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 Sao 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 shared role of the two countries in the world.

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’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 is the fifth most populous country in the world, with over 201 million people (2013 est), most of whom are descendants of Europeans and Africans. . Indigenous communities represent 0.4% of the population. Roman Catholicism is the main religion, while other significant populations of other Christian denominations are present. Other religions and non-religious make up a small minority. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil.

Political overview

Background

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 on Portugal in 1807. A quasi-military coup in 1889 led to the establishment of the Republic of Brazil. Brazil has been a democracy for most of the 20th century, except during several periods of dictatorship (1930-34 and 1937-45) and military rule (1964-1985).

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 at the federal level, and there are over 5,500 municipal councils. Voting is universal and compulsory for all literate citizens aged from 18-70, and optional for those aged 16-17, over 70, or who are 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.

Recent political developments

Dilma Rousseff (known as ‘Dilma’), a member of the centre-left Workers Party, became Brazil's first female president when she first 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 Lula’s key policies such as focusing on reducing extreme poverty, and seeking a strong role for the government in the economy.

In June 2013, Brazil saw wide-spread, mainly peaceful, protests on a range of issues. Originally a response to increased public transport costs, the protests soon gathered momentum via social media and quickly broadened to include a much larger number of issues, including corruption, the costs associated with hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic and Paralympic Games, and the high living costs experienced by the 30-40 million Brazilians who recently entered the middle class.

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, prior to which a key opposition candidate died in a plane crash, Dilma 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 will remain a high priority, as would maintaining social welfare programs, reforming the political system and tackling corruption.

Foreign Policy

Brazil is a global player. This has been acknowledged by it being chosen to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics. Brazil 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 recognition of its growing international clout, Brazil has significantly boosted its global diplomatic presence, particularly in Africa. In recent years, Brazilian candidates have been elected Secretary General of the World Trade Organisation 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 Mercosul (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).  President Rousseff has indicated that in her second term, Brazil’s foreign policy priorities would be 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 chaired by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.  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, Trade and Investment Minister, the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, visited Rio de Janeiro to promote Brazilian investment in Australia and participate in the COALAR-supported Energy-Water-Food Nexus Seminar, which helped build linkages between Australian and Brazilian specialists in these areas which are of significant importance to both countries.

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 in the World Trade Organization (WTO) through the Cairns Group. Brazil and Australia have a close working relationship in the G20. Reform of international financial institutions (such as the World Bank and IMF) to give developing countries a greater voice in these organisations is a shared G20 priority for Australia and Brazil.

Australia and New Zealand participate in the CER-Mercosul 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 member states of 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.

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. Tourism between the two countries is also growing steadily, with over 41,000  Australian tourists visiting Brazil in 2014 and over 35,000 Brazilians visiting Australia in 2013. 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.  In 2016, Brazil will be the focus country of a major Australian cultural program that will strengthen and deepen ties with Brazil through arts and cultural events and activities.

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 21,000 Brazilians study in Australia annually.  Many of the Brazilian students studying in Australia in higher education institutions are doing so under President Rousseff’s international scholarship program, Science Without Borders.  Australian education institutions have more than 80 active agreements with Brazilian governments and institutions.

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 seventh largest economy, with a GDP of US$2.2 trillion. Brazil's per capita GDP is lower than Chile’s, but higher than fellow BRICS members, China and India.  Brazil’s economy grew by 2.5 per cent in 2013 but was subdued in 2014.  Inflation increased slightly from 6.2 to 6.4 per cent from 2013 to 2014.  Economic growth in 2015 is expected to remain low while inflation should remain at or near its current level.  Brazil's unemployment rate averaged 5.5 per cent in 2014. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index for 2014-15 ranked Brazil 57 out of 144 countries and the World Bank's 2014 rankings for 'ease of doing business' placed Brazil 120 out of 189.

With large and well-developed agricultural, mining, oil and gas, manufacturing and service sectors, Brazil is expanding in 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 and largest exporter of ethanol. Still, Brazil is facing a number of challenges including manufacturing competition from China, slow productivity gains, and infrastructure bottlenecks.

Externally, Mercosul is the most important economic grouping for Brazil. Under the Mercosul treaty, tariffs between members are lowered gradually on most products and common external tariffs are applied to non-members. Mercosul 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 merchandise trade between Australia and Brazil totalling A$1.414 billion in Financial Year 2013-14. Merchandise trade comprised exports of A$815 million to Brazil and imports of A$600 million from Brazil. Major exports to Brazil included coal, crude petroleum, nickel ores and concentrates, and aluminum. Major imports from Brazil included medicaments, civil engineering equipment and parts, coffee and fruit juices.

Australian investment in Brazil was A$13.049 billion in 2013. There are currently 110 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 JB Swift, Vale, WEG and Natura Cosmeticos.  JB Swift is now the largest meat processing company in Australia and has investments of around A$2.5 billion in Australia.

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, 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

December 2014:  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, Foreign Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, 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: Then Senate President, Senator John Hogg, visited Brazil.

June 2012: The 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: Then Trade Minister the Hon. Craig Emerson visited São Paulo and Brasília..

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

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

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

August 2009: Then-Minister for Foreign Affairs, 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: 1 August 2014