Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Why São Paulo is a leader in paradiplomacy

Back in March São Paulo signed an agreement with the US, the first time a subnational entity in the Southern Hemisphere enters a legal arrangement with the US government. Last week the British were in town and also established bilateral relations with São Paulo. Canada, France, Germany are next in line.

The recognition of São Paulo as a political and economic force is now such that it is common for countries to have more staff on their payroll in São Paulo than at embassies in Brasília. Even more impressive, São Paulo as a city has the largest consular corps in the world barring New York. These are the signs of a strong paradiplomatic leader or, in other words, a region strong enough to hold foreign relations independently of the nation in which it is located, in this case Brazil. The reason is simple: economic power.

São Paulo if it were a country would be the 19th richest in the world, ahead of every country in South America with the obvious exception of Brazil itself. And globalisation means that even if national level politics dictates a certain direction it is in São Paulo’s interest as a region to own its own relationships and negotiate independently what might be in its specific economic interest.

The result is hyper regional diplomacy. Putting that in numbers, a recent article by the Council on Foreign Relations found that Geraldo Alckmin, incumbent governor of São Paulo, has “signed more international agreements (50 per year), received more foreign delegations (on average 450 per year), and managed more international cooperation programs (150) than any other regional governor in Latin America”. In fact with the exception of President Dilma Rousseff herself, Alckmin receives more heads of state and government than any Latin American leader.

And on a practical level it doesn’t only mean that projects such as public transport construction receives more foreign assistance or study abroad programs become common. It also means São Paulo gains international visibility and assumes a leadership position. As the city’s motto says, Non ducor duco (I am not led, I lead) and, already, Angola has copied São Paulo’s public housing program; Macedonia has installed its IT program; and Mexico has replicated its biofuels policy.

Look out for the states of Rio de Janeiro or Minas Gerais following in São Paulo’s footsteps in the near future...

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