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Brazil’s foreign minister says the country has adopted a multi-polar but co-operative approach to world affairs.

Like her predecessor Luis Inácio Lula da Silva, President Dilma Rousseff has been quick to stress the importance of Brazil’s relationships with the emerging nations of Asia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East. She made her first foreign trip to Argentina, and followed that up by meeting Chinese leaders in Beijing. The president toured Africa in October, underlining the continent’s importance for Brazilian diplomats.

There has also been something of a southwards move in Brazil’s trade and investment relations. European and US demand may be depressed, but Brazil’s exports to China and other Asian partners continue to grow. It would be easy to assume that all this is indicative of a more profound shift in foreign policy, with Brazil playing a pivotal role in the new alliances of southern nations. The unconventional world map hanging in Antônio Patriota’s office in the Itamaraty Palace in Brasília seems to confirm that view. On it, Africa, Latin America, and Asia sit above the subordinate northern continents.

But Ms Rousseff’s foreign minister does not share this perspective, arguing that his country has simply adopted a more diversified approach that is in line with new international economic realities. Mr Patriota flatly denies that there has been any dilution of the US relationship. “In fact, when I was ambassador [to the US under Lula] we enhanced our relationship. We had record trade figures in 2008, right before the economic crisis hit the Us, increasing visits by ministers, governors, new mechanisms such as the joint programme of action on combating racial discrimination.”

Nor were ties with Europe weakened, he argues. “We became strategic partners with the European Union and if anything, Lula enjoyed warm, close dialogue, unprecedented familiarity with leaders in the developed world; [in particular there were regular] phone calls and meetings and frequent contact between him and Gordon Brown.”

Instead, Mr Patriota says, Brazil has simply put greater emphasis on its dealings with other parts of the world. Latin America has been one priority. There has, he says, been great importance attached to South American integration, underlined by the creation in 2008 of the South American community of nations, Unasur. “For the first time we started looking seriously at infrastructure projects, closer trade relations, mechanisms to diffuse tensions.”

Taking care to distinguish it from Latin America (which includes Mexico and Central America), Mr Patriota describes South America “a very strong regional anchor… with certain very unique characteristics when you look at the world, extraordinary mineral wealth, potentially an agricultural powerhouse, self-sufficient in food production and water, democratic governments, [and] a zone of peace.”

Another has been the amount of attention given to smaller and poorer countries, an aspect of policy which Mr. Patriota labels the “innovative aspects of universalisation”. Brazil has opened a large number of embassies in Africa; it now has stronger diplomatic representation on the continent than the UK.

In many cases that representation has helped Brazilian business, although Mr Patriota stresses that commercial links have been accompanied by “genuine concern for the dissemination of modern governance and policies that have worked in Brazil”.

Brazil has also eyed the potential of other poorer countries. “When the Lula government started, there were several countries in Africa and Central Asia and South Pacific – Nepal, Bhutan, Vanuatu, Central African Republic, Comoros Islands – with which we didn’t have even diplomatic relations. now we do.”

Brazil has also eyed the potential of other poorer countries. “When the Lula government started, there were several countries in Africa and Central Asia and South Pacific – Nepal, Bhutan, Vanuatu, Central African Republic, Comoros Islands – with which we didn’t have even diplomatic relations. Now we do.”

New coalitions have been created, such as IBSA, joining India, Brazil, South Africa, three large multi-ethnic democracies from the south or the forums that link Brazil with Africa and the Arab World. “This caught the attention because it was original... but it was not to the detriment to relations with the north.

“I remember in Washington the head of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) for example telling other countries, listen, you should do what Brazil’s doing, diversify your partners,” says Mr Patriota.

Mr Patriota describes this policy as a kind of “cooperative multi-polarity”, cooperative in the sense that it is clearly different from the rather more conflictive anti-American version of this same approach described in the local media.

“The Brazilian press [initially] tried to depict this foreign policy as oriented toward the south in an ideological way, but what the actual movement of foreign policy demonstrated was an ability to place Brazil ahead of the curve, because it led to diversification of partnerships.”

Those criticisms, though, have begun to die down, he says. At “some point along the road, and especially the crisis in 2008 contributed indirectly to this, you started hearing less and less criticism because it became obvious that this was a very pragmatic policy. If ideology were mixed into it, I think it was just the ideology of interacting with the entire international community and creating an international system that works.”

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