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New Protagonists in Global Economic Governance: Brazilian Agribusiness at the WTO

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The existing international economic order has been heavily shaped by US power and the US has been a key driver of globalisation and neoliberal economic restructuring, prompting speculation about whether the rise of new developing country powers could rupture the current trajectory of neoliberal globalisation. This paper analyses the case of Brazil at the World Trade Organization (WTO), a core institution in global economic governance. In the last decade, Brazil successfully waged two landmark trade disputes against the US and EU and created a coalition of developing countries – the G20 – which brought an end to the dominance of the US and EU at the WTO and made their trade policies a central target of the Doha Round. Brazil's activism has been widely hailed as a major victory for developing countries. However, I argue that rather than challenging the neoliberal agenda of the WTO, Brazil has emerged as one of the most vocal advocates of free market globalisation and the push to expand and liberalise global markets. I show that Brazil's stance has been driven by the rise of its export-oriented agribusiness sector. This case demonstrates that business actors from the Global South are becoming significant new protagonists in global economic governance; they are taking the tools created by the states and corporations of the Global North – in this case, the WTO and its neoliberal discourse – and turning them against their originators. At the same time, their interests are being wrapped in and advanced through a discourse of development and social justice and a strategic mobilisation of the politics of the North-South divide.
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Keywords: Brazil; G20; World Trade Organization (WTO); agriculture; emerging powers; trade

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Sociology, University of British Columbia, Okanagan, 3333 University Way Kelowna, BC, Canada V1V 1V7,

Publication date: August 1, 2013

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