The U.S. 2020 Presidential Election and its Potential Impacts on the Environmental Agenda for US-Brazil Relations

November 16, 2020 by Digital Editor

The Amazon Jungle (Credit: CIAT,

By: Mariana Almeida

On the 3rd of November, 2020, Americans voted in the 59th quadrennial presidential election between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. The impact of last Tuesday’s election reached far beyond the border of the US, including to its neighbors in the Southern Hemisphere.

As a great enthusiast of President Trump’s government and of the President personally, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been inspired by Trump’s way of doing politics: not only his nationalist rhetoric tinged with a populist appeal, but also his presence online and in social media.

President Trump famously called Bolsonaro “the Donald Trump of South’s America” during a joint news conference at the White House after journalists had called the visiting Brazilian president the “Trump of the Tropics.” The nickname, in fact, reflects the similarities between both politicians, which became even more evident in the political measures adopted to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Therefore, Brazilians are concerned with the potential impacts for US-Brazil Relations resulting from a Biden victory in the US 2020 presidential election. One such concern is the political relationship between both countries, considering the pre-existing animosity between Biden and Bolsonaro due to environmental policies adopted under President Bolsonaro’s administration.

The Brazilian Government has been accused by many European countries of neglect in protecting the Amazon rainforest by failing to prevent massive deforestation and forest fires. While President Trump tweeted out support for the Brazilian President, recognizing his efforts to protect the forest,     Biden expressed the opposite opinion in the first 2020 presidential debate.

Biden claimed that serious economic sanctions would be imposed on Brazil if the country did not “stop tearing down the forest“. Bolsonaro has not adopted a friendly tone to answer the potential future President of the US, saying that he will not accept “bribes, criminal land demarcations or coward threats toward our territorial and economic integrity.”

Biden stated that in his future administration he will fully integrate climate change into the US foreign policy and national security strategies, as well as the US approach to trade. Thus, a victory from Biden in the 2020 US presidential election should lead to more scrutiny of Brazilian environmental policy, which has been denying the official data of fires and deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.

The economic consequences of such an environmental agenda are already reflected in Brazilian trade market. Worldwide fashion-retail companies (i.e. The North Face and Timberland) have suspended the import of leather from Brazil, until local suppliers demonstrate they have no relation with the fires or are involved in the replacement of the rainforest by agricultural or pasture areas.

An increasing diplomatic tension between the US and Brazil and eventual economic sanctions can be expected in a scenario with Biden as President. This would reflect in American diplomacy what has been the Brazilian foreign policy in the past years with European Countries, when it comes to the Bolsonaro environmental agenda.

For example, after admitting the possibility of pulling Brazil out of the Paris Climate Accords, European leaders at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan asked Bolsonaro about the increasing level of Amazon deforestation and fires, showing their concern with regard to Brazil’s environmental policy to protect the ecosystem. On that occasion, Emmanuel Macron stated that France would withdraw its support for the free-trade agreement between European Union and Mercosur if Brazil pulled out from the Paris Accord. Also, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, mentioned that the environment situation of Brazil was “dramatic.”

Brazil reinforced its commitment to the climate agreement. Yet, answering to Angela Merkel, Bolsonaro stated that Germany has a lot to learn from Brazil about environmental issues. With the official numbers indicating, for the second consecutive year, a worrying increase of fires at the Amazon rainforest and no effective action from the Brazilian government, Germany and Norway had frozen financial aid to preserve such an ecosystem, approximately $72.2m.

The agenda of the Amazon rainforest is very important and sensitive to all Brazilians and there is no consensus about how to achieve a balance between economic development and sustainability. Such discussion has been one of the major challenges of the country. Brazil’s sovereignty over the Amazon forest on its territory and all connected matters, including its protection, is a much less controversial agenda. Therefore, the Amazon ecosystem and biodiversity are seen as a heritage of all Brazilians, despite the global importance of the forest.

Using the sovereignty speech, Bolsonaro suggested that European financial aid would no longer be a way to buy the Brazilian forest. Brazil’s presidential speech gained strength when during a G7 summit Macron urged those leaders to discuss the raging wildfires in the Amazon forest, without Brazil’s participation and later tweeted “our house is burning.”

Both attempts had a very negative impact on Brazilians, who saw these initiatives as an affront to Brazilian sovereignty over the Amazon. Once again, Bolsonaro, drawing on a nationalist discourse, has questioned which were the real intention of Macron beyond the Amazon protection, as well as stating that discussing Amazonian issues without the participation of the countries of the region, evokes an unreasonable colonialist mentality.

In the midst of all this discussion among world leaders, the Amazon rainforest was left burning and no progress was made to achieve an efficient communication with purposeful environmental agendas. Perhaps Biden’s first major challenge with Brazil is to establish a softer dialogue, focusing on the common environmental goals between the US and Brazil, not accepting the warlike tone proposed by Bolsonaro.

Mariana Almeida is a Tax LL.M. student at the Georgetown University Law Center. At the Georgetown Journal of International Law, she is an LL.M Digital Advisor and member of the Diversity Committee. Mariana graduated from São Paulo’s Pontifical Catholic University (PUC) Law School and, during her graduation, she was a scientific researcher and co-author of the report “The Political Refugee Concept and its Implications in the Brazilian Legal System,” subsidized by the Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology. Mariana has a master’s in taxation from INSPER (São Paulo-Brazil) and she is a member of the Obama Foundation-supported “Constitution in the Schools Project,” teaching public-school students about their constitutional rights and duties.