Brazil country brief

Overview

Australia opened its first diplomatic mission in Latin America in 1945 in the then-capital of Brazil, Rio de Janeiro. Brazil established its diplomatic presence in Australia the following year. Brazil also maintains a consulate in Sydney, while Australia has an Austrade-managed Consulate-General in São Paulo.

The Prime Minister and Brazilian President agreed to elevate the bilateral relationship to a "Strategic Partnership" in June 2012 in recognition of the deepening of bilateral relations in recent years and the growing commonalities between the two countries.

The Federative Republic of Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world (approximately 10 per cent larger than Australia) and the largest country in Latin America. Brazil has around 16,000 kilometres of land borders with nine countries and French Guiana. Brazil, like Australia, has a huge diversity in geography and temperatures, with the tropical Amazon in the north, semi-arid Brazilian outback (Sertão) in the Northeast, the massive Pantanal wetlands and hot central tablelands in the central west, sub-tropical to temperate in the south and south east, and even snow in the south during winter.

Brazil is the fifth most populous country in the world, with over 203 million people (2014), most of whom are descendants of Europeans and Africans. Indigenous communities represent 0.4% of the population. Roman Catholicism is the main religion, but there are sizeable communities of Christians from other denominations. Other religions and the non-religious make up a small minority. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil.

Political overview

Background

Brazil’s name comes from the Brazilwood tree which was the first natural resource to be exploited by the Portuguese following their arrival in 1500. The capital of Brazil is Brasília, a planned city like Canberra. Brazil has been inhabited for at least 8,000 years. It was a Portuguese colony from 1500-1822, and holds the distinction of being the only colony to become a seat of its Empire, when the Portuguese court fled to Rio de Janeiro following Napoleon’s invasion of Portugal in 1807. A quasi-military coup in 1889 led to the establishment of the Republic of Brazil. Brazil was a democracy for most of the 20th century, except during several periods of dictatorship (1930-34 and 1937-45) and military rule (1964-1985). Democratic governance has been preserved since 1985.

System of government

Brazil is a federal republic composed of 26 states and a federal district, with three tiers of government. Each state has its own government structure mirroring that of the federal level, and there are over 5,500 municipal councils. Voting is universal and compulsory for all literate citizens aged 18-70, and optional for those aged 16-17, over 70, or the illiterate. Under Brazil's constitution, the president and vice-president are elected on the same ticket by popular vote for four-year terms. The National Congress consists of the Federal Senate with 81 members serving eight-year terms, and the Chamber of Deputies consisting of 513 members elected by proportional representation to serve four-year terms. There is no minimum party size for a ticket, and there are many smaller parties with seats in Congress, representing niche views. This makes it essential for governments to form coalitions to pass legislation – and this coalition and consensus building slows down the passage of legislation.

Recent political developments

Dilma Rousseff (known as ‘Dilma’), a member of the centre-left Workers Party, became Brazil's first female president when she assumed office in January 2011. She previously served as Minister for Mines and Energy and Chief of Cabinet (a ministerial role in Brazil) in former President Lula da Silva's administration. President Rousseff has continued many of her predecessor’s key policies such as focusing on reducing extreme poverty, and seeking a lead role for the government in the economy.

In June 2013, Brazil saw wide-spread, mainly peaceful, protests on a range of issues, including increased public transport costs, lack of public services, corruption, the high cost of living, and the costs associated with hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games..

Following the 2014 FIFA World Cup (in which Brazil placed fourth), the country turned its attention to the October 2014 general election. Following a tightly contested first round, President Rousseff narrowly won the second round run-off and was sworn in for her second and final term on 1 January 2015. In her inaugural speech, Rousseff said that education would remain a high priority, as would maintaining social welfare programs, reforming the political system and tackling corruption.

In early 2015, a series of anti-government protests began in Brazil . These protests were triggered by revelations that numerous politicians were being investigated for accepting bribes from the state-owned energy company Petrobras over the period from 2003 to 2010. Over the next few months the protests became more widespread throughout the country. On 16 August 2015, protests were staged in all 26 of Brazil’s states and in approximately 200 cities.

In March 2016, record numbers of Brazilians protested against political corruption. Then on 17 April 2016, Brazil's Lower House voted to start impeachment proceedings against President Dilma Rousseff over charges she manipulated Brazil’s federal accounts in 2014 to hide the true size of the budget deficit.  With 367 votes in favour of impeachment, the two-thirds majority (342 votes) needed to progress the impeachment proceedings and refer the case to the Senate was met. On 12 May, Brazil’s Senate voted to begin impeachment proceedings with 55 of 81 senators voting to commence proceedings.  This vote has resulted in the suspension of Rousseff's presidential powers and duties for up to 180 days. During this period, Rousseff's vice-president Michel Temer will serve as acting president.  The final Senate vote could come by September 2016. A two-thirds majority (or at least 54 of 81 Senators) is required to permanently remove Rousseff from office. President Rousseff has denied committing any impeachable offence and has called the impeachment process “fraudulent”.

The next Brazilian general elections are scheduled for 2018, and will elect the President, the National Congress, state governors and state legislatures.

Foreign Policy

Brazil is a global player; it is a member of a number of key international groupings, including the G20, the World Trade Organisation, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), the BASIC group in climate change negotiations (Brazil, South Africa, India, China), as well as the G4 that seek permanent membership of the UN Security Council (Brazil, Germany, India, Japan).

In recent years, Brazilian candidates have been elected Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation. Brazil continues to view itself as a champion of the rights of developing countries.

Brazil’s membership of Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela) is a key part of its regional leadership. Brazil was also a driving force in the creation of the Union of South American Nations (known as Unasur). Brazil is also a member of Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) – an intergovernmental regional forum that brings together the thirty-three countries of Latin America and the Caribbean for dialogue and political agreement on regional integration matters.

In her second term, President Rousseff has focused Brazil’s foreign policy on its relations with South America and the wider Latin America-Caribbean region, as well as prioritising BRICS countries, the European Union, the United States and Japan.

Bilateral relations

Under the 2012 Australia-Brazil Strategic Partnership, leaders agreed to hold regular leaders’ meetings, Foreign and Trade Minister Consultations at least every two years, and expand the bilateral senior officials’ meetings to include defence representatives in a “Strategic Dialogue”. The Strategic Partnership contains initiatives aimed at improving bilateral links, including education, resources and energy, science and technology and trade and investment as well as furthering multilateral and regional cooperation.

President Rousseff and then Foreign Minister Figueiredo Machado visited Australia in November 2014 for the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane. In the sidelines of the G20 meetings, Foreign Ministers Bishop and Figueiredo Machado signed a MOU on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. In December 2014, then Trade and Investment Minister, the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, visited Rio de Janeiro to promote Brazilian investment in Australia and participate in the Council on Australia-Latin America Relations (COALAR)-supported Energy-Water-Food Nexus Seminar, which helped build linkages between Australian and Brazilian specialists in these sectors of shared concern. In July 2015, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, visited Brasilia and São Paulo and signed an MOU on Education, Research and Vocational Training.

Australian and Brazilian foreign and trade policy interests coincide in several important areas and the two countries cooperate multilaterally on issues of mutual interest including climate change and agricultural trade reform, the latter through the Cairns Group in the WTO. Brazil and Australia have a close working relationship in the G20, and in that forum have a common priority to reform international financial institutions (such as the World Bank and IMF) to give developing countries a greater voice in these organisations.

Australia and New Zealand participate in the CER-Mercosur Dialogue. The most recent meeting took place in Brasilia in October 2012. The dialogue was established in 1996 as a mechanism to strengthen cooperation on global trade policy issues and to promote inter-regional trade and investment. Both Australia and Brazil are members of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC), which aims to increase and improve mutual understanding, political dialogue and cooperation among its member states from East Asia and Latin America.

In 2001, the Australian Government established the Council on Australia-Latin America Relations (COALAR) which aims to enhance commercial, political and cultural relations between Australia and Latin America. Since its inception, COALAR has been active in promoting business, education, tourism and cultural links between Australia and Latin America. It has supported a range of activities in Brazil, including cultural and trade promotion events. For updates on COALAR activities and information on the annual grants program, follow COALAR on Facebook.

In 2016, throughout April and May, the largest Australian cultural festival ever to be organised in  Latin America is taking place in Brazil. The festival – Australia now – is a five-week event featuring over twenty Australian acts who  will perform in ten Brazilian cities, introducing hundreds of thousands of Brazilians to contemporary Australian culture. The events will feature Australian gastronomy, fashion, film, Indigenous ceremony and performance, photography, music, dance, visual arts and sports.  To learn more about the Australia now 2016 Brazil program see: http://australianow2016.com/

People-to-people links

In addition to a strong trade and investment relationship, Australia and Brazil have growing people-to-people links. The inaugural Australia-Brazil Dialogue took place in São Paulo in March 2013, bringing together high-level representatives from government, business, academia, media and think-tanks.

Brazil is the largest Latin American market for visitors to Australia with over 45,000 short-term visitor arrivals from Brazil in 2015 and over 18,000 short-term departures from Australia to Brazil in 2015. Around 20,000 Australians travelled to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, representing one of the largest groups of foreigners that visited Brazil for the event.

Education engagement between Australia and Brazil is forging strong links between the two countries and Brazil is currently the largest source of international students in Australia outside of Asia. More than 24,000 Brazilians are enrolled in Australia. Many of the Brazilian students studying in Australia in higher education institutions are doing so under the Brazilian Government’s international scholarship program, Science Without Borders. Australian education institutions have more than 80 active agreements with Brazilian governments and institutions.

The iconic city of Rio de Janeiro will host the 31st Olympiad from 5 to 21 August 2016, and the 15th Paralympic Summer Games from 7 to 18 September. This is the first time a South American nation has hosted the Games, and Brazil will join Australia as the only other southern hemisphere host to date.

In 1901, just 105 Brazilian-born persons were living in Australia. A small but growing number of Brazilians began migrating to Australia in the late 1960s and early 1970s. According to the 2011 census, around 14,500 people living in Australia were born in Brazil. More information can be found at the Department of Social Services Community Information Summary page.

Development assistance

From 2010 to 2014, Australia provided $100 million in development assistance to Latin America, including 250 Australia Awards scholarships. The regional program has now closed, though some activities which have already been funded will continue until 2017.

Economic overview

At a glance

For the latest economic data refer to the Brazil country fact sheet.

Economic outlook

Brazil is the world’s ninth largest economy, with a GDP of US$1.7 trillion. Brazil's per capita GDP is lower than Chile’s, but higher than fellow BRICS members, China and India. In 2015 Brazil’s economy shrank 3.8 per cent. It is expected to return to positive growth in 2017.. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index for 2015-16 ranked Brazil 75 out of 140 countries and the World Bank's 2015 rankings for 'ease of doing business' placed Brazil 116 out of 189.

With large and well-developed agricultural, mining, oil and gas, manufacturing and service sectors, Brazil has expanded into world markets. China has replaced the United States as Brazil's largest trading partner. Brazil is second to Australia as the world's largest iron ore exporter. Brazil is also the largest, or second-largest, exporter of beef, soybeans, orange juice, sugar and chicken. It is the world's second-largest producer of ethanol. Still, Brazil is facing a number of challenges including manufacturing competition from China, slow productivity gains, and infrastructure bottlenecks.

Externally, Mercosur is the most important economic grouping for Brazil. Under the Mercosur treaty, tariffs between members are lowered gradually on most products and common external tariffs are applied to non-members. Mercosur represents a market of over 280 million people with an estimated combined GDP in 2014 of more than US$3.2 trillion.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

Australian economic engagement with Brazil has grown steadily since the mid-1990s, most notably in mining, agribusiness, services, and more recently in the education sector. Brazil is Australia's largest trading partner in South America, with two-way trade between Australia and Brazil totaling A$2.61 billion in 2014-2015. Trade comprised merchandise and services exports of A$1.873 billion to Brazil and imports of A$737 million from Brazil. Major exports to Brazil included coal, crude petroleum, nickel ores and concentrates, aluminum and education-related travel. Major imports from Brazil included medicaments, civil engineering equipment and parts, coffee and fruit juices and personal travel services.

Australian investment in Brazil was A$7.6 billion in 2015. There are over 100 Australian companies with a presence in Brazil, around one quarter of which are ASX200 listed. Major Australian companies with a presence in Brazil include BHP Billiton, Macquarie, Pacific Hydro, Rio Tinto and Orica. Brazilian companies with investments in Australia include JBS-Friboi , Vale, WEG Natura Cosmeticos and Marcopolo. With investments of around A$2.5 billion in Australia, JBS-Friboi is now our largest meat processing company.

Trade and investment

Opportunities exist for increased Australian trade and investment in areas such as information technology, biotechnology, transportation (rail and marine), banking and insurance, mining, water and waste-water management, oil and gas, renewable energy, education, tropical medicine, science and technology, agribusiness, retail, tourism and infrastructure. A growing number of Australian companies are now operating in Brazil, though a lack of mutual awareness remains an obstacle to expanding commercial ties.

There are no direct flights between Australia and Brazil though Qantas operates onward services to destinations in South America from Santiago via a code-sharing agreement with Chile's LAN Airlines.

For information on doing business and opportunities in Brazil please see the Austrade website: Brazil Market Profile.

High level visits

July 2015: Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, visited Brasilia and São Paulo, and met with former Foreign Minister, Mauro Vieira, São Paulo State Water Minister, Benedito Braga, and prominent Australian business people, and signed an MOU on Education, Research and Vocational Training with former Education Minister, Renato Ribeiro.

December 2014: Former Trade and Investment Minister, the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, visited Rio de Janeiro to promote Brazilian investment in Australia.

November 2014: President Dilma Rousseff, former Foreign Minister, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, former Finance Minister, Guido Mantega and Central Bank Governor Alexandre Tombini visited Brisbane for the G20 Leaders’ Summit, meeting their respective Australian counterparts. This was the first visit to Australia by a sitting Brazilian President.

May-June 2013: Former Senate President, Senator John Hogg, visited Brazil.

June 2012: Former Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard, visited Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and met Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. This was the first visit to Brazil by a sitting Prime Minister.

April 2012: Former Trade Minister, the Hon. Craig Emerson, visited São Paulo and Brasília.

2011: Brazil’s former Minister for National Integration, Fernando Bezerra, visited Australia.

December 2010: Former Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, visited Brazil while attending the Mercosur summit held at Foz do Iguaçu.

April 2010: Former Trade Minister, the Hon. Simon Crean, visited Brazil, where he signed an Air Services Agreement with Brazil's former Minister for External Affairs, Celso Amorim.

August 2009:  Former Foreign Affairs Minister, the Hon. Stephen Smith, visited Brazil.

Australia has also received a number of Brazilian official visitors, including a Brazilian parliamentary mission in 2012.

Last Updated: 17 May 2016