Obama, Brazil's president discuss building economic ties

BRASILIA — President Barack Obama arrived here under cloudy skies but with the hope of opening a new chapter in relations with this continent-sized country that he said has captured "the attention of the world."

While more regional themes will be touched on when the president visits Chile and El Salvador as part of his Latin American trip, the focus in Brazil — the seventh largest economy in the world — was on forging a political and economic relationship for the future.

"Put simply, the United States doesn't simply recognize Brazil's rise, we support it enthusiastically," Obama said. "I believe we've laid the foundation for greater cooperation between the United States and Brazil for decades to come."

But Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said any true alliance between the two countries would have to be "amongst equals."

After Air Force One touched down at 7:31 a.m. local time, the president, his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha headed to their hotel before the president held morning talks with Rousseff.

As Brazilian troops dressed in ceremonial garb formed an honor guard, Obama walked up the futuristic ramp of the Palácio do Planalto, the presidential office building, where Rousseff greeted him with a hearty handshake.

After their talks, the two presidents issued a joint statement acknowledging their mutual commitment to building a world that promotes democracy, human rights and social justice. They pledged to work to work together on education, economic cooperation, technology and research, and promoting food security.

In a nod to Brazil's desire to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Obama expressed "appreciation for Brazil's aspiration." But it was not as ringing an endorsement as he gave India's quest for a seat last year.

They agreed that G-20 group of major economies should be the premier forum for coordinating international economic policy and both recognized the potential of reciprocal investments in infrastructure, energy and high technology.

They also signed a Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement that calls for creation of a commission that will study ways to boost trade as well as agreements and memos of understanding on issues ranging from cooperation on biofuels and climate change to the peaceful use of outer space. They also agreed to cooperate on safety and security for major sporting events, such as the upcoming 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Both expressed a desire to move toward a conclusion to the stalled DOHA round of trade negotiations and Obama said the United States wanted to be a customer for Brazil's energy resources.

But in briefs remarks after their meeting, Rousseff brought up issues not addressed in the president's statement. "If we wish to build a relationship in depth, it's necessary, frankly, to deal with our contradictions."

Brazil, she said, wants "more fairness and balanced" trade relations, yet must deal with U.S. trade barriers against its ethanol, beef, cotton, orange juice and airplanes.

The Brasilia stop is heavily skewed toward business with a meeting scheduled with the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum, a group of government and business chief executives who make recommendations to strengthen business ties between the two countries, and an afternoon speech before the U.S.-Brazil Business Summit.

Among the companies whose CEOs are members of the CEO Forum are International Paper, Anadarko, Cargill, Embraer, Odebrecht and Vale.

Brazil has an economy of more than $2 trillion and growing, with important new deep-water oil discoveries. It is also Florida's most important trading partner.

In his weekly radio address delivered Saturday, Obama made the connection between strengthening economic partnerships in the region and creating good jobs at home.

"Latin America is a part of the world where the economy is growing very quickly. And as these markets grow, so does their demand for goods and services," he said. "As president, I want to make sure these products are made in America."

The president has set an ambitious goal of doubling U.S. exports by 2014.

The United States, he said, now exports more than three times as much to Latin America as it does to China. Last year, the president said, U.S. exports to Brazil supported more than 250,000 U.S. jobs.

And playing to the theme of similarities between the two largest countries in the hemisphere, Brazil, too, is losing ground to Chinese imports. A poll released last month by the National Confederation of Industries reported that 45 percent of Brazilian companies surveyed said Chinese competitors in the Brazilian market are taking business away from them.

Because the Brazilian real is so strong against the U.S. dollar, it makes Brazilian exports less competitive in the U.S. market and Brazil is running a trade deficit with the United States.

Though Obama and Rousseff met previously in 2009 when she visited Washington as former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's chief of staff, there was important symbolism for Brazilians in Obama visiting Brazil so soon after Rousseff took office in January.

"This is the U.S. president calling on the new Brazilian president and for Brazilians, it is very important that the first gesture comes from the United States," said Paulo Sotero, director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Especially, he said, after relations between the United States and Brazil deteriorated in the last year of Lula da Silva's term over differences in Middle East and Honduran policy.

Some 3,500 security forces were dispatched to protect the president and air space was restricted over Brasilia, a capital built from scratch in the barren central plains of the country in the 1960s.

The streets of Brasilia's government center were largely deserted early Saturday but three people waving an American flag stood on the highway leading to the Hotel Royal Tulip Brasilia Alvorada where the president and his family stayed during their brief stop in the city.

Friday night protesters holding "Go Home Obama" signs in Rio, where the president will arrive Sunday, clashed with police outside the U.S. Consulate. And a plan for Obama to address the Brazilian people in front of Rio's Teatro Municipal was scuttled for a speech inside to a restricted crowd.