Has Donald Trump changed Brazil-U.S. relations?

. Jul 30, 2018
Donald Trump Brazil-U.S. relations Latin America Donald Trump doesn't care about Latin America

Donald Trump blindsided the world when he won the 2016 U.S. presidential election, contradicting what most experts forecast. After coming to terms with the results, analysts began debating what a Trump presidency would look like. This was particularly true in Brazil, where the economy is highly susceptible to whatever happens in the U.S. One and a half years after Mr. Trump took office, we ask the question: what has changed in Brazil-U.S. relations in the Trump Era?

One thing has become clear: Latin America is not on the Trump White House’s list of priorities. Or on any list, for that matter. Analysts heard by The Brazilian Report say the lack of interest in Latin America shown by the current administration is “unprecedented.” Mr. Trump has yet to visit a country south of the Rio Grande – and canceled his participation in April’s Summit of the Americas, in Peru, at the last minute.

</p> <p>Instead, Donald Trump sent his vice president, Mike Pence, essentially saying that Latin America is considered the country&#8217;s low-maintenance backyard. Diplomats have seen that the U.S. does not have a &#8220;project&#8221; for the region. And what about Brazil, specifically? How has the country been treated by the new administration?</p> <h2>Brazil-U.S. relations remain stable</h2> <p>According to Carlos Eduardo Lins e Silva, a professor at the University of São Paulo&#8217;s Foreign Relations Institute, the rise of Donald Trump has not exactly brought about any change to the Brazil-U.S. relations. &#8220;Brazil has never been a priority in America&#8217;s foreign policy,&#8221; says Mr. Silva. While there was a moment during Barack Obama&#8217;s presidency when both countries were &#8220;sympathetic&#8221; toward one another (trade and Brazilian tourism to the U.S. increased), Brazil and the U.S. were never particularly close.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h4>Brazil&#8217;s exports to the U.S.</h4> <figure class="wp-block-image"><a href=""><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="502" src="" alt="brazil exports to us" class="wp-image-6477" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></a></figure> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>For Peter Hakim, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, Brazil and the U.S. never quite &#8220;managed to develop anything like a close, productive or cooperative relationship.&#8221;</p> <p>It all starts with the way the American administration sees Brazil and how the biggest country in Latin America sees itself. While Brazil thinks of itself as a rising global actor, the U.S., Mr. Hakim points out, regards Brazil as a regional power with &#8220;limited global influence.&#8221; The Trump administration has, so far, &#8220;no policy, strategy, or agenda concerning Brazil, in part reflecting its lack of any serious policy toward Latin America,&#8221; Mr. Hakim highlights.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-large wp-image-6476"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="607" src="" alt="mike pence mike in brazil temer" class="wp-image-6476" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1960w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Donald Trump sent Mike Pence to Brazil earlier this year.</figcaption></figure> <h2>Strained ties</h2> <p>Even though the relationship has never been particularly close, recent events soured Brazil-U.S. relations. It all started in 2013 when whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the <a href="">U.S. National Security Agency had been spying</a> on former President Dilma Rousseff. For a brief moment, the two countries didn&#8217;t see eye to eye. Then, when Ms. Rousseff was impeached, the U.S. decided it was best not to mingle with a country engulfed by political turmoil and myriad corruption crises, Mr. Hakim says.</p> <p>In spite of all that, Brazil managed to have a surplus in the bilateral commerce with its North American partners, after eight years in deficit. Last year, Brazil&#8217;s surplus was of more than USD 2 billion. But if the U.S. is ignoring Latin America &#8211; and Brazil &#8211; another power is happy to take the role as the region&#8217;s biggest international power: China.</p> <p>In 2017 alone, China invested USD 20.9 billion in Brazil, the most significant value since 2010. The Asian giant also invited Latin America to be a part of the &#8220;One Belt, One Road&#8221; initiative. Launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, the plan aims to increase China&#8217;s influence in Asia, Europe, and Africa through USD 1 trillion of infrastructure projects.</p> <p>Hampered by <a href="">infrastructure problems</a>, Brazil could benefit from this &#8211; especially since the region&#8217;s leading economy has attracted 56.4 percent of Chinese investments in the continent. Between 2003 and 2016, <a href="">Chinese investments</a> reached USD 110 billion.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="Brazil-China trade flow, in USD bn" class="wp-image-6475" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></figure> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>Now it is Brazil&#8217;s turn to have a new commander-in-chief. The 2018 elections, however, may not be able to change the current scenario. Mr. Lins e Silva believes that Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump will get along very well on a personal level because &#8220;both apparently share some homophobic, xenophobic, misogynist, racist and violent feelings.&#8221; But it will take more than that to improve Brazil-U.S. relations.</p> <p>Mr. Hakim highlights that George W. Bush and Lula enjoyed an excellent personal relationship, as did Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Bill Clinton. But, he says, to build true cooperation, it &#8220;will require fundamental changes in both Brazil and in the U.S. attitude toward Brazil.&#8221;

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Diogo Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a social scientist and journalist based in São Paulo.

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