Editor’s Note: Marco Rubio is a Republican senator from Florida. He is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and is member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee and Appropriations Committee. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
On New Year’s Day, President Jair Bolsonaro was inaugurated in Brazil, ushering in a new era in Brazilian politics that marks a dramatic departure from the leftist, anti-American governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff. Our bilateral relationship improved under the administration of former President Michel Temer, and the new Bolsonaro government has already indicated it seeks an even closer security and economic relationship with the United States.
For the peace and stability of the region, it is crucial that the United States capitalize on this historic opportunity to bring closer together the two most populous nations in the Western Hemisphere.
A strong, vibrant and democratic Brazil that is more closely aligned with the United States as a strategic partner can be a force multiplier in addressing the ongoing crisis in Venezuela (where governance has deteriorated and there is widespread corruption), and in countering the malign intentions of authoritarian regimes like China, Russia and Iran that intend to expand their presence and activities in Latin America.
The Trump administration should move quickly to advance goals that would be welcomed by the Bolsonaro government, such as bolstering our defense and intelligence ties, increasing investment in trade, cooperation in the energy sector, supporting Brazil’s ascension to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD, expanding US access to Brazil’s space industry, and additional cooperation against terrorism and transnational criminal networks.
By supporting Brazil’s ascension to the OECD, the United States can help shape the country’s future market-based plans and stabilize the economy. As the second largest economy in the Western Hemisphere and the eighth largest in the world, Brazil currently has Key Partner Status at the OECD. But it has previously lacked formal US support because of a desire by past Brazilian leadership to align more closely with the developing world and support policies at odds with core OECD principles.
Key Partner Status allows the direct and active participation in the work of the OECD’s substantive bodies in a sustained and comprehensive manner. But – if the Bolsonaro government is ready to move Brazil into its rightful place as a modernizing and rising economic power – US support for this ascension would demonstrate our nation’s commitment to economic engagement with Brazil and responsible and sustainable economic development more broadly in Latin America.
We should also look to Brazil for a new partner to enhance our space capabilities and expand our space cooperation. International cooperation will be critical to future space exploration. In August, the United States and Brazil signed a Space Situational Awareness agreement, which will allow for increased awareness of each nation’s operations in space. This is particularly useful as Brazil looks to increase its presence in the small satellite launch market.
Brazil has enacted laws to protect foreign intellectual property, and its geographic location offers a potential for space launch. If properly executed, a closer partnership between Brazilian and US companies, such as Boeing and Embraer, will provide benefits to both nations.
The United States-Brazil trade relationship is large, with more than $100 billion in trade in services and goods in 2017. Two-way trade in goods with the United States made Brazil our 12th largest trade partner in 2016. As we work to expand trade between our economies, we should seek to deepen our bilateral economic engagement and a commitment to fair and reciprocal trade, which could lead to mutual benefits for our two nations.
Bilateral investment between US and Brazilian energy sectors, in particular, will create a framework of support to developing countries in the hemisphere. Together, we can help wean small countries off their dependence on Venezuelan oil, which helps create dependency on the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, a state sponsor of drug trafficking (though it denies this). At the same time, this partnership will likely increase cooperation and technology sharing.
Previous leftist governments undermined Brazil’s economic and political stability, causing higher inflation, increased poverty rates, and declines in per capita income levels, but Bolsonaro’s new administration presents an opportunity to ensure a stronger and strategic alliance with our nation that could benefit the Brazilian people.
The Trump administration should work to expand Brazil’s role in the so-called Lima Group, comprised of Latin America’s democracies, seeking to return democracy in Venezuela. The United States should also be prepared to provide greater support to Brazil to help manage the humanitarian crisis resulting from the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who have fled to Brazil. At Brazil’s request, our government should be prepared to provide technical assistance to Brazil’s military and law enforcement agencies for border security efforts, and to ensure that terrorists are not using Sao Paulo’s international airport as a gateway to the Americas.
While Brazil’s economic relationship with China has been important to its growth, Brazil’s cultural and democratic values are naturally much more aligned with the United States. Together, the United States and Brazil have a historic opportunity to improve our trading relationship and economies, while also dealing with the setbacks of the enemies to democracy — China, Iran, and Russia — who seek to prop up dictators and support authoritarian leaders like those in Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
President Bolsonaro’s new administration offers a fresh opportunity to build a stronger US-Brazilian partnership to ensure continued peace and expanded prosperity and stability for the Western Hemisphere. The United States must seize this opportunity.