Rousseff Seeks U.S. Reconciliation Two Years After NSA Spying

Brazil is seeking a rapprochement with the U.S. as the Western Hemisphere’s two largest economies try to realign interests after a decade of diplomatic skirmishes.

Brazil president Dilma Rousseff will arrive in New York on Saturday for a five-day tour including San Francisco. It is her first official travel to Washington since she canceled a state visit in 2013 after allegations the U.S. had spied on her.

Since then, Brazil’s economy has faltered and it’s now facing its worst recession in 25 years. As Rousseff’s popularity sinks to record lows, stronger ties with the U.S. could help validate budget cuts and other tough fiscal adjustments the president has made this year, said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Wilson Center.

“Reconnecting with the United States in a productive way is fundamental to convey this message to investors, that Brazil is changing direction,” Sotero said by phone from Washington. “This visit is a unique opportunity to build up that relationship.”

President Barack Obama seeks a partner for climate goals and diplomacy in the region, hoping to move past the fallout from the spying scandal. Energy, defense, technology and trade are also expected to be on the agenda for Tuesday’s bilateral meeting in Washington.

Natural Partner

Brazil, the world’s seventh-largest economy and a multiracial democracy, is a natural partner for the United States, Sotero said. Obama’s opening of relations with Cuba, and Rousseff’s effort to abandon a state-centered development model, creates further common ground and sets the stage for diplomatic and economic cooperation.

“People recognize that there are certain issues in the region and in the world that you cannot properly deal with unless you have Brazil with you, participating,” Sotero said.

One such issue is climate change. Brazil is an influential voice among developing nations, said Elliot Diringer, executive vice president of the Center for Climate and Energy solutions in Washington and a member of the U.S. delegation to the 1997 Kyoto climate talks.

“Making progress with Brazil is probably a high priority,” Diringer said.

Obama may press Rousseff to act soon on ambitious commitments for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, replicating an agreement on pollution the US administration forged with China last November, Diringer said.


Brazil reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 41 percent between 2005 and 2012, according to government data, and has a mostly clean, hydropower-based energy supply. While Rousseff defended environmental priorities in her first term, her second term began during the worst drought in decades that dried up reservoirs and forced the country to rely on dirtier, more expensive fossil fuels and biomass.

The two countries are expected to sign a commitment to work toward a successful December climate change summit in Paris. Brazil will probably wait until after the visit to announce its own carbon emission reduction goals, said Rodrigo de Azeredo, director of trade promotion at Brazil’s foreign ministry.

For Brazil, trade is the priority. Rousseff wants to promote manufactured products the country exports to the U.S. including airplanes and machinery. Though Brazil has had a trade deficit with the U.S. since 2009, it’s a more desirable relationship than with China, which focuses on commodities, said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Council of the Americas.

Representatives from Sao Paulo state-based Embraer, an aircraft manufacturer, will participate in meetings at a NASA research center in the San Francisco Bay area on July 1. Rousseff will also visit the Mountain View campus of Google Inc. and attend a lunch at Stanford University.

More Competitive

Trade between the US and Brazil has doubled to $100 billion over the past 10 years, said Mark Feierstein, the White House National Security Council’s senior director for Western Hemisphere affairs.

“We think that we can double that trade again over the next 10 years, and I think what you’ll see out of this visit are steps that will take us in that direction,” Feierstein said.

Making Brazilian exports more competitive requires tackling the country’s logistics bottlenecks. Rousseff will seek investors for her $64 billion package of infrastructure projects in New York on Monday.

With many of Brazil’s largest construction companies under investigation in a massive corruption scheme involving state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, American firms have opportunities to bid on projects offered with more favorable terms, Sotero said.

Restoring Relations

Restoring relations with the U.S. may boost Rousseff’s standing at home, said Carl Meacham, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Rousseff’s political position is considerably weaker than in October 2013, when she canceled her state visit after documents leaked by National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden suggested the U.S. was spying on her and Petrobras. In her opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September of that year, she said the surveillance “violates the fundamental human rights” of citizens.

Her tough stance helped her popularity recover after street protests months earlier. Two years later, her approval rating has plunged to just 10 percent, according to the latest survey by Datafolha polling firm.

Sixty-three percent of Brazilians, on the other hand, say they have confidence in Obama, according to a survey completed May 4 by the Pew Research Center.

“The outcome both sides want is the re-establishment of trust,” Meacham said. “You’re going to see symbolic announcements that will make the case that the relationship is heading in the right direction.”

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