Students Invite Brazilian Ambassador

for Panel Discussion at AUP

On February 8, 2019, the Brazilian Student Association (BRASA) hosted a discussion panel on the economic benefits and downsides of Brazilian membership of international organizations, specifically the OECD and the South American trade bloc Mercosul. Speaking on the panel were Paulo César de Oliveira Campos, the Brazilian ambassador to France; Carlos Marcio Cozendey, Brazilian Delegate to International Economic Organizations in Paris; and Jens Arnold, Senior Economist at the OECD and head of their Argentina/Brazil desk.

BRASA is a student-led association seeking to establish an international community of Brazilian students abroad, to create platforms for change in the country and to empower a new generation of Brazilian leaders to work toward a better world. Present in 72 universities across North America, Asia and Europe, the network comprises over 4,700 students.

Despite the Friday evening timeslot, the room was near capacity. Speakers each had 30 minutes to present their overview of Brazilian economic integration at an international level. The ambassador opened with a summary of the country’s economic recovery since its 2016 recession, arguing that government intervention had restored “confidence and economic dynamism in Brazil.” He cited the removal of trade barriers and the updating of technical specifications in line with international standards as evidence of progress toward opening up the country’s relatively closed trade system.

Though Brazil is the eighth largest economy in the world, it has been historically reluctant to engage fully with international trade networks. Along with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, Brazil is a full member of Mercosul ­– a trade bloc and customs union dedicated to promoting the free movement of goods, people and currency across South America. However, the negotiation of a trade agreement between Mercosul and the EU has been ongoing for more than 20 years. “We regret European lack of flexibility,” said the ambassador, particularly in reference to agricultural industries such as sugar.

Cozendey then provided an overview of the history of Brazilian participation in the OECD. Their initial involvement was largely in economic and anti-corruption areas; they have been less involved in education, health, environmental and labor issues. “The main reason was that those areas also have international organizations which deal with them,” Cozendey argued. In 2017, former President Michel Temer started the process for full accession to the OECD – a path that Jair Bolsonaro’s current government is still committed to following. Brazil is currently sixth in line for accession.

Finally, Arnold gave a presentation summarizing the OECD Economic Survey of Brazil 2018, highlighting the country’s current economic situation and the organization’s recommendations for future policy developments. Pension reform was high up the list; the OECD average retirement age is 65, whereas in Brazil it stands closer to 55. The cost of tax compliance was another big factor; Arnold described Brazil as “the world champions of having a complicated tax system.” Brazil does, however, score well in life satisfaction rankings, which consider wellbeing indicators such as work–life balance. “There’s more to what makes life a good thing than GDP,” said Arnold.

The event concluded by opening the floor to questions from attending students. Topics included the impact of the current Venezuelan political situation on Mercosul – the country’s membership of the bloc was suspended in 2016 – and whether “Washington-consensus” trade liberalization policies were really applicable in a Brazilian context. Arnold argued that governments should base policies on empirical evidence, which points to such methods as the most effective driver of growth.