Together, the United States and Brazil Can Do More

Oped written by Ambassador Liliana Ayalde and published on Folha de S. Paulo.

It is no secret that I arrived to Brazil as U.S. Ambassador, in September 2013, during a challenging moment in our bilateral relationship.  But I was and remain determined to push through – guided by a sense that our two countries have too much to gain from working together to allow opportunity to slip by.

In the six months that have followed, my first-hand experience living, traveling and working in Brazil, meeting and speaking with Brazilians of all stripes – inside and outside the government, in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio, Salvador, Recife, Belo Horizonte, Porte Alegre, Curitiba and elsewhere – has only confirmed my willingness and commitment to accentuate the positive, and work through our differences.  This is what partners do.  The relationship between the United States and Brazil is strong, resilient, and expansive.  It is a friendship rooted in similar histories and strikingly parallel, if distinctive, identities – in a shared geographic, ethnic and cultural diversity.   Coupled with our status as the two most populous countries and largest economies in the Western Hemisphere, our similarities form the basis for a natural, multi-faceted partnership which seems in many ways inevitable.

Relations between Brazil and the United States are moving at their own accelerating rhythm, beyond the reach of governments, which can either help or hinder but not halt.  Take travel between our two countries.  Brazilians are visiting the United States more than ever before – two million people last year 2013- and we are doing everything we can to facilitate this movement.  Brazilian friends: welcome to New York, Miami and Orlando, but think beyond: San Francisco, Chicago or Austin, … and don’t stop there.   To this end, we recently inaugurated our seventh Centro de Atendimento do Soliticante dos Vistos in Porto Alegre.  The CASVs make getting a U.S. visa easier and more convenient than ever.  Flights between the United States and Brazil are increasing in both frequency – 271 per week at last count – and the areas they serve.  For example, I recently participated in the inauguration of the American Airlines flight from Porto Alegre to Miami, and TAM is now flying from Belem to Miami.  We’ll need all these flights during the World Cup because thousands of U.S. – based fans – more than any other country outside Brazil – have purchased tickets.  Many of these Americans, like Vice President Biden who will be visiting Brazil during the World Cup and me, will be rooting for Team USA this coming June and July but will surely become life-long fans of Brazil after that.

Expanding opportunities for educational exchanges in both directions is another shared aspiration.   President Obama and President Rousseff have shown this shared commitment to an innovative U.S.-Brazil education partnership that addresses the needs of a 21st century workforce.  Their signature initiatives – Science without Borders and 100,000 Strong in the Americas – have greatly expanded how our higher education institutions and networks relate and have driven increased student mobility in both directions.  The most important tool that we can fashion together to increase this mobility is English language teaching. No skill can better prepare young Brazilians to take their place in today’s global economy, and we are working together with a host of Brazilian partners to make this tool more widely available nationwide. I recently visited Salvador, Bahia, where I spoke at a graduation ceremony for nearly 100 young Brazilian students who graduated from English programs that the U.S. mission supports. I was inspired by the energy and drive of these young people. Alumni of these programs who I spoke with at this ceremony in Salvador have gone on the earn places in Brazilian and American universities.  I too have had the opportunity to welcome the growing number of American students coming to Brazil and the American institutions here to expand their exchanges while building Portuguese language and Brazil studies programs in the United States.   The enthusiasm and focus of these students gives me confidence that the future foundation of Brazil-U.S. relations will be broad and strong – built with the stuff of intensive, first-hand experience and real understanding of each other’s countries in all their complexity.

My travels around Brazil have shown me the strength and breadth of our commercial relationship too.  The figures speak loud and clear. Bilateral trade between our countries has grown 169% in the last decade, with USD 72 billion in two-way trade last year.  The opportunities are huge on both sides, and the still untapped potential vast.  U.S. companies have demonstrated that they are committed to the Brazilian market by investing in the Brazilian workforce, co-developing innovative technologies, and engaging effectively with the Government of Brazil at the federal, state and municipal levels.  U.S. companies have a long history of playing an important role in Brazil’s economic and social development.  We look forward to continuing our work with the Government of Brazil as it partners with U.S. industry to promote the global competitiveness of our two economies. Brazil’s agricultural industry is cutting edge and world class.  During my visit to the Embrapa Tropical Savanna Research Station, I learned how Brazilian scientists developed technology which revolutionized Brazilian agriculture and transformed the Brazilian tropical savanna into one of the world’s most agriculturally productive areas.  In addition to elevating Brazil to the status of one of the world’s biggest food exporters, Embrapa scientists have ensured that Brazil is one of the world’s key contributors to world food security.

Relations between two countries as big and diverse as Brazil and the United States are bound to be multifaceted and complex, as indeed they are.  We are bound together by shared democratic values, a shared vision of inclusive prosperity, and a shared ethos of achieving goals by dint of hard work and perseverance in the pursuit of opportunities.   And from these shared interests we hope to build a lasting strategic partnership with Brazil.  But let me reassure my Brazilian friends that strategic partnership with the U.S. does not imply the expectation of agreement on all issues all the time.  Friends can seek to persuade their friends of the rightness of their views, but then agree to disagree when decision time comes — for example, regarding the appropriate response to the assault on the Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity or the most constructive approach to the continuing crisis in Venezuela.  But whatever disagreements we may have on discrete issues, big or small, should not stop us from working together in those many areas where it simply makes sense to do so.   Like building partnerships at the state and municipal levels or working together in trilateral cooperation in Haiti, Mozambique and Honduras to help reduce poverty.

My first six months in Brazil has convinced me that the list of things we can and should do together is long and promising.  I’m sure the next months will bear this promise out, as I crisscross this great nation making more Brazilian friends and building new bridges between our countries.