President Bolsonaro touts ‘new Brazil’ in Davos, says country will become more business-friendly

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's president, delivers a speech during a special address on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Jason Alden | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s president, delivers a speech during a special address on the opening day of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

Brazil’s newly-elected populist President Jair Bolsonaro addressed the world’s business elite in Davos on Tuesday, vowing to transform Latin America’s largest economy into a more investment-friendly country.

On his first international trip since becoming president, Bolsonaro delivered the keynote speech at the World Economic Forum (WEF).

“Brazil’s economy is still relatively closed to foreign trade and to change that situation is one of my administration’s major commitments,” Bolsonaro said, according to a WEF translation.

“You can be sure that by the end of my term in office, our economic team, led by Minister of Finance Paulo Guedes, will position in the ranking of the 50 best countries in the world to do business,” he added.

His comments are likely to be well received by market participants, after more than a decade of interventionist policies by previous administrations.

‘New Brazil’

The absence of President Donald Trump at this-year’s five-day event has thrust Brazil’s premier into the spotlight, less than three weeks after his inauguration.

The January get-together is without some of its biggest names, with several world leaders choosing to stay at home to fight domestic crises rather than be seen socializing with the rich and famous.

Nonetheless, the forum is still seen as an opportunity for international heads of state to come together to put the world to rights.

Bolsonaro said his trip to Switzerland was a “great opportunity” to showcase the unique point in time his country was going through.

“And also an opportunity for me to introduce to all of you the new Brazil that we are building,” he added.

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The 63-year-old nationalist secured a sweeping election victory late last year, promising to drain the political swamp and fight deep-seated corruption.

The country’s benchmark stock index reached an all-time high at the end of last week, amid improving investor sentiment about the new government’s pension reform plans.

The Bovespa, one of 2018’s top performing indexes across the globe, hit a record high, crossing the 96,000 mark on Friday. It followed heightened expectations that Bolsonaro’s government could reveal pension reform plans earlier-than-expected.

On Tuesday, the index pared some its recent gains, standing at 95.611 at around 3:30 p.m. London time.

Reform agenda

“We think Jair Bolsonaro has a big chance to reform the country,” Francesco Starace, chief executive at Enel, told CNBC at WEF on Tuesday.

“His agenda is a reform agenda. If it is populist or not populist, we don’t care — it is a reform agenda that we think is good for the country and the country needs it,” he added.

Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser also told CNBC Tuesday that his firm has been in Brazil for 130 years. “The last few years have been not so good times, because there has been lack of leadership,” he said.