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As President Barack Obama prepares to meet with his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, later this month among the key, yet underappreciated questions that lie before his administration is: How can the United States and Brazil pursue a deepening of bilateral relations while being partners and rivals in hemispheric and global affairs?
The answer is not a foregone conclusion. Nor is the question one that can be brushed aside as unimportant in a complex global environment in which the demand for attention may well outstrip supply in the United States. How the United States and Brazil go about addressing the underlying dynamics at the heart of their relationship will have significant impact on hemispheric and global relations.
Brazil often draws less attention in the United States than its fellow “BRIC” members—Russia, India and China—but with a population of nearly 200 million people, Brazil boasts considerable strengths. The country’s annual gross domestic product is more than a trillion dollars. A decade of strong industrial and agricultural export-led growth is now being matched by recent oil field discoveries that may catapult Brazil to one of the top ten oil producers in the world. Brazil already has the world’s leading bio fuel industry. In short, Brazil cannot be ignored.
Beyond the numbers, Brazil has established itself as an important voice on a myriad of global issues while expanding its regional footprint. The United States and Brazil, as the major continental powers in their respective parts of the Western hemisphere, have a mixed legacy of bilateral relations. Historically, a relatively insular Brazil attempted to work around the United States and the United States, wary of the potential of Brazil’s regional influence, sought to isolate Brazil when dealing with the Americas. More recently, and particularly in the later stages of the Bush administration, the United States and Brazil began to find common ground and common interests in the bilateral relationship, but did so without resolving many underlying tensions.
To examine the dynamics at the heart of U.S.-Brazil relations, including points of potential conflict and confluence, The Americas Project at the Center for American Progress commissioned the two authors of this report to examine in turn the possibility of bilateral cooperation amid competing tendencies toward partnership and rivalry. Kellie Meiman and David Rothkopf are both well-regarded experts in U.S.-Brazil and hemispheric relations. Meiman, who previously worked as a Foreign Service officer in Brazil, as the United States Trade Representative Office director for Mercosur and the Southern Cone and as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Task Force on Latin America, now leads the Brazil-Southern Cone practice of the international advisory firm McLarty Associates. Rothkopf, who served as deputy under secretary for international trade policy in the Department of Commerce and also as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Task Force on Latin America, is currently president and chief executive officer of Garten Rothkopf, an international advisory firm specializing in emerging markets, as well as a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The challenge to the two authors was to identify the potential opportunities and pitfalls in the bilateral relationship, and point the way toward sensible U.S. policy approaches as the Obama administration considers how best to proceed in its relations with the proverbial “country of the future” at what appears to be future’s dawn. The authors were asked to perhaps make starker assumptions about the direction in which Brazil may want to take relations than they may otherwise have done to highlight the potentially divergent paths that lie ahead in one of the most important bilateral relationships the United States has in the Americas today.
As readers will note, the authors largely concur on the challenges and opportunities that lie before U.S. policymakers and lay out similar recommendations for future policy direction. It is our hope that the readers will find the analysis provided in both papers insightful and informative.
Rudy deLeon, Senior Vice President for National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress, and Stephanie Miller, Research Associate for the Center’s Americas Project
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