Warming relations between the United States and Brazil received a boost this week with an update to an existing bilateral trade agreement, along with the commitment of billions of U.S. dollars to boost Brazilian industries.
While Washington seeks to underscore collective security by deepening engagement with the largest country in South America, it is unclear to what extent this approach resonates in Brazil. The fact that elections will be held in less than two weeks in the United States only complicates the matter, analysts say.
“Some might say [the newly concluded Protocol on Trade Rules and Transparency] is not as glamorous as a tariff-cutting agenda, market access of this or that product,” but the success of the negotiations underscores both governments’ commitment, Brazil’s top diplomat in Washington said in an interview with VOA.
“Notwithstanding restrictions of travel, difficulties having to do with negotiating over the internet, over Zoom, we met those goals” which were set out in March by presidents Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro, said Ambassador Nestor Forster, Jr.
He said the newly signed protocol, which covers “trade facilitation, good regulatory practices, and anti-corruption measures,” is designed to bring concrete results by cutting red tape to ensure that business processes are more transparent and more inclusive.
Forster said the new guidelines will help by “opening up the process for private sector participation, civil society participation, with public hearings, etc. … These are real things that are felt by people on the ground who are on day-to-day operations; we had tremendous support” from the business community and other stakeholders.
U.S. officials indicated that geostrategic concerns figured as prominently as trade and economics as the two countries move closer under presidents Trump and Bolsonaro.
In an unusual move, a U.S. delegation that traveled to Brazil this week to witness the signing of the trade protocol was led not by a trade official, but by National Security Adviser Robert C. O’Brien, who made clear that enhancing democracy and security is just as important as energy, infrastructure and economic prosperity.
O’Brien was joined by Brazil’s foreign and economic ministers when the two governments signed a $1 billion Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday, aimed at enhancing Brazilian industries.
The telecommunications sector, including 5G, is identified as among the industries that the funding initiative, led by the U.S. Export-Import Bank, seeks to strengthen.
“We’re not just partners, we’re allies,” O’Brien told his Brazilian hosts, as he recalled that Trump had designated Brazil a major non-NATO ally of the United States in July 2019.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stressed another mutual benefit from the relationship when he addressed a virtual forum organized by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, opened by Bolsonaro.
“To the extent we can find ways that we can increase the trade between our two countries, we can ... decrease each of our two nations’ dependence for critical items” coming from China, Pompeo was quoted as saying.
Pompeo has called on other U.S. allies to exclude equipment from Huawei as they build their 5G networks, warning that the Chinese telecom giant’s hardware could be used for espionage.
“The tide continues to turn toward global 5G security,” Pompeo said this week, thanking Japan for “supporting the basic concept of 5G Clean Path.” He said the United States “call[s] on all freedom-loving nations and companies to join the Clean Network.”
Bolsonaro is recently reported to favor keeping Huawei out of his country’s telecom infrastructure, but China’s official media has reported that Brazil’s vice president welcomes Huawei’s participation in the country’s 5G network.
The question of 5G “is a sensitive matter, which will be decided at the appropriate level in Brazil in a transparent and open way,” Forster told VOA.
Who’s to build Brazil’s 5G network is “up for public auction,” he said, with some standards to be announced later this year and the auction to take place in 2021.
Forster said his government will be “looking at the different aspects of the equation; there’s the economic aspect of it, the financial aspect of it, there’s also security aspect of it, there’s data privacy involved, legal security involved; no final decision has been made.”
In the Chamber of Commerce forum, Pompeo said Brazil can serve as a potential “anchor” as the U.S. builds closer ties with “all of our friends in the Western Hemisphere and in South America.”
David R. Shedd, a former acting director of U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation, agreed, saying the signing of the trade protocol and other measures hold the potential for an “exciting new period” in U.S. relations with Brazil and its neighbors.
With a U.S. presidential election less than two weeks away, however, Shedd told VOA that Brazil and the whole Latin American region have adopted a “wait and see” approach on certain key issues.
While acknowledging he doesn’t know how Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Joe Biden might handle relations with Brazil, he said it is clear that a Democratic administration would pay much more attention to the environment.
Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Inter-America Dialogue, believes that if elected, Biden “will almost surely emphasize environmental concerns and worker’s rights issues.”