Latin America Advisor

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Can the U.S. and Brazil Expect More From Each Other?

Last month U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos França (pictured) in an bid to build international support among U.N. Security Council members against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. // File Photo: U.S. Government. Last month U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken phoned Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos França (pictured) in an bid to build international support among U.N. Security Council members against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. // File Photo: U.S. Government.

Top U.S. and Brazilian diplomats on April 25 held their first high-level talks since 2019, discussing issues such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, deforestation in the Amazon and Brazil’s request to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD. What would be the main benefits of closer cooperation between the United States and Brazil? What have been the most contentious issues between the two countries, and will they be able to overcome them? What is at stake for the countries’ relationship in Brazil’s presidential election later this year?

Nestor Forster Jr., Brazil’s ambassador to the United States: “The Brazil-U.S. partnership is a source of well-being and prosperity for our peoples and contributes to the solution of global challenges, including food and energy security. In the recent Brazil-U.S. High Level Dialogue, our countries were able to assess the progress made in a broad array of areas. The economic partnership—so crucial to Brazil-U.S. relations—is experiencing a positive phase: bilateral trade in goods reached a historic $70 billion in 2021, and bilateral investments create jobs and help the post-pandemic recovery in both countries. Supply chain resilience has been the subject of ongoing attention, and the June Summit of the Americas presents a unique opportunity to address this topic of relevance to the hemisphere. Cooperation in multilateral forums is another important item on the Brazil-U.S. agenda. As a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and a champion of its reform, Brazil has been exchanging views with the U.S. on the pressing challenges brought before that body. In the OECD, U.S. support for Brazil’s accession attests to a commitment to economic modernization. Climate and environment issues are faced with a sense of urgency. Brazil and the U.S. have joined forces to fight deforestation and promote sustainable development in the Amazon. At COP26 in Glasgow, Brazil announced its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and collaborated with the United States to ensure a successful conference. The October elections will show, once again, the strength of democracy in a country that takes a long-term view of its ties with the United States.”

Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the University of Michigan and former U.S. ambassador to Brazil: “Brazil and the United States traditionally have had an active and mostly positive relationship. Despite disagreements over such issues as environment, tariffs and anti-dumping disputes in the World Trade Organization, the U.S.-Brazil dialogue has been viewed as beneficial to both countries. This relationship has dipped downward in the past few years. President Bolsonaro has paid little attention to deforestation in the Amazon; in fact, he has called for more economic development in the region and has brought back echoes of the 1960s and ‘70s claims that the developed countries were trying to ‘internationalize’ the Amazon region. His handling of the Covid pandemic in Brazil also cast his government as incompetent and bungling. His recent visit to Moscow and his embrace of Putin before Russia invaded Ukraine further blotted his copy book with the United States and other Western countries. Bolsonaro’s idiosyncratic governing style has resulted in confusion about the goals of his policies. As the election approaches, Lula da Silva, once viewed as a pariah in U.S. government eyes, may now be seen as a welcome change.”

Rubens Barbosa, former ambassador of Brazil to the United States: “The agenda between Brazil and the United States is mainly economic and commercial. The recent dialogue between the two countries reinforces this view. A closer cooperation in those areas would strengthen political and diplomatic ties between the two countries and would also open space for progress in other areas such as immigration, defense, health and energy. Both governments should identify opportunities to be explored by US companies in association with Brazilian groups to enhance cooperation in the development of regional chain of production (near shoring) in areas of mutual interest (health and mining in particular) to reduce domestic vulnerabilities and diminish dependency on China. Brazil may be a regional leader in the reorganization of the global value chain. Even more contentious issues as the environment (Amazon region), democracy and immigration could be discussed within the context of a closer cooperation. If there is a threat to democracy during the election time, the foreign reaction, including in the United States, would have a negative effect on the bilateral relationship. The coming presidential election is a factor of great uncertainty. Depending on the result of the election new political challenges to a closer relationship between the two countries may emerge. How to connect concrete interests between Brazil and the United States in a fragmented world is at stake. An improved trade and commercial relationship between the two countries would be seen as a U.S. return to the region, which has been a secondary priority to U.S. decision-makers today, and a growing U.S. economic and trade presence in Brazil would also send an important signal to China.” 

Guilherme Casarões, assistant professor at the São Paulo School of Business Administration of the Fundação Getulio Vargas: “Brazil and the United States have enjoyed a prolific relationship that dates to the early 20th century. Despite occasional disagreements and short periods of distancing, Washington has long been Brazil’s key global strategic partner, while Brasília has helped the United States build and secure a liberal hemispheric order. Bilateral cooperation between the regional giants has been the norm. Their agenda spans across issues from climate change to defense and security to human rights. Moreover, despite being surpassed by China as Brazil’s leading trade partner, the United States remains the largest market for Brazilian industrial exports and the top international destination for Brazilian tourists. For decades, Brazil and the U.S. have witnessed some areas of friction, as well. Trade is perhaps the most salient one, as successive Brazilian governments pushed for greater agricultural liberalization and have taken several complaints against U.S. subsidies to the World Trade Organization. Geopolitics has also caused some controversy, as Brazil desired to play the role of mediator between Iran, Palestine and the West to the chagrin of the White House. Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s NSA spying scandal did not help heal bilateral misunderstandings, either. Recent concerns over democracy, the environment and the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed the Biden and Bolsonaro administrations farther apart. While there is a broad agenda that moves forward irrespective of ideological or personal differences, the list of conflicts to work out becomes longer. In the case that Lula wins the presidency, we might expect a swift reconciliation based on shared worldviews and interests. Bolsonaro’s reelection, on the other hand, may sour relations to an unprecedented level. Everything may change, of course, under the next U.S. presidency. This is why the next two years will be critical to the future of bilateral relations.” 

Leandro Barcelos, international trade coordinator at BMJ Associated Consultants: “The United States and Brazil historically have a strong economic and diplomatic relationship that covers cooperation on a range of topics. At a time when the world is in turmoil due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both countries need to strengthen their relations, especially regarding the energy, environment and agriculture agendas. Brazil’s accession process to the OECD will stimulate the implementation of major structural reforms, potentially impacting the relations with the United States, as the country supports Brazil’s membership. Nevertheless, Brazil will most likely be pressured regarding its environmental policies and will need to align expectations about policies on deforestation and carbon market programs. Green energy and the digital economy are part of a strategic agenda to re-open the negotiation of a free trade agreement and achieve a bilateral investment treaty. However, due to Brazil’s presidential election later this year, policymakers are likely to remain focused on internal issues, limiting any new action on the international agenda until the next elected government takes over in 2023. Another point of attention regards both countries’ stance on China. The current governments are adopting a milder tone, seeking neither to expand relations nor to create more friction. Nevertheless, the Asian country remains a challenge for the North Americans. Thus, depending on the outcome of the Brazilian elections and the new government’ approach, China should be a red flag in Brazil’s relationship with the United States.” 

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