Events

The Future of U.S.-Brazilian Relations

January 24, 2007 // 2:00pm4:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Latin American Program

The United States-Brazil relationship has remained positive and productive notwithstanding the emphasis of Lula's first administration's diplomacy on South-South cooperation, South American integration, reform of the United Nations Security Council, and the still inconclusive negotiations of the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization. On January 24th, the Brazil Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center held a conference with the outgoing Brazilian Ambassador to the United States in order to review the past three years of the bilateral dialogue and explore the prospects for deepening the relationship—a goal which both governments have already embraced and which will be furthered by President Lula's planned trip to the United States this spring.

Director of the Brazil Institute Paulo Sotero recognized Ambassador Abdenur as a leading member of a generation of diplomats that paved the way towards opening up Brazil to the rest of the world during and after the democratic transition of the 1980s. He noted that Abdenur's successful diplomatic career includes serving as Brazilian Ambassador to three of the world's most influential nations—United States, China, and Germany—and as secretary general of Itamaraty, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry. Abdenur was the principle Brazilian participant in the negotiation and planning process leading up to the launching of the Summit of the Americas series in 1994. As ambassador to Germany, he successfully fought to ensure open lines of credit to Brazil throughout its economic crisis in 1999.

Ambassador Anthony Harrington, the former U.S. envoy to Brazil, credited Ambassador Abdenur for fostering a strong and healthy bilateral relationship. Such an accomplishment is noteworthy given the two countries' divergent stances on contemporary developments, such as the war in Iraq and the troubling resurgence of populism in the hemisphere. He also noted Abdenur's role in deepening the dialogue between the two governments on the issue of renewable energy. Cooperation on this topic, and particularly on production and trading of ethanol, is likely to be at the center of President Lula's upcoming trip to the United States. The preparation of this trip will be the first major task of incoming Brazilian Ambassador Antônio Patriota, scheduled to arrive in Washington in late February.

Not a single action taken or decision made by the United States in the last three years has negatively affected Brazilian interests, claimed Ambassador Roberto Abdenur, before a packed conference room in what was his last public appearance as Brazil's ambassador in Washington. When he took the position in 2004, Brazilian indignation with Iraq and over onerous visa procedures and poor treatment of visiting nationals had caused a temporary strain in the relationship. Other potential obstacles to strengthening the relationship that were successfully avoided include possible trade sanctions against Brazil over intellectual piracy, Brazil's refusal to exempt U.S. troops and officials from the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, mutual charges of dumping, and U.S. threat to removes its General System of Preferences for Brazil (which would have negatively affected approximately four billion dollars of Brazilian exports to the United States). Despite these challenges, Abdenur argued that the bilateral relationship has reached an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and deference to the other country's positions and opinions, facilitated in no small part by President Lula's pragmatism.

Despite the existence of differences, Brazil-U.S. relations are on a productive platform to foster positive developments in the future. Lula has put aside his misgivings about some U.S. policies and embraced the fact that it is in Brazil's best interests to foster strong relations with the United States, argued Abdenur. Much to the disdain of Brazil, the United States has mistakenly withdrawn from certain international discussions and scenarios and erroneously engaged in others, such as climate change and the Middle East. Additionally, Latin America is overlooked by its Northern neighbor. However, if and when the United States decides to refocus its energies upon the region, Abdenur is assured that Brazil would be its natural ally in such an endeavor. Brazil has good relations with all of its neighbors and strategically occupies a moderate space between the region's divergent interests and trajectories, as illustrated by its leading role in the current international efforts to stabilize Haiti and by its contribution to the resolution of the conflict between Peru and Ecuador in the 1990s—in both cases in close cooperation with the United States. Abdenur argued that the United States is not the only actor that must take decisive steps towards a convergence of interests between the two countries: Brazil must stop fearing the United States and instead embrace it as a partner.

The bilateral dialogue, Abdenur concluded, is increasingly a "two-way street." The United States continues to set the agenda for the international arena; however, Brazil is a decisive player in defining the terms on which that agenda is discussed. The United States is Brazil's biggest partner in terms of trade, investment, and science and technology. However, Brazil itself is increasingly a significant partner to the United States as well—especially in terms of research on HIV/AIDS, malaria, agricultural production, and the environment. Brazil is also paving the way in transforming ethanol into an internationally tradable energy commodity. An improved bilateral relationship is not only necessary and beneficial for Brazilian interests, but U.S. interests as well.

Former U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission in Brasília James Ferrer argued that the United States has much to gain from Brazil. He reiterated the achievements of Brazil's ethanol industry—which is estimated to double its output in four years—and challenged the United States to lower distortionary tariffs that make imported Brazilian ethanol uncompetitive in the U.S. market. Such a move would help the United States wean itself off of dependence on volatile hydrocarbon producers in the Middle East and elsewhere. Furthermore, Brazilian multinational corporations are investing more and more abroad and increasingly in the U.S. market. Ferrer also remarked that the possibility of a breakthrough in hemispheric free trade negotiations rests on the two countries resolving their differences and working together.

Luigi R. Einaudi, the former U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States, agreed that Brazil is now a key international player that defines the terms on which the agenda for the international arena is discussed, but argued that the United States has not yet fully acknowledged this. He cautiously checked Abdenur's optimism by insisting that while both countries have the potential to upgrade their relationship—for certainly the institutions are in place—much work still has to be done.


Written by Daniel Budny, 202 691-4087.

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