By Nestor Bailly, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Early last week it was released that in March, U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Brazil on his first trip to South America. The announcement comes shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s attendance at Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s inauguration, and the trip is widely viewed as a rejuvenation for U.S.-Brazilian relations.
Specifically mentioned in the U.S. Presidential State of the Union address last week, the trip takes the Obama to Chile, Brazil, and El Salvador to “forge new alliances across the Americas.”
For Brazil, this means reinforcing the bilateral relationship after some rifts following former president Lula’s foray into the Middle East peace process and negotiations over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Another point of conflict was the near trade war over illegal U.S. cotton subsidies, which effected Brazil’s ability to compete in the market. A deal was announced on April 6th, one day before Brazil would have begun implementing retaliatory sanctions worth US$830 million.
President Rousseff’s new administration has sent numerous signals that it wants to improve ties with the U.S., most significantly by distancing itself from Lula’s Iran policies. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show that since 2009 there has been a strong desire to rebuild relations, marked by high-level visits, between the two most populous and powerful nations in the western hemisphere.
“[Antonio] Patriota [then Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Relations] said the high-level visits are important for the tone of the relationship with Latin America as a whole, and Brazil in particular,” a cable from Brasilia reads. “They will allow our differences to be seen within a larger, and overall, positive context.”
President Obama’s upcoming trip is meant to do just that. Focusing on areas of mutual interest, the President is expected to push for greater trade and investment, especially in Brazil’s world-class clean energy industry. The U.S. is currently without a formal trade agreement with Brazil, the world’s eighth largest economy.
Obama will also offer U.S. expertise with civil security in anticipation of the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, and assistance in intelligence and organizational coordination aimed at tackling Brazil’s narcotics trade is expected to be a top priority.
A looming issue remains unanswered with Brazil’s FX2 jet fighter procurement, a long-delayed multi-billion dollar defense contract aimed at purchasing 36 jets from France, the U.S., or Sweden. Former president Lula deferred the decision to his successor, Rousseff, who has not made any commitment yet.
Many analysts see Obama courting Brazil and its markets to counteract Chinese influence in the region. With Brazil’s huge oil and gas reserves, unneeded for its domestic market as Brazil is energy self-sufficient, Chinese state-owned companies are investing heavily in Brazilian mineral and energy infrastructure. However many in the Brazilian government are as critical of China’s trade and financial practices as the U.S. is.
The U.S. presidential visit to Brazil is a clear effort to align with Brazil’s emerging world power status and high rate of growth. The U.S. and Brazil have a lot in common, much more so than with China, and both countries are keen to open up the hugely profitable potential in the U.S.-Brazil relationship.