CFR’s Independent Task Force: Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations

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U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff toast during lunch in Brasilia (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters).

U.S. President Barack Obama and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff toast during lunch in Brasilia (Ho New/Courtesy Reuters).

Today the Council on Foreign Relations is releasing its independent Task Force report, “Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations”.  I sat in as an observer for the Task Force, ably led by co-chairs Samuel W. Bodman — former Secretary of Energy under George W. Bush — and James D. Wolfensohn — chairman of Citigroup’s international advisory board and former president of the World Bank Group — and directed by my CFR colleague, Julia Sweig. The project’s 30 participants hail from diverse backgrounds, some old Brazil hands and others with functional and/or wide-ranging expertise. Needless to say, the four meetings that took place over the course of a year yielded a stimulating and fruitful dialogue. Although there were some differences of opinion among Task Force members (some of which are noted in the additional comments and dissents section of the report), everyone agreed to Brazil’s rising importance.

We addressed a wide range of issues, including Brazil’s economic health, its energy agenda, its role as a dominant regional power and its relationship with the U.S. government. The report’s core recommendations focus on deepening cooperation between Brazil and the United States so that both can more effectively advance their common interests (and better manage areas where we might come into conflict). In particular, the Task Force points to Chinese monetary policy, climate change mitigation, the expansion of the biofuels industry and regional counternarcotics policy as issue areas that provide opportunities for bilateral cooperation.  It calls for Washington to better appreciate Brasilia’s increasing potential as a global strategic ally. As a sign of goodwill, the Task Force recommends a particular concrete step: fully endorsing Brazil as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.

The report’s most basic takeaway is that Brazil is the newest pillar in a multipolar world and must be treated as such. Slotted to become the world’s fifth largest economy within the next decade, it grew at a stunning pace of 7.5% in 2010 (whether this is sustainable remains a big question mark), and is expected to expand 4.5% this year. Unemployment and inequality — perennial concerns for the nation—have fallen. Still, Brazil’s economic outlook is not entirely rosy. In the short to medium term, rising exchange rates and inflation threaten Brazil’s growth. Decrepit infrastructure and an overwhelmed public education system threaten its longer term competitiveness. Whether Brazil can take on these myriad obstacles effectively remains to be seen.

Whatever its economic future may hold, the Task Force report is worth a full read, as it provides important insights and ideas on how both Brazil and the U.S. can manage the challenges that lie ahead, and the U.S.-Brazil relationship, for the better of both nations.

Published in conjunction with Latin America’s Moment at the Council on Foreign Relations.