Experts on Latin America said on Tuesday the United States should look at the region’s giant, Brazil, as a strategic partner, or run the risk of losing that country’s large market to European competition.
Urging the Bush administration to revamp U.S. policy, they said trade differences must not be allowed to “poison” ties with Brazil, an emerging market leader with an economy twice as large as Russia’s and almost the size of mainland China’s.
The experts said Brazil was a vital ally to help the United States deal with an escalating crisis in Colombia, instability in Andean nations and increasingly complicated relations with a populist government in Venezuela, a major oil supplier.
“Around Brazil much is coming unglued,” the members of a Council on Foreign Relations task force wrote in a letter sent last week to President George W. Bush and released on Tuesday.
“Whether or not the United States agrees with Brazil, it is a major player in South America … We should begin to listen to Brazilian perspectives and consider Brazil a major strategic partner, treating it accordingly,” they wrote.
Ties between Washington and Brasilia have been strained by trade disputes over Brazilian orange juice and steel exports, and differences over the pace of opening up the hemisphere to free trade.
“There is no question that Brazil is the regional leader and will continue to be so,” said Riordan Roett, director of the Western Hemisphere Program at Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
“We want to move away from the more poisonous part of our relationship,” said Roett, one of the 20 experts whose report called for swift action to engage Brazil’s leaders.
The task force said the Bush administration had a good opportunity to change policy. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso will be visiting Bush in April on his way to a summit of the hemisphere’s leaders in Quebec.
With a purchasing power parity of over US$1 trillion, Brazil, with a population of more than 165 million people, will rank fifth among the world’s economies in 2001, the experts’ report noted.
As leader of the South American trade bloc Mercosur, Brazil had moved to forge strategic ties with the European Union that could prove costly to the United states, the study said.
It said that Brazilians widely saw the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) currently under negotiation as benefiting the United States without reciprocal market access for Brazil’s exports.
Brazilians also considered U.S. anti-dumping legislation and labor and environmental standards attached to U.S. trade accords as a protectionist ploy, the report said.