Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff traveled to the United States on April 9 in her first official visit to Washington since taking office last year. Her trip follows U.S. President Barack Obama’s March 2011 Latin American tour, when he traveled to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. Both leaders are contending with divergent domestic situations, as Obama seeks reelection amid a bid to revive the economy and Rousseff enjoys a booming economy but sluggish industrial output and an overvalued real. Consequently, Rousseff was expected to tout the opportunities offered by the Brazilian market as the Obama administration pursues ways to foster economic recovery.
Probable topics of discussion between the two leaders include:
- Science and innovation, along with related educational exchange, was high on Rousseff’s agenda. The centerpiece on the front is Brazil’s Science without Borders program, which seeks to send over 100,000 students abroad to study science, technology, engineering, and math. The Brazilian government will finance around 75 percent of the scholarships, and over half of all participating students will travel to the United States. Obama launched a similar initiative in 2011 that aims to send 100,000 students abroad to Latin America, including Brazil. To promote the program, Rousseff visited Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she sought partnerships in “know-how and innovation,” science education, and research and development.
- Finance was a point of discussion as well. On the economy, Rousseff brought up monetary policy, since her administration has criticized developed countries—including the United States for quantitative easing—for causing a “monetary tsunami.” Brazil is an outspoken critic of the so-called currency war, which has strengthened the real and hurt Brazilian exports. After speaking out on the issue at the BRICS Summit in late March, Rousseff revealed a new economic package on April 3 to boost Brazilian industry and to attempt to stem the rising real.
- Trade was another discussion point, with bilateral trade reaching $60 billion last year. But while Brazil’s top importer last year was the United States, its top export market was China. Rousseff will speak at the Brazil-U.S. Business Council during her visit to discuss trade and investment partnerships between the two countries. Increasing “green” exports to Brazil is a U.S. priority, as the Brazil-U.S. Business Council’s “Export Green” initiative seeks to expand green goods and services exports to Brazil. In a recent op-ed for The Huffington Post, COA Vice President Eric Farnsworth warned about missing trade opportunities: “The region is not waiting around for the United States…Latin America is on the move, pursuing partners in Asia, Europe, and Africa.”
- Infrastructure is another area of interest for Rousseff. After a first round of concessions in February to privatize three Brazilian airports, the government will open bidding on Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte’s international airports later this year. The United States is also working with Brazil on the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics preparations, another area with potential investment opportunities.
- Energy is a key topic for both countries. Last year, the United States pledged $1 billion to finance oil infrastructure in Brazil through the U.S. Export-Import Bank, and Brazil is still looking for investment to exploit its pre-salt offshore reserves. Biofuels are another area for potential cooperation after the United States dropped an ethanol import tax last year that will benefit Brazilian exporters. Both countries hope to deepen cooperation on alternative energy; last year they signed a bilateral agreement to develop aviation biofuels.
- On the issue of defense, Obama and Rousseff could have discussed fighter jet deals in both countries. Brazilian officials are unhappy after the U.S. Air Force nixed a $1 billion deal to purchase fighter jets from Brazilian manufacturer Embraer. But the air force said it will reopen bidding in the next few weeks, and a winning contract with Embraer would be its first with the U.S. military. Meanwhile, Rousseff is weighing options to buy fighter jets for Brazil’s air force in a $5 billion deal, but seems likely to pick France’s Dassault over U.S.-based Boeing. The United States is keen to increase military cooperation with Brazil on transnational crime, intelligence sharing, and technology exchange. In late March, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army General Martin Dempsey met with Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim and top-ranking military officials in Brazil to discuss ongoing areas of cooperation.
- Visas were another important issue. Due to rising number of Brazilians seeking U.S. tourist visas, the Obama administration announced a plan in January to streamline the onerous visa process and increase staff at consulates. In 2010, Brazilian tourists spent $6 billion in the United States, spending more money per capita than any other country. Last week, the Obama administration said it would include Brazil in its Global Entry program to allow trusted travelers to enter the United States at 20 airports without passing through immigration. Rousseff must approve the program, and the United States also hopes her administration will reciprocate by installing a similar program at Brazilian airports.
- On foreign relations, Brazil hoped the United States would support its bid for a seat on the UN Security council. However, analysts accurately predicted it was unlikely. “Those words will eventually come from Obama or a future U.S. president, but their absence in the short term will keep relations between the Western Hemisphere's two most important democracies from reaching their productive potential,” writes João Augusto de Castro Neves, an analyst at Eurasia Group.
- Read about prospects for Rousseff’s visit from a Council of the Americas panel discussion in Washington.
- Visit the U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Brazil’s media center on Rousseff’s visit.
- Learn about Brazil’s Science without Borders program in an interview from AS/COA Online.
- Read about the economic implications of Rousseff’s visit from América Economia.