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Brazil and China miss deadline to renew key bilateral strategic frameworks

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazil and China missed the deadline at the end of 2021 to renew the two main documents that define the guidelines and priorities of their bilateral relations.

Both the Ten Year Plan for Brazil-China Cooperation and the Joint Action Plan signed between the two countries in 2012 and 2014, respectively, expired in December. Talks between the two governments have been ongoing since 2019.

Delays are blamed on complications caused by pandemic as well as a lapse in international relations. (photo internet reproduction)

While the Ten Year Plan sets out common guidelines to govern the partnership, the five-year document is more detailed. It sets goals in areas like agriculture, science and technology, financial cooperation and education. Both documents serve as a compass to guide the long-term bilateral relationship.

Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said that one of the results of the last high-level meeting of COSBAN (Sino-Brazilian High Level Concentration and Cooperation), the main mechanism for Brazil-China relations, led by Vice President Hamilton Mourão and his Chinese counterpart Wang Qishan, was a determination to start “discussions to improve the structure” of the mechanism and “prepare a new document to guide bilateral relations.”

The meeting took place in May 2019, in Beijing, and was attended by Mourão and Wang. Brazil sent the first restructuring proposal in December 2020, according to the ministry.

The last Chinese counter-proposal was received this month. The Ministry also highlighted that the negotiations on the two plans involve topics ranging from “politics, economy and trade” to “infrastructure, agriculture, culture, information technologies and space cooperation.”

“In a process of this magnitude, it is natural that the evaluation period by technical bodies from both sides is long. In the current circumstances of a pandemic, the process has been lengthened even further, mainly due to the impossibility of face-to-face meetings,” a Ministry spokesman stated.

“On issues that sometimes involve internal sensitivities, face-to-face meetings would allow for greater speed in the exchange of perceptions. The negotiating process continues in 2022, through virtual meetings, and Brazil hopes to conclude it as soon as possible.”

The goals in the Joint Action Plan that has just expired include encouraging visits by authorities and working together on certain topics in international organisations.

The text also defines the aim of encouraging the participation of Chinese companies in bids in Brazil and ensuring the exchange of information on phytosanitary measures to avoid unnecessary retention of goods at ports.

Although the expiration of the texts does not have greater practical effects, diplomacy’s failure to update them until the end of last year reflects a cooling of Sino-Brazilian relations during much of President Jair Bolsonaro’s term.

The same source adds that different factors contributed to the two governments reaching the end of 2021 with no consensus on the new documents: the Covid-19 pandemic and the holding – by Chinese demand – of practically all the meetings in a virtual environment; Beijing’s immense bureaucratic apparatus, which requires multiple approvals in different bodies when negotiating documents; and the successive frictions that marked bilateral relations until the resignation of Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo.

Sources said that the climate of tension within the Bolsonaro government only started to be reversed with the arrival of the new Foreign Minister Carlos França.

The governments of Brazil and China continue to discuss the documents and an attempt to redesign the structure of COSBAN is also on the table. The goal is to try to expedite negotiations so that the impasse does not affect the holding, in the first semester, of a planned meeting between the vice presidents.

President of the Brazil-China Business Council Luiz Augusto de Castro Neves said that the Ten Year Plan and the Joint Action Plan “aim at an order of priorities” in the bilateral relationship and, essentially, “guide the government and direct the private sector.”

A former Brazilian ambassador to China, he credits the delay exclusively to the effects of the pandemic and does not see a possible political component in the non-renewal of plans.

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