By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – The Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, is in Brazil this week, as part of a South American tour which also includes a visit to Colombia. The Vice President’s visit to Brazil is of the highest-ranking U.S. official since President Obama traveled to Brazil in 2011.
Biden begins his three-day visit to Brazil in Rio on Wednesday where he will spend two full days meeting business figures, particularly from the energy sector. He will also meet with community leaders, including a visit to a pacified favela community.
Biden will meet President Dilma Rousseff and Vice President Michel Temer at the Planalto in Brasília on Friday, May 31st. An official statement said the Vice President looks forward to discussing “ways to deepen our economic and commercial partnerships and further our engagement on the broad array of bilateral, regional and global issues [...].”
Speaking to Veja magazine ahead of the trip, Biden praised Latin America’s achievements in reducing poverty and noted the region was “experiencing a unique moment,” with “strong economic policies” making “a great contribution to the recovery of the global economy.”
The U.S. has made clear that it wishes to forge stronger ties with its partners in the Latin region through strong trade and investment. Recently, U.S. oil companies ExxonMobil and Chevron bought stakes in Brazil’s 11th oil and gas auction, signaling a return for the companies to Brazil.
Some commentators are suggesting that Vice President Biden’s visit to Brazil will act as a precursor to a state visit by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff to the U.S. later this year; despite various unofficial visits by Brazilian leaders it would be the first state visit in almost twenty years.
Commentators say that both regions want to seize on opportunities missed in the past. Brazil, for its part, has been accused of focusing too close to home, particularly on Mercosur, in terms of trade agreements in recent years.
U.S.-Brazil trade is reported to have totaled about US$59 billion in 2012, but Brazil has remained relatively closed to imports. Brazil’s 200 million-strong population is seen as a big potential growth market for U.S. companies.
Julia Sweig, Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America and Director for Latin America Studies, writing in Folha de S.Paulo, blames “a lack of ambition” for hampering success between the two nations. Biden’s visit will focus on ways to promote strong economic growth, create more middle class jobs and work out a “China strategy,” she believes.
American business consultant and radio host Tom Reaoch says that the timing of Biden’s visit is key and that both sides will try to capitalize on it: “The U.S. wants to have influence in Brazil, which it sees as maturing and commanding a more influential position worldwide. Brazil needs more business from the U.S. and will gain expertise on security for its upcoming mega-events,” he tells The Rio Times.
Mr. Reaoch also believes the visit will act as a reaffirming of relations after President Obama’s re-election and with a new Secretary of State, John Kerry, now in place. Some predicting Brazil’s new global voice and neutral stance on international conflicts means there is also a chance the U.S. will support Brazil having a seat on a reformed UN Security Council – something Brazil has long sought.
Analysts say this fourth visit by Biden to Latin America as Vice President builds upon President Obama’s recent visit to Mexico and Costa Rica. The White House has also announced visits to the U.S. by the Peruvian President Ollanta Humana and Chilean President Sebastián Piñera in June this year.