During a two-day visit to Brazil this past weekend, and amidst a backdrop of escalating events in Libya, U.S. President Barack Obama and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff reinvigorated stalled political and economic relations between the two countries, signing a series of preliminary agreements that pave the way for stronger commercial links between the Hemisphere’s largest economies.
Obama’s trip—intended to bolster trade and investment ties with the world’s seventh-largest economy and prove U.S. commitment to a region increasingly engaged with China—kicked off with talks between the two leaders in Brasilia on Saturday morning. Following the leaders’ meeting at the Palácio do Planalto, Obama met with U.S. and Brazilian CEOs and delivered an address at the U.S.-Brazil CEO forum. Throughout the meetings around Brasilia, Obama stressed the opportunities for mutual economic benefit through increased cooperation, and cited the potential for the U.S. to sell “more goods and services to a rapidly-growing market of around 200 million consumers.”
After talks at the Palácio do Planalto, the two leaders announced the signing of a series of agreements to deepen ties as “global partners in the 21st century” in areas ranging from trade to technology, education to energy and air travel.
While Rousseff echoed her predecessor’s long-standing frustrations over U.S. barriers on agricultural exports and tariffs on Brazilian ethanol imports (renewed by Congress in December), she and Obama made an important step toward trade integration by inking a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement. The accord paves the way for first steps on a free-trade agreement between the two economies. It calls for the creation of a U.S.-Brazil commission—led by USTR Ron Kirk and officials from Brazil’s ministries for trade, industry and development—to facilitate trade and investment liberalization and dismantle non-tariff barriers.
Both leaders expressed their commitment to the creation of a new dialogue on education and research, and vowed to expand student exchanges between research centers in science, health, technology, environment and math. They called for enhanced bilateral partnerships through institutions such as the Fulbright Foundation, the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education and the National Science Foundation, Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES), among others.
Obama spoke of the U.S. desire to be a major customer of Brazil’s vast offshore oil reserves while committing to strengthen cooperation on renewable energy through two new agreements. The first involved the creation of a new partnership on the development of aviation biofuels. At the same time, the launch of a Strategic Energy Dialogue will see increased cooperation and research on a wide ranging set of energy issues with the aim of creating jobs and securing energy supplies in both countries.
While a much hoped-for advancement on Brazil’s inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program failed to materialize, headway on travel between the two countries was made as the leaders announced the signing of an open-skies agreement. The agreement, which will take effect beginning in October 2011, will allow for increased air traffic between the two countries. It is expected to lower ticket prices and create easier connections ahead of the Olympic Games in 2014 and World Cup in 2016.
However, while the two heads of state made progress in strengthening cooperation on several fronts, Brazil’s hopes for U.S. backing in its bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council were largely disappointed. Under former president Lula and now under Rousseff, Brazil has vied to make its temporary seat on the UN body permanent, arguing that the current membership reflects “political geography of 1945 and not the political geography of 2011.” Obama expressed “appreciation for Brazil’s aspiration” for a UN Security Council seat, yet fell well short of offering the kind of ringing endorsement he offered to India in a state visit in New Delhi last November.
*Rachel Greenwald is a guest blogger to AQ Online. She received her Masters in International Development Management at the London School of Economics and currently lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.