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U.S. House committee wants no business with Bolsonaro

and . Jun 05, 2020
U.S. House committee wants no business with Bolsonaro The U.S. Capitol building. Photo: Anujak Jaimook/Shutterstock

A trade deal with the U.S. has been something of a Holy Grail for the Jair Bolsonaro administration — and a rare occasion in which the interests of the pro-free trade ideals of Economy Minister Paulo Guedes meet those of Americanophile (and anti-globalist) Foreign Minister Ernesto Araújo. Back in July 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump said he would push for an agreement with Brazil, suggesting a friendly relationship with President Jair Bolsonaro could help lower trade barriers between the two nations. Since then, however, little has been done. And chances of a potential deal have gotten slimmer, with 24 Democrats from the U.S. Congressional Committee on Ways and Means voicing their “strong objections” to any rapprochement with Brazil.

</p> <p>In a <a href="https://waysandmeans.house.gov/sites/democrats.waysandmeans.house.gov/files/documents/20200603_WM%20Dem%20Ltr%20to%20Amb%20Lighthizer%20re%20Brazil.pdf">letter</a> addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, the members of Congress said it is &#8220;inappropriate for the administration to engage in economic partnership discussions of any scope with a Brazilian leader who disregards the rule of law and is actively dismantling hard-fought progress on civil, human, environmental, and labor rights.&#8221;</p> <p>The congresspeople mentioned Brazil&#8217;s rising deforestation figures as another reason for keeping Latin America&#8217;s biggest economy at an arm&#8217;s length. They point out that the U.S. is a major importer of goods that are directly linked to deforestation, accounting for two-thirds of Brazil&#8217;s timber exports — besides being a major market for Brazilian cattle farms. &#8220;Instead of liberalizing access to the U.S. market for these goods, the administration should aggressively use its current enforcement tools to incentivize positive change in Brazil.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;This kind of pressure is unprecedented and means that a trade agreement might never happen while the U.S. House of Representatives is controlled by the Democrats,&#8221; says Lucas Leite, an international relations professor at the São Paulo-based Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado. &#8220;This document shows how little importance Brazil has in U.S. politics and sends a message to the world that Jair Bolsonaro&#8217;s Brazil is an unreliable ally.&#8221;</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro’s stances on environmental issues could also become an obstacle to Mercosur’s trade deal with the European Union. The <a href="https://think.ing.com/snaps/dutch-rejection-of-mercosur-sign-of-the-times/">Dutch parliament</a> recently passed a motion against the European Union’s free trade agreement with the South American bloc, claiming Brazilian agribusiness does not respect the environment. The trade deal can only be implemented if all EU member states ratify it, but European countries with strong agricultural lobbies have fiercely opposed the agreement.&nbsp;</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-1078967"></div> <script src="https://www.buzzsprout.com/299876/1078967-52-when-jair-met-donald.js?container_id=buzzsprout-player-1078967&amp;player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Bolsonaro and Trump: not that close</h2> <p>Since taking office last year, Mr. Bolsonaro has emulated Mr. Trump and tries to present himself as a close ally of the White House. But reality suggests a very much one-sided relationship. Perhaps no anecdote encapsulates Bolsonaro-Trump relations better than their encounter at the <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/09/25/un-speech-bolsonaro-matias-spektor-mauricio-santoro/">United Nations General Assembly</a>. When briefly running into one another in between meetings, the Brazilian president told Mr. Trump &#8220;I love you,&#8221; and heard back: &#8220;<a href="https://blogs.oglobo.globo.com/lauro-jardim/post/bolsonaro-para-trump-i-love-you.html">Nice seeing you again</a>.&#8221;</p> <p>Another sign that Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s esteem for Mr. Trump might not be reciprocated is the Covid-19 crisis. The Brazilian president is taking all of his cues from the U.S. leader&nbsp;—&nbsp;including endorsing controversial antimalarial drug chloroquine, downplaying the severity of the pandemic, and actively inciting insurrection against stay-home rules. As a result, the U.S. and Brazil are the hardest-hit countries in the world.</p> <p>But despite having almost 2 million Americans infected with the coronavirus and nearly 110,000 deaths, Mr. Trump has taken several victory laps — and has bashed Brazil to prove his point. During a White House press conference, Mr. Trump said that if the U.S. had taken Brazil&#8217;s approach to Covid-19, his country could have “lost a million, a million and a half, maybe even 2.5 million or more lives.”</p> <p>To borrow Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s habit of overusing marriage analogies, we can say that Brazil-U.S. ties currently resemble an abusive relationship. Still, the Brazilian president prefers siding with the northern neighbor —&nbsp;and has actively alienated the country&#8217;s leading trading partner, China.</p> <h2>Brazil-U.S. trade</h2> <p>Back in 2008, before the global financial crisis reduced U.S. imports by 25 percent, Brazil exported around USD 27 billion to the Americans<strong> </strong>per year. More than a decade later, trade remains at that same level.&nbsp;</p> <p>A report from June 2018, drafted by the Brazilian Embassy in Washington D.C. and signed by ambassador Sérgio Amaral, lists 22 &#8220;challenges&#8221; to this end. Among them is the sale of products such as sugar, cotton, aluminum, in natura beef, poultry, ethanol, dairy, soybeans, tobacco, and steel.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2728824" data-url="https://flo.uri.sh/visualisation/2728824/embed"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <p>Brazil holds a competitive advantage on these items, says economist Fábio Silveira, but all come up against limitations imposed by the U.S. The vast majority are basic products.</p> <p>&#8220;It&#8217;s no use demanding access to the high-technology market. We don&#8217;t have much of a future besides gaining more access to the market of the basic products.&#8221;

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Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist, Gustavo has extensive experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. He has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets and founded The Brazilian Report in 2017. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science and Latin American studies from Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris.

Lucas Berti

Lucas Berti covers international affairs — specialized in Latin American politics and markets. He has been published by Opera Mundi, Revista VIP, and The Intercept Brasil, among others.

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