With its 213 million inhabitants, its large and diversified economy - the 12th biggest in GDP - and its gigantic territory, Brazil is a major player in the world today. With the Amazon rainforest, it also holds one of the main keys to the future of biodiversity and the global climate. After 9 years without a high-level visit from the EU, it was high time to come to this pivotal country.
Before summarising the exchanges with the country's main political authorities, I believe it is important to clarify the functioning of Brazilian institutions, especially for the European public, which is often not familiar with these issues. In our public debate, there is a tendency to over-identify Brazil with its President and the government he or she leads. During our visit, the think tankers we met, who are not linked to the current executive, stressed how this approach does not reflect correctly the multifaceted reality of Brazil.
Brazil is a federation in which the federated states have a large degree of autonomy and many prerogatives of their own. Moreover, federal power itself is not concentrated in the hands of the President and the executive he or she appoints. Powerful counter-powers exist both in the country's Supreme Court and the judicial system and in the Brazilian Congress. Our interlocutors, even when they were not in favour of the current President, indicated that this balance of power continued to work until now. However, they also expressed concerns for the future in the context of the Presidential election to be held next year.
This shared power is probably best illustrated by how the country has handled the COVID-19 outbreak. President Jair Bolsonaro has opposed lockdowns, but this did not prevent many state and municipal authorities from taking such measures. He has also repeatedly expressed his opposition to vaccination against COVID-19 and remains unvaccinated himself. However, the vaccination rate of the Brazilian population is now higher than that of the United States and the European Union, thanks in particular to their growing local vaccine production capacity, including the Chinese vaccine Sinovac produced by the Butantan Institute and the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by Fiocruz. Eurofarma Laboratorios plans also to produce 100 million doses Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines doses yearly for distribution in Latin America, starting in early 2022. As a result, the pandemic has significantly declined in Brazil. Under the Team Europe label, the European Union, its Member States and the European financial institutions have mobilised more than €650 million to help Brazil cope with the pandemic, an important support which has been welcomed by the Brazilian authorities.
During our meetings with President Jair Bolsonaro, Vice President Hamilton Mourão, Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto França, Environment Minister Eduardo Leite and the President of the Senate Rodrigo Pacheco, our talks focused mainly on the agreement between the European Union and Mercosur on the one hand and the issue of climate and environmental protection on the other hand.
Regarding climate, due to the widespread use of ethanol in its transportation system and the importance of hydropower in its electricity production (2/3 of the total), renewable energies represent 48% of Brazil's energy balance , compared with 20% in the European Union in 2019. As a result, Brazil is a low emitter of greenhouse gases due to energy use, but the critical issue of deforestation remains.
In the context of the COP 26 in Glasgow, the Brazilian government has recently taken important initiatives. Firstly, it has increased its commitment to reduce the country's greenhouse gas emissions from -43% to -50% by 2030 compared to their 2005 level, while committing to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. This represents an effort that is broadly comparable to what we are doing in the EU. The Brazilian government has also joined the Global Methane Pledge launched by EC President Ursula Von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden in Glasgow to limit emissions of this specific gas, which is much more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. Last but not least, Brazil has committed to end illegal deforestation by 2030 and has presented an action plan in this regards.
These are important commitments for the future of the world's climate and biodiversity, of course, but also for the relationship between the European Union and Brazil, which had been clouded in the recent past by disagreements on these issues. However, I also stressed how important it is for these commitments to be fully implemented on the ground. Several non-governmental interlocutors stressed the difficulties that could arise in this area, particularly on the issue of illegal deforestation, due to the lack of resources and deep vested interests opposing actions to combat it effectively.
When I came to Brazil as President of the European Parliament in 2006, I was told that the signing of the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur was imminent. Fifteen years later and two years after its signature, it is still not in place. Our interlocutors recalled that they remain attached to the agreement, because it would help modernising the Brazilian economy and accelerating productivity gains. This agreement is also important to help advance the integration process of Mercosur itself. The leaders of European companies in Brazil that I met in Sao Paolo also stressed the importance and benefits of this agreement, for both the Brazilian and the European economies.
I confirmed in our discussions the European Commission's desire to see this dossier succeed after a long gestation period, while clearly pointing out the difficulties that remain to be overcome. The European Parliament is opposed to the ratification of this agreement in its current state, as are some Member States, because of environmental issues. It needs to be completed. Moreover, the exact nature of this agreement - is it a trade agreement or an association agreement? - remains to be clarified, and this has important implications for the ratification process. For sure, the new environmental commitments of the Brazilian government could help move this agreement forward if they are really followed up.
We also discussed Brazil's membership application to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a move we support, and that of security cooperation, which is already effective in the Central African Republic but which could be extended to other regions, notably Mozambique.
Finally, I met with representatives of UN Women in Brazil. They gave us a detailed picture of the difficult situation of women committed to defending the rights of their communities in Brazil, as they are often threatened with their lives or physical integrity.
We also attended a presentation of the Operaçao Acolhida (Operation Welcome), for the relocation within Brazil of Venezuelan refugees arriving at the country's border, carried out by the Brazilian government with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the International Organisation for Migration and the support of the EU. Of the approximately 260,000 Venezuelans in the country, it has so far involved 61,000 people. I was particularly moved by the testimonies given during our meeting by two Venezuelan refugees who have benefited from it. One had arrived at the border almost starving to death with his family and was able to be welcomed, re-housed and given a job thanks to Operaçao Acolhida. The other had to flee because her son was seriously ill and could not be treated in Venezuela. He was taken in and cared for in Brazil. It is in moments like these that one realises that human beings we are talking about are not just numbers in statistics and that our actions - or inaction - can have vital consequences for real people.
Despite recent tensions, this visit helped to re-establish direct contact with the Brazilian authorities and Brazil will participate at the EU-Latin America Leaders’ Meeting that we will organise next month. In particular, the new Brazilian commitments on the environment can make a significant contribution to further progress on the trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, provided they are implemented on the ground.