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Brazil's Bolsonaro inherits Davos keynote on overseas debut

January 22, 2019

President Bolsonaro said he would present a new, investment-ready Brazil to the Davos elite. He told the forum he'd try to walk a line between business interests and environmental protection.

air Bolsonaro arrives in Davos
Image: Alan Santos/Presidência da República do Brasil

Brazil's newly sworn-in nationalist President Jair Bolsonaro gave the first keynote speech to the globalist audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Tuesday. Bolsonaro has promised to institute neoliberal policies, such as the privatization of most infrastructure.

The president did little to assuage the fears of environmentalists who worry about his ideas concerning the economic potential of the Amazon rainforest, by telling the forum that development and concern for the climate should go "hand in hand." 

"One should not emphasize more than the other," he said.

He promised to open up Brazil's "relatively closed" economy by lowering taxes and easing regulations on foreign investment, and to seek active reforms of the World Trade Organization. He further cemented his right-wing populist bonafides by vowing that the left wing "would not prevail" in Latin America.

The only major policy initiative undertaken by Bolsonaro thus far is to pull Brazil from a UN pact meant to curb irregular migration, following in the footsteps of other populist leaders from around the world. He has also moved to relax gun regulations in violence-plagued Brazil.

Top billing in Trump and May's absence

Bolsonaro is taking over the speech slot of US President Donald Trump, who canceled his trip to Davos to address the government shutdown at home. Bolsonaro has already taken a page out of Trump's economic playbook by bashing China.

Trump is not the only leader who called off his visit to address problems closer to home. UK Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron have also chosen to stay away.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are due to address the crowd on Wednesday.

The year's meeting is overshadowed by the UK's exit from the European Union, slowing economic growth, rising populism and the threat of catastrophic climate change.

"We are at the crossroads of history of humanity. We now have to shape the future," forum founder Klaus Schwab said in his opening speech.

es/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)