Former Vice President Joe Biden threatened an economic war with Brazil during Tuesday night’s presidential debate, stating that the South American nation would suffer “significant economic consequences” if it did not adhere to Biden’s preferred environmental policy.
Biden and incumbent President Donald Trump were discussing the issue of climate change theory generally; the debate did not provide any formal opportunity to debate foreign policy. Biden began his statement on Brazil by asserting that Trump was wrong to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, a multilateral accord that requires different sets of anti-pollution policies from each signatory. Trump has stated that he would rejoin the agreement if he felt that he could negotiate a more favorable deal for American workers with the other member states.
Biden was vice president when President Barack Obama signed the Paris Accord.
“The first thing I will do, I will rejoin the Paris Accord. I will join the Paris Accord because with us out of it, look what’s happening. It’s all falling apart. And talk about someone who has no relationship with foreign policy,” Biden said, before abruptly pivoting to diplomatic relations with Brazil.
“Brazil, the rainforests of Brazil are being torn down, are being ripped down. More carbon is absorbed in that rainforest than every bit of carbon that’s emitted in the United States,” Biden said. “Instead of doing something about that, I would be gathering up and making sure we had the countries of the world coming up with $20 billion, and say, ‘Here’s $20 billion. Stop, stop tearing down the forest. And if you don’t, then you’re going to have significant economic consequences.’”
Biden did not explain where his $20 billion figure came from, nor did moderator Chris Wallace ask, instead pivoting away from the threat to a longtime American diplomatic ally. It is possible Biden incorrectly recalled that French President Emmanuel Macron offered Brazil $22 million last year, collected from G-7 member nations, to fight fires in the Amazon Rainforest. France is an Amazonian state through its continued colonization of French Guiana.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rejected Macron’s money, insisting on an apology from Macron personally for calling Bolsonaro a liar; the apology never came. Bolsonaro’s chief of staff, Onyx Lorenzoni, responded to Macron by asking, “Macron couldn’t even prevent a foreseeable fire in a church that is a World Heritage Site [the Notre Dame cathedral] and he wants to teach our country, what [exactly]?”
Macron was largely responsible for a global hoax suggesting that the breadth of fires in the Amazon last year was unprecedented. According to the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Macron published photos on Twitter of fires in the region, condemning Bolsonaro’s administration, but the photograph was taken by a photographer who died in 2003. Bolsonaro became president in 2019.
Macron’s misleading photo traveled the world, shared by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio — who Bolsonaro has accused of funding environmentalist groups starting fires in the Amazon — who also shared photos of Peru and other irrelevant alleged evidence of Bolsonaro’s environmental negligence.
The area of the Amazon covered in fires during the fire season, when farmers tend to burn shrubbery to begin planting, was larger than any before 2013. NASA asserted that it was the most “active fire year since 2010.” The area covered by fires, according to experts, appeared more average than excessive when compared with a time period beginning in 2003.
As Brazil inches closer to its spring season, the number of fires has increased this month. According to Reuters, 27 percent of fires identified in September are targeting virgin forest, not previously farmed land.
Bolsonaro addressed global left-wing attacks on his administration regarding the fires during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week.
“We are victims of a most brutal disinformation campaign about the Amazon and the Brazilian wetlands,” Bolsonaro said. “The Brazilian Amazon is known to be immensely rich. That explains the support given by international institutions to this disinformation campaign anchored on shady interests coupled with exploitative and unpatriotic Brazilian associations with the purpose of undermining the Government and Brazil itself.”
“We are leaders when it comes to the conservation of tropical rainforests. We have the world’s cleanest and most diversified energy mix. Even as one of the world’s ten largest economies, we account for only 3% of carbon emissions worldwide,” Bolsonaro asserted.
According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, Brazil’s share of global carbon emissions is even lower: one percent.
Bolsonaro himself has not responded to Biden’s comments at press time, but some in his administration have rejected his remarks. Senior Bolsonaro adviser Filipe Martins posted a short message on Twitter regarding the $20 billion: “No money in the world can buy our freedom and our sovereignty. Good night to all!”
Nenhum dinheiro do mundo pode comprar nossa liberdade e nossa soberania. Boa noite a todos! 👍🏻
— Filipe G. Martins (@filgmartin) September 30, 2020
Bolsonaro’s Environment Minister Ricardo Salles used the opportunity to jokingly pretend to consider Biden’s proposal, asking “just one question: Is Biden’s aid $20 billion a year?”
Bolsonaro’s son, Sao Paulo lawmaker Eduardo, asserted that Biden’s repetition of Amazon Rainforest panic was a sign that he felt it a formidable cudgel to use against Trump: “Fantastical narratives are not bought into by those who believe them, but by those who think they could benefit from them.”
Waging economic war on Brazil, a nation with few diplomatic conflicts and a generally reliable U.S. ally, would damage a relationship in which the U.S. has a sizeable trade surplus. According to U.S. Census statistics, trade volume between America and Brazil has reached $33 billion so far, and was about $74 billion by the end of last year (global trade has declined significantly in general as a result of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic).
The U.S. enjoys a bigger trade surplus with Brazil than with any other nation in the world except the Netherlands. Brazil is America’s ninth-largest export market as of July 2020.
Brazil also plays a critical role in economic ties to China. Trump’s policies towards China, which increased tariffs on key American exports to the country, have been a boon for Brazil, which has found increased demand for its soybeans and iron ore during the U.S.-China trade war. Brazil has the ability to ease the effects of Trump’s trade war on China more than nearly any other nation and maintains outsized importance in the Chinese economy as evidence mounts that the communist nation is facing a food shortage crisis.
In addition to proposing an anti-Brazil policy that could severely damage U.S. economic policy, Biden threatened to harm the economy of South America’s largest nation after months of struggling to attract Latin American voters. While Brazil is not a Hispanic nation — it is a former Portuguese colony — it is a Latino nation and part of the greater Latin American cultural family.
Several polls published in September showed that Trump may end up winning more Latino voters in 2020 than any Republican since 2004 and attracts more support against Biden than he did against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden also faced a scandal within his own ranks after Hispanic campaign workers accused Biden’s organization of fomenting a “toxic” work culture in Florida.
Biden’s polling with Latinos dropped after he announced he had chosen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate.