VP Biden Off to Brazil in Late May / by Mark Langevin

Frustrated by congressional paralysis, the Obama administration is quickly deepening its foreign policy activism to make the second term much more internationalist.  In late May, Vice-President Joe Biden will travel to Latin American and the Caribbean and stop in Brazil where he will meet with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Vice-President Michel Temer.  Accordingly, the White House announced that VP Biden would discuss bilateral commercial relations among other international issues. The lack of any publicly announced agenda, the recent extended visit of the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, along with press reports of a possible State visit to Washington by President Dilma in later 2013 all suggest that the two governments are busy exploring avenues of cooperation that could lead to a series of executive agreements which promise to increase the importance of these bilateral relations.


There are a number of issues that continue to challenge, even plague U.S.-Brazil relations despite the positive tone expressed by leaders of both countries.  First,  Brazil continues to wait for Washington’s full endorsement of the country’s campaign for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.  Ambassador Rice’s recent trip to Brasilia highlights the importance of the U.N. to bilateral relations and the possibility that the Obama administration is seriously considering a full endorsement of Brazil for a permanent seat should there be a future reform in the representational structure of the UNSC.


Second, there is the matter of the World Trade Organization’s judgment against U.S. cotton subsidies.  Since 2010, both governments have administered a temporary agreement that gives time for a reform of the U.S. Farm bill,  suspends Brazil’s right to impose stiff trade retaliation measures, and provides some compensation for Brazilian cotton producers.  As the U.S. Congress begins again its efforts to pass a new Farm bill (the bill expired last year without the House of Representatives taking up the matter for a floor vote), it is likely that the two governments will intensify efforts to find a final solution before any State visit by the Brazilian president.


Third, as the U.S. Congress bears down on an immigration reform, the two governments have met on a regular basis to explore easing the travel requirements of Brazilians traveling to the U.S. for business and pleasure.  The Obama government has already taken measures to speed up the Visa application process for Brazilian nationals, but a breakthrough in this area, including the possibility of waiving visa requirements, could put into place a new dynamic for bilateral relations and one that further deepens the already dense social relations that bring the populations of these two countries increasingly into the same orbit.


There are many other issues that VP Biden may pursue in Brasilia, and certainly President Dilma will be exploring avenues for increasing the bilateral commercial portfolio and better directly U.S. foreign direct investment into strategic areas for Brazilian economic development including infrastructure, power generation and transmission, and exploration and production of Brazil’s oil and gas reserves.   Biden’s trip may not answer all of our questions about the current state of bilateral relations, but it is likely to determine whether the next step will be rolling out the red carpet for President Dilma’s next visit to Washington.