Brazil and US hit restart button on trade relations

Officials are optimistic but rivalry in agriculture could hinder any potential deal


Andres Schipani in Brasília and James Politi in Washington, Financial Times

May 13, 2019


Relations between Brazil and the US — two of the biggest economies in the western hemisphere — withered from mutual neglect for most of the 13 years of leftist Workers’ party rule in Brazil that ended in 2016.


Brazil became the B in the Brics label for emerging economies during that time, and focused on partnerships in Latin America, Asia and Africa.


Now, however, US president Donald Trump and his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro are political soulmates — both elected on brash populist platforms with a common distaste for China’s growing global influence.


Just days before Mr Bolsonaro’s trip to Washington in March his son, Eduardo, arrived at a soirée sporting a green cap emblazoned with gold letters reading: “Make Brasil [sic] Great Again”.


The presidents were as enthusiastic and pledged to strengthen economic ties. “Brazil and the US are pushing the restart button in terms of their trade relations,” said Marcos Troyjo, Brazil’s deputy minister for foreign trade.



But despite the desire of both administrations to take advantage of the conservative ideological camaraderie — and their meeting of minds on removing Nicolás Maduro from power in Venezuela — the reality is that full-blown trade talks are not high on the agenda for Washington.


Bilateral trade between Brazil and the US is just $100bn a year. This is just a sixth of Mexico-US trade, even though Brazil’s $2tn economy is nearly twice as big as Mexico’s. In the Americas, Robert Lighthizer, the US trade representative, has been focused on pushing the revised Nafta deal with Canada and Mexico through Congress. Beyond that, Mr Lighthizer’s attention has been dominated by the denouement of trade talks with China, and the possible launch of new ones with Japan and the EU.


Optimism prevailed among US officials and business executives during Mr Bolsonaro’s visit, but this was largely because trade relations have been so testy that the bar for improvement was very low. “The Bolsonaro government views the US as a strategic partner and wants to reset the relationship on more positive terms — and the US government appears to be on board,” said Cassia Carvalho, executive director of the Brazil-US business council.


There were some advances. Both countries reached a deal to...


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