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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Giving knowledge with no strings attached : Brazil's use of technical cooperation as a foreign policy tool and the case of ‘biofuels diplomacy’ Farias, Deborah Barros Leal


Since the mid-2000s, Brazil became deeply committed to transferring biofuels-related knowledge to as many countries as possible. Through bilateral and multilateral technical cooperation agreements, over 80 countries in the world have demonstrated their interest in learning from Brazil’s unique experience with mass-scale use of biofuels – especially sugarcane-based ethanol. The initial puzzle of why was Brazil fostering potential competitors is made even more intriguing by a particular characteristic: Brazil was transferring knowledge without demanding anything in return. This dissertation takes the empirical case of why Brazil has chosen to provide biofuels-related knowledge through no-strings-attached technical cooperation as a springboard for other reflections, with two in particular. First, why do countries provide technical cooperation in the context of development assistance? Second, why would a country give something to another country without demanding anything in return? The argument developed is that a country committed to providing unconditional and untied technical cooperation is strategically prioritizing mid/long term diplomatic over short term commercial gains, counting on the expectation of reciprocity from its recipients. The analysis is based upon academic literatures involving power, foreign policy analysis, development assistance, South-South Cooperation, so-called ‘emerging’ donors, and Brazilian foreign policy. The Brazilian biofuels’ case is developed from academic literature, official documents, and almost 100 interviews done in Brazil with diplomats, civil servants, and academics; a significant portion of this data originated from material available only in Portuguese. Among key contributions, this study demonstrates how technical cooperation has been – and continues to be – used as a foreign policy tool. Countries can seek different gains from the provision of knowledge, and it is necessary to look at domestic forces pushing policymakers to choose which interest(s) they will prioritize. The empirical analysis sheds light on the power dynamics underneath the act of giving with no demands. The material also sheds light on similarities and differences among strategies pursued by Brazil, China, India and South Africa. Finally, the study makes significant contributions for the still sparse English-based literature on Brazilian foreign policy and its path to becoming a reference in biofuels.

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