President George Bush is to meet his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Saturday at Camp David for talks on global trade issues and a recent bilateral deal on biofuels. VOA's Brian Wagner reports that experts say the new energy agreement may be a key step in renewing U.S.-Brazil ties.
White House officials say the meeting at Camp David will focus on negotiations for the Doha round of trade talks, and the recent bilateral deal on ethanol production. They say President George Bush and Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also will discuss a new partnership to train lawmakers in the African nation of Guinea-Bissau.
The visit by the Brazilian president to Camp David is a rare one for a Latin American leader. The last regional head of state to visit the presidential retreat was Mexico's then-president Carlos Salinas de Gortari in 1991.
The visit also comes just weeks after President Bush stopped in Brazil to sign the ethanol agreement during a tour of Latin America. To many observers, the energy deal marked a new turn in U.S.-Brazil ties, says Peter Hakim, president of the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. "They're at odds over trade issues, they're at odds over relations with Venezuela. Brazil is a very strong critic of the U.S. policies in the Middle East, and the war in Iraq. And yet, they've managed to learn to live with the differences," he said.
A key source of tension between Mr. Bush and Brazil's leftist leader has been trade issues, including the Doha trade negotiations, where pressure is being put on rich nations to cut farm subsidies, while developing nations are being urged to reduce import duties. U.S. officials have refused calls to reduce subsidies beyond current proposals, and Brazil has resisted pressure to further open its markets. Disputes over farm imports also have been a key factor in Brazil's opposition to U.S. plans for a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which have been stalled for months.
The recent energy deal, however, raises new hopes for regional trade talks, says Brian Dean, executive director of the Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas. "And where we find points of mutual interest with Brazil is in the energy area. And if we can establish a constructive relationship with Brazil built around the area of renewable fuels, I think we have a win-win situation," he said.
President Bush is pursuing the ethanol pact and other alternative energy programs in an effort to reduce pollution and increase U.S. energy security. Experts say reducing the nation's dependence on oil will limit exposure to risks created by hostile governments in oil-producing countries like Iran and Venezuela.
Susan Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, says stronger ties between the United States and Brazil may help to buffer some of the tension raised by Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. She adds that criticism by Mr. Chavez about Mr. Bush's trip to Latin America shows that the Venezuelan leader is taking note. "Chavez sees exactly what Bush is trying to do, which is to use this as a way of getting closer to Lula and giving Lula actually more stature in his own country," he said.
So far, Brazilian officials have been reluctant to take sides in the ongoing dispute between Venezuela and the United States. Experts, however, say that U.S. officials should continue seeking inroads with Brazil, which has the richest economy and the largest population in Latin America. They say future partnerships on trade and social areas could lead to benefits for people across the hemisphere.