Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was there at the turn of the year, as was Environment Minister Steffi Lemke. At the end of January, Chancellor Olaf Scholz flew in, now Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir are coming: Brazil and its neighboring countries are currently high on the German government's travel list. On Saturday, the two Green ministers set off with a business delegation, the return is not planned until Thursday. Such long journeys are unusual – especially when the points of contention in the coalition are piling up in Berlin.

Julia Löhr

Business correspondent in Berlin.

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Tjerk Brühwiller

Correspondent for Latin America, based in São Paulo.

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But the German government wants to seize the opportunity, and it has a name: Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Under his right-wing populist predecessor Jair Bolsonaro, the Europeans had given Latin America's largest economy a wide berth. Political and economic relations are now to be strengthened. Berlin is watching with concern how the trade conflict between the USA and China is escalating and at the same time China and India continue to eagerly do business with Russia. Together with Russia, India and China, Brazil forms the so-called BRIC group of emerging economies. The West wants to avoid turning it into an anti-Western trading bloc.

Alternatives to deforestation sought

One issue that is likely to be at the top of Habeck's and Özdemir's list during Habeck's and Özdemir's visit is the still unratified free trade agreement between the EU and the South American Economic Community Mercosur, which includes Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The agreement would create the largest free trade area in the world. After 20 years of negotiations, the treaty is in place, but it has not entered into force because of criticism from Europe of Bolsonaro's lax stance on climate and forest protection.

Since the change of government in Brazil, the omens are better. Although there is still no sign of a decline in deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, the new government in Brasília has made it clear that it will work more vehemently for the protection of the forest and indigenous peoples. Financial and technological help from Europe is welcome. It is also a question of what alternatives can be offered to the millions of people in this area. Because protection alone neither creates jobs nor feeds the population.

Ingo Kramer, Chairman of the Latin America Initiative (LAI) of German Business, is pleased that talks are taking place again. But he also has admonishing words ready in the direction of the travel group. "Europe likes to think of itself as the navel of the world. But we can't walk through the Amazon region with our fingers wagging, which doesn't go down well with people," says Kramer. "How would we react if the Brazilians taught us not to set up wind turbines on the coast with cables running through the Wadden Sea?"

However, focusing on the Amazon does not do justice to Brazil's economic potential anyway. With a population of more than 200 million people, Brazil offers a market that is of great importance for German companies. Hundreds of German companies have settled in the state of São Paulo alone. The German Chamber of Commerce there is one of the largest in the world. The fact that Habeck opens the german-Brazilian Economic Days in Belo Horizonte on Sunday is not a matter of course, regardless of the size of the Brazilian economy – his predecessor was mainly drawn to Asia and the USA.

Concerns about agricultural imports

But Latin America could become an important partner for Europe's ecological transformation. Not only raw materials such as lithium required for car batteries can be found in the region. The potential for the efficient production of renewable energies – and thus also of green hydrogen – is also great. In many countries, the majority of energy is already generated with renewables.

Brazil also plays an important role as a food producer. This, in turn, is the reason why not only conservationists, but also farmers in Europe view the Mercosur agreement critically. "The same high EU standards are not applied to agricultural imports as to EU agriculture," says Joachim Rukwied, President of the Farmers' Association. He calls for completely new negotiations.

In Colombia, the second destination of the trip, the new government of left-wing President Gustavo Petro is pursuing the ambitious goal of completely abandoning oil and coal production. Economists doubt that the country will be able to achieve this in the immediate future, as the export of fossil fuels and the subsidy levies are the main revenues.

Germany, too, has recently imported more coal from Colombia since it no longer obtains this energy source, which is still indispensable for electricity generation, from Russia. Latin America expert Ingo Kramer advises broadening the view beyond coal: "In Colombia, pretty much all the geological forms that exist in Latin America are combined in one country." The country has so far been underestimated by German politics, but not by companies for a long time. "It's not without reason that there are daily direct connections from Frankfurt to Bogotá."