By Saroj Mohanty

All eyes will be on Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest and South America’s most globalised city, as it plays host to the opening kickoff of the soccer World Cup at the Itaquerão Stadium on June 12. But this sassy city of a fast modernising Brazil, the world’s third largest democracy and seventh biggest economy, has an another distinction – a model of economic paradiplomacy.


It has a resonance for those interested in diplomacy and urban governance, especially at a time when the new Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is intent on reconfiguring Indian missions abroad, turning them into business and investment centres, and incorporating a greater role for the states in country’s foreign policy.

Sao Paulo in recent years has drawn international attention for its aggressive and successful efforts at “city diplomacy”. The sprawling metropolis has over 50 consulates – the second largest consular corps in the world behind New York City, while capital Brasilia hosts 100 embassies. In 2013, the State of São Paulo became the first subnational government in the Southern Hemisphere to sign direct bilateral agreements with the United States and Britain. Rodrigo Tavares, head of the São Paulo State’s Office of Foreign Affairs, in a recent article, says that Governor Geraldo Alckmin, has “signed more international agreements (50 per year), received more foreign delegations (on average 450 per year), and managed more international cooperation programmes (150) than any other regional governor in Latin America”. It is second among the top Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) destinations in the Americas, closely following New York.

Paradiplomacy as a concept first appeared in the 1990s and was simply defined as local or subnational or regional governments’ role in foreign policy through the establishment of formal and informal ties with the objective of promoting economic and socio-cultural dimensions of development. It gained currency in the broader context of globalization and trans-border flows of information, technology, economy and culture. And as transnational problems such as financial crises, environmental degradation, spread of genetically-modified organisms posed major challenges, it was felt that these could hardly be dealt with within the exclusive framework of intergovernmental relations.

Rodrigo Tavares
Rodrigo Tavares

Given such a context, subnational governments, non-state economic actors and social movements have come to have an important say in global affairs. Tavares says that with globalization, subnational governments can no longer fulfill their constitutional responsibilities in education, sanitation, economic development, transportation, the environment, and other areas “without interacting with the world.”

In Brazil,the municipal model of diplomacy evolved following the promulgation of new constitution that allowed decentralization of the federation and the coming up of a new leadership after the 2010 federal and state elections that understood the promise of a new kind of diplomacy. Two years later, Antonio Patriota, then foreign minister, said the ministry recognised “the new reality of federative diplomacy and has been working extensively in coordination with states and municipalities to explore synergies.”

The Ministry of External Relations now has a separate administrative service that creates dialogue with municipalities and states. Also in 2012, the São Paulo state government passed a decree adopting its own plan for conducting international relations that aimed at attracting foreign investment.

And today, all 26 government departments of Sao Paulo have foreign partnerships or projects, especially in infrastructure such as highways and subway lines built by foreign companies or in cooperation with foreign consultants. Britain, Canada and Japan and others have signed agreements for public security, environmental initiatives, and education. The United Nations supports São Paulo’s efforts to reduce poverty and combat corruption.

“Non ducor duco” (I am not led, I lead), says Sao Paulo’s Latin motto. World attention has turned to its public housing programme and biofuels policy, which has been replicated by Angola and Mexico respectively. Similarly, Rio de Janeiro, which will host the 2016 Summer Olympics, has an impressive an e-health project that uses high-tech mobile diagnosis backpacks enabling doctors and nurses to provide care to elderly and disabled living in ‘favelas’ (slums) and hillside.

Fellow BRICS partners, Brazil and India, are today in a similar situation. Both have made major economic strides in the last 25 years and lifted millions out of extreme poverty. The two countries are transitioning from being regional powers to global ones. However, in recent years their economic momentum has slackened and most households have experienced only modest or no income growth. The two countries also face the growing challenges of rapid urbanisation.

In his previous trips to China, the Indian prime minister may have studied the Chinese model of paradiplomacy to attract FDI, seen how the neighbouring country has opened municipal foreign affairs offices in major cities. As he bids to facilitate international flow of capital and ideas to invigorate the Indian economy and develop 100 new cities, he may have a look at the Sao Paulo model of diplomacy when he visits the Latin American country for the BRICS summit next month.


*Saroj Mohanty is a senior journalist and analyst. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected]