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The risk of a “selfie” in Davos

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Which Brazil will Dilma present this week?

President Dilma will take the platform at the World Economic Forum next Friday. She will have half an hour to cheer up the hearts and minds of investors who have felt disappointed with the near-term outlook in Brazil lately.

Still, she may make things even worse. Doing a “selfie” number would be enough for that – such as a long self-congratulatory speech listing the “achievements” of successive PT governments.

Forty head of states are traveling to Davos, as well as nearly 3,000 executives. Journalists and bureaucrats from around the world are also joining the pack. Should Dilma use this opportunity to simply paint the kind of rosy picture that is usually directed to the Brazilian electorate, her Alpine endeavor will prove counterproductive and will not serve the national interest.

In 2002, Lula was as yet unknown and the prospect of his likely election then triggered a sort of “fear of Brazil”. Then in 2010, economic growth reached 7.5 percent and the prospects of global events on Brazilian turf such as the World Cup and the Olympics led to a kind of “Brazil mania”.

But today, the dominant feeling is “Brazil apathy”. According to the World Bank, we will grow less than the global average in 2014. We will be lagging behind all emerging markets, except for Iran and Egypt. We are not talking about some economic collapse here. But nothing seems to be able to lift growth beyond a vegetative level of 2 percent per year.

The likelihood of another “selfie” speech is high. The message that the president will deliver is likely to be a “fondue” mix between the autistic presentation she made at Goldman Sachs in September and her idyllic end of year [presidential] address.  

During the first event, Wall Street was told that Brazil is implementing the “largest concession program in the world” and that its industrial policy “focuses on innovation and technological development”. At the second one, we Brazilians learned that our living standards should “keep improving” in 2014.

But Davos is a different story. People there make comparisons. Brazil looks more impressive when it is compared with its own past, but less so compared to its Latin American cousins from the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Chile, Colombia and Peru).

The problem is that Davos is full of psycho warriors. The Forum starts two days before the president speaks on Friday. By then, thousands of participants will already have been hammered with analyses that explain that “the rich countries are emerging”.

The United States, Europe, and Japan will experience growth and this is not necessarily good news for countries like Brazil, which were expecting the decline of interdependent capitalism.

The Planalto [ie.Brazil’s presidency] assumes that Dilma’s mere presence will help the renewal of confidence in Brazil. The messenger would be more important than the message itself. Such expectations are a mistake.

A frowning president reading a prefabricated “selfie” like a robot will not make people change their mind. What could have a positive impact would be speaking naturally and improvising, looking the audience in the eye, showing a commitment to structural reforms, reconnecting to globalization, saying that the country will not be allowed to go backwards. Will the president adopt such a stance and vision?

In 2010, after Lula was dubbed “my man” [by Obama], he challenged Davos: “There is no evidence that the crisis has contributed to rethinking the world economic order.”

Let us hope that Dilma will issue signals that the new world economic order will now allow Brazil to think again – and reposition itself.

Marcos Troyjo is director of the BRICLab at Columbia University, where he teaches international affairs. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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