This article discusses how Brazilian foreign policy-makers addressed one of the key graduation dilemmas facing Brazil, i.e. the need to build domestic support for a shared vision within society for Brazil's role in the international arena. In the context of democratization, foreign policy-makers understood the importance of involving societal actors in developing foreign policy agendas and actions without hampering the coherence of diplomatic activity. Furthermore, in the context of the rising profile of Brazil in regional and global affairs, it became increasingly relevant to identify and appreciate the role of domestic influences and constraints on foreign policy-making. The article argues that the years the Workers' Party (PT) was in government (2003–2016) presented a watershed moment for foreign policy-makers' receptiveness to civil society inputs into foreign-policy debates. To do this, the article analyses how one crucial group of societal actors—business—organized to represent its interests on foreign economic policy, specifically trade policy, and how the Itamaraty (Ministry of External Relations) responded to business collective action. It examines business interactions with the Itamaraty in two phases, with the global financial crisis in 2008 roughly serving as the inflection point. It argues that the shift in the PT's foreign policy-making approach occurs due to three factors: changes in economic conditions, political leadership and societal interest representation. It concludes that the shifting policy preferences (both pragmatic and ideological) also changed the mix of societal influence on foreign policy.