Brasilia — Trade
Brazil, as composer Tom Jobim once said, is not a country for beginners. Yet that is exactly what Vijay Rangarajan is, as a first-time ambassador posted to the UK’s embassy in Brasilia.
A career civil servant, in 2017 Rangarajan swapped the Brexit-obsessed corridors of Whitehall for a heated shake-up in Brazilian congress. Jair Bolsonaro is the first far-right president of Brazil since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1985. Yet it’s because of these dramatic U-turns across both sides of the Atlantic that Rangarajan sees opportunities for the Anglo-Brazilian relationship.
“There is a clear direction from the Brazilian government to open up the economy,” he says, sporting a smart navy suit. Today, against the backdrop of Brexit, opening up beyond the frontiers of the EU is also a priority for the UK. The latter imports a lot of traded goods from Brazil, mainly soya and coffee. “But the big UK opportunities we’re really exploring is trading services,” says Rangarajan. “This is a really interesting one because it’s very two-way.” Legal services, accountancy, financial management and education are some of the areas where both British and Brazilian firms are doing business.
Navigating the next few months will require skill. Despite being new to the role of ambassador, Rangarajan is suited for the task at hand. He first joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1995, and for years was part of the UK mission in Brussels on trade policy and political affairs. Brasilia – a small capital city with somewhat “limited” dining options, and where negotiation is paramount – reminds him of Brussels. Built in 1960, Brasilia has a population of just 2.8 million, which makes it very accessible. Personal relationships are established swiftly, as time is not wasted in traffic: “Unlike São Paulo and Rio, cities that throw themselves at you, here you can dig your way in quite quickly.” It’s also never too cold for shorts.
More of a challenge is trying to grapple with the sheer size of Brazil. The UK embassy has more than 200 staff spread throughout five major cities but Rangarajan says that they still feel “thin on the ground”. There are 26 new Brazilian governors who run states the size of some European countries. “That’s a lot of dinners,” he says, smiling. Luckily he has a beginner’s energy – not to mention, appetite.
Global — Diplomacy
The Lima Group – the bloc of 14, mostly Latin American countries formed in 2017 to pressure Nicolás Maduro to cede power – has become the focal point for international efforts to resolve Venezuela’s crisis. Countries such as the US, the UK and Germany, which aren’t formal members of the group, have nonetheless allied themselves with it, perhaps calculating that there’s strength in numbers. But how effective are international blocs in resolving crises on the ground?
It’s a format that has a mixed track record. The Eminent Persons Group, for example, is credited with laying the groundwork for constitutional reform in post-apartheid South Africa; more recently, however, groups such as the Quartet on the Middle East, once headed by Tony Blair and launched with the aim of mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict, have had little effect.
The jury is still out on whether the Lima Group will be successful but as long as the unified response remains consistent, it certainly won’t help Maduro retain his grip on power.
Japan — Immigration
Japan doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to immigration. In truth the number of foreign workers has tripled to 1.5 million since 2008. But because of an ageing workforce this still isn’t enough, so two new resident statuses – for those in industries such as hospitality, nursing and fishery – are being introduced. Expecting some 345,000 applicants in five years, the government is upgrading the Immigration Bureau with an extra 500 staff and an additional ¥11.7bn (€93m) a year.