Brazil as an Emerging Donor: Huge Potential and Growing Pains

By Devex Editor 11 October 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: Considered an emerging donor, Brazil has focused its aid program on Africa, with nearly 40 percent of its technical cooperation grants in 2009 benefiting 19 African countries, according to Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. It follows a philosophy that differs considerably from other donors, even with fellow emerging economies such as China, because its development cooperation is not motivated by economic interests. A few excerpts:

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva could not hide his disappointment when he visited Maputo, last October (2008). He had expected to see signs of progress in the construction of a $23 million plant to produce generic drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, which his administration had donated to Mozambique. As the most ambitious foreign assistance project ever launched by Brazil, the plant’s project was announced with some fanfare during the Brazilian president’s first visit to Maputo, in 2003. It was to have been built in four phases, with an operational start date in 2010, Lula’s last year in office. Brazil allocated $4 million for the project’s first phase.

The project was launched on the basis of Brazil’s international stature as a model country in the combat of HIV/AIDS, earned as a result of the work of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, known as Fiocruz, which is attached to the country’s Ministry of Health. Bringing the project to Africa, the continent most afflicted by the AIDS pandemic, was a bold political decision on the part of the current Brazilian administration, calculated to give meaning and substance to Lula’s government strategy to expand Brazil’s presence in the southern hemisphere.

Five years later, there was nothing to be measured or seen. During a closed-door meeting with Mozambican president Armando Ermílio Guebuza, Lula blamed the slow pace of the project’s implementation on his own Ministry of External Relations, which coordinates foreign assistance in the federal government through its Agência Brasileira de Cooperação, or ABC. Speaking at the inauguration of a Maputo office of Fiocruz, Lula promised that, in the event of any future obstacles, “we shall clear the path, we shall unblock matters so that we can come to Mozambique in 2010 and definitively inaugurate the Fiocruz laboratory and the anti-retroviral factory.” The plant, planned for the southern Mozambican city of Matola, is to supply AIDS drugs across Africa. To leave no doubt about the president’s frustration with his government’s poor management of the project, Lula’s office played the tape of his conversation with Guebuza to the Brazilian journalists covering the trip.

Virtues and challenges

The episode is emblematic of both the virtues and the challenges confronting Brazil as an emerging provider of international assistance, alongside China, India, South Africa and a few others. The Matola project involves an area in which Brazil, a developing country still struggling to reduce poverty and inequality, has achieved success and has knowledge to share with other developing countries on issues that really matter to them. In this sense, it reflects the spirit of genuine solidarity that guides Brazil’s foreign assistance. It also indicates a social and political—rather than economic—motivation in Brazilian international cooperation initiatives. Farmanguinhos, a Fiocruz laboratory, will supply the technology and training for the production of the anti-retroviral drugs in Matola. The chemicals and other ingredients will come in part from India, which has worked with Brazil and South Africa to bring a developing nation’s vision and sensitivity to poverty reduction and other matters of interest to the nations of the southern hemisphere.

“What is striking about the current portfolio of commitments made by ABC is that it doesn’t show commercial and/or business interests. Just the opposite, the commitments respond to demands made by the government of recipient countries to the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” says Maristela Baioni, the Program Coordinator for the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in Brasilia. “A portfolio review shows that no links can be established between the growing number of Brazilian global companies now bringing investments and providing services in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia and the technical cooperation promoted by the government of Brazil.” In this sense, Brazil international cooperation contrasts with the tied-aid of the traditional model of North-South cooperation and even with the policies of other BRIC countries, such as China.

“Another important contrast is that Brazilian South-South cooperation provides technical assistance with a much better understanding of development contexts than traditional North-South cooperation. Brazilian experience, expertise and training transferred to Portuguese speaking countries have the comparative advantage of sharing common language and cultural aspects,” notes Baioni. “This makes Brazilian foreign assistance initiatives both innovative and welcome by the beneficiary countries—with greater chances of being effective when implemented.”

The country’s traditional emphasis on technical cooperation and its active high-technology sector has contributed to give to Brazilian development assistance a more significant and focused development dimension, according to Dane Rowlands, of Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, in Ottawa. Rowlands summarized the qualities and deficiencies of Brazil’s foreign assistance in a comparative study of emerging donors published last year by the International Development Research Center. “India and China have been reluctant to collaborate extensively with foreign partners due to the fear of losing policy independence,” he wrote in a recent paper. “Brazil and South Africa have been much more cooperative in their overall development programs, as well as in research for development.”

In Rowlands’ view, the original motivations and strategic objectives of Brazil’s assistance efforts also set the country apart. These, however, are evolving. “In contrast to China and India, Brazil’s development assistance program seemed to emerge more directly from its affinity with other less developed countries and less from immediate political or diplomatic ambitions,” he wrote.

While Brasilia does respond to strong pressures to give priority to its immediate neighbors in order to increase its influence and elevate its profile in regional affairs, its assistance program was expanded to other regions as the country’s global stature increased.

Brazil’s initiatives

Indeed, Africa—more than Latin America—has become the focus of Brazil’s initiatives as an emerging donor. Of its 318 technical cooperation initiatives abroad, 125 involve programs in 19 African countries, namely Angola, Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina-Faso, Cape Verde, Cameron, Egypt, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Kenya, San Tome & Principe, Senegal, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The total investment by the Brazilian government has amounted to slightly more than half of the $22 million it allotted to such programs.

In comparison, Brazil lists 119 projects with its nine immediate neighbors in South America, plus Ecuador. Another 22 cooperation projects are in other South American countries and 58 activities carried out with Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, as well as nine Caribbean countries. Brazil’s international cooperation initiatives have also been extended to Timor Leste, a former Portuguese colony, and to Lebanon, the country of origin of most of the estimated 10 million Brazilians of Arab ancestry.

According to ABC, the bulk of Brazil’s international cooperation, measured by cost, involves professional qualification in recipient countries (22 percent) in the two areas where Brazilian development activities have produced impressive outcomes at home: health (18 percent) and agriculture and livestock (15 percent). Other fields include education (10 percent), social development (7 percent) and legislative assistance (6 percent).

The more challenging aspect of Brazil as an emerging donor is the dispersion of its aid, reflected in the number of initiatives and the variety of fields covered. The problem is compounded by the multiplicity of agencies involved in the implementation and an insufficient cadre of international cooperation experts at ABC. The technical knowledge available at the agency is provided mostly through a cooperative relationship with the Brasilia office of the UNDP. Divided into seven coordinating units headed by professional diplomats whose assignments change every three or four years, ABC also suffers from a lack of both administrative autonomy and political clout. Knowledgeable sources also see the need for better coordination among the various agencies involved in the planning and execution of projects.

The rapid expansion of Brazil’s international cooperation activities under the Lula government has highlighted these shortcomings. They do not diminish, however, the essentially positive nature of Brazil’s development outreach and its promising impact in the beneficiary nations.

Re-published with permission by the World Bank. Visit the original article.

About the author

Devex logo
Devex Editor

Thanks a lot for your interest in Devex News. To share news and views, story ideas and press releases, please email We look forward to hearing from you.

Join the Discussion