of the thorny issues Brazilian SSC faces, as well as to engage in dialogue with the government.

More evidence is essential to ensure that debates and political choices draw on the recent history and actual challenges and opportunities. I hope that our recently published  Brazil ‘State of the Debate’ report, which captures its current engagement in development cooperation, gathering and analysing the main ideas and narratives, institutions and interests that inform its practices –is a significant first step in charting Brazil’s evolving development cooperation.

Bianca Suyama is Executive Coordinator at ArticulaĆ§Ć£oSUL. She co-authored 'Brazil's Engagement in International Development Cooperation: the State of the Debate' produced as part of the IDS Rising Powers in International Development programme.  


Chris Jordan said...

This is a great summary - thanks!

Given some of the blockages you outline to Brazil taking a more assertive bilateral approach to development cooperation, I wonder if we might see more focus & resources going into trilateral cooperation efforts? For example, the WFP's centre for excellence against hunger seems to be doing a great job of putting S-S cooperation into practice. Drawing on the Brazilian experience of implementing innovative social policies, within the international organisational structure (or perhaps cover?) the WFP provides appears to offer a pragmatic solution to the current situation.

The Centre has recently released an interesting video, outlining how their approach works in practice, which I've blogged here:

Bill said...

Viewing it as a critical juncture or a hiatus, we in the north can look with "shock and awe" on Brazil's SSC leadership, wishing that we were able to move our own governments to such action.

Thank you for this informative post.

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