By Rebecca Walker
President Barack Obama’s trip to Brazil this Saturday has been at the forefront of the media’s coverage of the Latin American tour. In terms of public awareness, Americans appear to be more interested in his visit to Brazil than to that of either Chile or El Salvador. A number of members in Obama’s administration have been guided to emphasize that the agenda in Brazil, once the president arrives, will be heavily focused on economic ties—certainly a topic of interest for those affected by the U.S.’s 8.9 percent unemployment rate. In the past, presidential trips to Latin America have been conducted under the tone of expected Brazilian deference. However, Obama’s intentions for this visit are to vocalize what he hopes to be seen as the symbiotic economic partnership between the two major hemispheric nations.
Brazil’s economy, which grew 7.5 percent in 2010, will be channeling its efforts to increase long-term investments in the upcoming year. As noted by Latin News, Brazilian economists hope that these efforts will account for nearly 20 percent of Brazil’s GDP in 2011. The U.S. is one country that Brazil is looking to for investment opportunities, a topic that will surely be on the docket of President Obama’s trip.
In Brasília, President Obama and President Dilma Rousseff will be speaking at the U.S.-Brazil Business Summit, which will be attended by representatives of nearly 300 Brazilian and U.S. companies. The object of this meeting will be to stress the commercial agenda between the two countries. U.S. exports to Brazil have doubled over the past five years, which can be explained by Brazil’s increased spending ability, as it is now the world’s 7th largest economy. Yet, as the Brazilian economy has continued to grow, the U.S. is not the South American country’s only suitor for stronger trade and investment links. President Obama will voice his concerns over Brazil’s growing economic ties with China, which he views as an unfair competitor because of the Asian nation’s currency devaluation. Brazil, under the guidance of Dilma Rousseff, is also concerned about China’s devaluated currency and is more than likely to hear out Obama’s alarm over the issue.
Whether or not Obama will support Brazil’s request for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, as he did on his last visit to India, is also in question. The administration has not commented on whether or not the topic will be addressed, nor their stance on it. Regardless of Obama’s views on the matter, it is unlikely that he will proclaim his support of Brazil for a UNSC position during his visit, as no signs have indicated this endorsement. Furthermore, Japan’s tragedy (Tokyo is also seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council) will also hinder such a proclamation from being made.
An issue of Brazilian interest that is apt to be tiptoed around, as it has in the past, is the U.S. tariff on sugar-based ethanol. Currently Brazilian ethanol is subject to a $0.54 USD tax per gallon compared to the duty-free status of many other Latin American and Caribbean countries. As Brazil is the second largest producer of ethanol in the world, an open U.S. market would greatly benefit Brazil if trade restrictions were removed. Brazil, a self-sustaining nation, has already greatly benefitted from the commodity revolution; further decreasing international trade regulations would continue to support its economic growth.
As evidenced in the anticipated talking points of the visit, the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil has morphed into one of a pair of equals when compared to its imbalanced past. Brazil has grown to be a South American economic giant while rapidly progressing to be a military superpower. It is on the path to commanding the region’s, if not the world’s, respect and attention.
This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Rebecca Walker