Brazil’s President Rousseff Comes to Washington
April 7, 2012
Q1: What is at stake for U.S.-Brazil relations at this time?
A1: President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil will be in Washington, D.C., on April 9 for a series of meetings with President Obama. Rousseff’s visit just a week before a potentially contentious Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia (April 14–15), should underscore themes of mutual importance to both nations: citizen security, energy independence, trade, and investment. The visit may include an opportunity to request Brazilian support for deeper sanctions on Iran.
Only a year ago President Obama visited Brazil. Out of that visit came new economic and commercial agreements, which set the framework for future cooperation. Both sides hope that foundation will result in deeper cooperation on international issues. An important takeaway could be that the United States will work to create an “equal partnership” with the sixth-largest economy in the world. Obama should also encourage Brazil to continue its role as a moderating force in a hemisphere, where multilateral relationships among nations has grown more complex and, in some aspects, more anti-American.
Q2: Does President Rousseff’s visit confirm Brazil’s role as an emerging global power?
A2: Brazil is already more than just a regional power. On this visit, President Rousseff hopes to reinforce her country’s international geopolitical influence. Whether Brazil can be a global strategic power is still being tested. Its military capacity is limited, contributions to multilateral peacekeeping notwithstanding. But its growing soft power is unquestionable. In economic terms, Brazil is a rising star. Its GDP grew 2.7 percent in 2011, down from 7.5 percent in 2010. While economic growth has cooled, Brazil’s growing middle class (over 100 million in a population of 180 million), low unemployment rate, and burgeoning industrial sector seem to bode future prosperity. Brazil is also part of the BRIC nations, although it has a slower growth rate than India, Russia, and China. It seeks Washington’s endorsement in its quest for a seat on the UN Security Council. The United States has endorsed India’s desire for a coveted seat but has not made a commitment for Brazil. While there are many explanations for what seems like an arbitrary decision, Brazil does not possess nuclear weapons like India, nor has its recent performance on the Security Council been considered by UN watchers to be helpful to the Obama administration’s goals of curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions or supporting a unified front against aggression, as when it voted against sanctions on Libya.
Q3: Will the United States and Brazil gain a better understanding of each other’s worldview?
A3: In her first official visit to Washington, Rousseff hopes to show how her administration will manage relations in a way that reflects Brazil’s increased international standing. Expanding bilateral ties is part of the reset button that the Obama administration would like to hit. Rousseff’s predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva, did not always see eye to eye with Washington, especially when it came to Iran’s nuclear pursuits (remember the Brazil-Turkey plan to negotiate a nuclear fuel deal), or in Brazil’s recognition of the Palestinian Authority in 2010. Iran and Syria will likely be on the agenda when the two presidents meet. And it should be noted that Rousseff rejected a visit to Brazil by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran earlier this year.
On a more cheerful note, President Rousseff’s Science without Borders program will bring thousands of young Brazilians to study sciences, technology, engineering, and math at American graduate schools (some 5,000 students have already arrived). Her commitment to improving innovation is linked to expanding Brazil’s global competiveness. However it will also benefit the United States as an important trade partner.
Other points of mutual interest may likely be:
- Counternarcotics and Brazil’s role in cooperating with a number of Andean nations to deal with transnational crime.
The future of Haiti stabilization and reconstruction in which Brazil has taken a leading role.
Brazil’s impending decision to buy $30 billion worth of either U.S.- or French-made jet fighters for territorial defense, against the backdrop of the cancellation of a U.S. order for Brazilian military trainer aircraft.
Bilateral trade, as Brazil still harbors a protectionist view that keeps a free trade agreement with the United States from advancing. Some pressure may come from Brazil’s business community, since the U.S. Congress allowed the U.S. tariff on Brazilian ethanol to expire at the end of 2011.
China’s status as Brazil’s largest trading partner. Brazil, like the United States, is concerned about becoming a dumping ground for inexpensive Asian manufactured goods.
Brazil’s growing influence as an energy producer. With foreign direct investment increasing and huge proven oil reserves (eighth largest in the world), Brazil will be more visible in global corridors of power, such as the G20 meeting later this year.
Brazil’s leadership as primary organizer of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR), a forum that does not include either the United States or Canada.
Brazil’s expanded role in the global south as it seeks to bridge the developed Western powers with countries like Turkey, South Africa, and India. With 37 embassies in Africa, Brazil is asserting a new dominance in the developing world.
Johanna Mendelson Forman is a senior associate, and Stephen Johnson the director, of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.
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© 2012 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved.