As an American who has worked with colleagues in Brazil since the 1990s, I took a special interest in President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Brazil. Several things struck me as noteworthy. First of all, it’s about time a U.S. president got down there, even if you look at it from purely capitalistic reasons.
The U.S. needs Brazil. Brazil imports more goods from the U.S. than from any other country. While most Americans probably are not aware of that, Obama mentioned it several times.
As he should, because Americans could use the work. As Obama pointed out in his weekly radio address, “Every $1 billion of goods and services we export supports more than 5,000 jobs in the United States.” Last year, exports to Brazil supported more than 250,000 American jobs, he said. This is probably the most salient fact Americans should know about our neighbor to the south.
Brazil also has something else the U.S. needs: oil. Energy was part of the agenda during Obama’s visit, and with Brazil being a pioneer in biofuels and other alternative power sources, the talk wasn’t just about crude.
No “O’ word, and little talk of IT. This was not Obama’s nearshore tech tour. Although technology transfer was reportedly a topic of discussion, there was little if any presidential comment about IT or other services. No mention of “nearshoring” or “nearsourcing” or any recognition of the country’s technological maturity. Obama has made comments critical of outsourcing American jobs, but didn’t touch that subject in Brazil. When talking about increasing exports to Brazil, he didn’t call out tech-related goods and services. Apparently the only infrastructure discussed was the kind involving roads and facilities, with the U.S. hoping to get a piece of the massive construction pie for the 2014 Olympics and World Cup.
A change in tone. It almost seemed as if the President of the United States were traveling to Brazil with hat in hand. It seemed as if the U.S. was the supplicant, looking to make deals on jobs and oil. Without declaring there’s been some monumental shift within the hemisphere, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the two countries are now on different arcs.
Brazil is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and has added 30 million people to the middle class. The U.S. is experiencing very high unemployment, serious budget cuts in the states, two long-running wars, and multitude other concerns. Even the usually cool-looking Obama—he generally appears to have a bossa nova soundtrack playing in his head—appeared a bit weary during his Latin America trip. Maybe it was the “Obama Go Home!” signs.
Closer ties ahead. A friend in need makes a good trading partner. Obama and President Rousseff by most accounts get along well, whereas the U.S. government seemed to have a thing against former president Lula. Maybe now trade restrictions will be negotiated away, or at least get the process started of lowering barriers and encouraging more exchange of goods and services. But something else needs to happen next: a visit by President Rousseff to the big trading partner in the north.