After years of strained diplomatic relations, Brazil and the United States are seeking to strengthen their alliance, with a focus on promoting democracy, combatting climate change, addressing the Russian-Ukrainian war, and expanding bilateral trade. This renewed partnership marks a significant step towards restoring Brazil’s position as a key international political mediator and underscores the importance of cooperation between nations in addressing global challenges. In this article, we will explore the key issues discussed during the recent meeting between Brazilian President Lula and US President Biden, and the potential impact of this renewed alliance on both countries and the wider international community.
Since Lula returned to the Brazilian presidency in January, he has chosen a political strategy that will enable the country to reestablish its standing as a key international political mediator. His agenda focuses on participating in international summits and events in order to secure bilateral and multilateral alliances that promote democracy, poverty and hunger eradication, and environmental preservation. He also seeks to develop mechanisms to preserve peace and foster international security.
On 10 February, Lula traveled to the US to meet with President Joe Biden and affirmed his commitment to strengthening ties between the two countries. Lula and Biden discussed key international issues, such as bolstering democracy and human rights and revitalizing the Joint Action Plan to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Promote Equality, among others.
Moreover, this meeting focused on four topics that are important to the future of both countries: strengthening US-Brazil ties, combatting climate change, addressing the Russian war in Ukraine, and promoting bilateral trade.
In 2024, Brazil and the US will celebrate 200 years of diplomatic relations. There have previously been tensions between the two countries, including in 2013 after the leak of NSA espionage data regarding US surveillance of Brazil during President Dilma Rousseff’s tenure. However, this most recent meeting sought to further a stable political alliance between the two countries.
During the Bolsonaro and Trump years, both countries’ politics were dominated by authoritarian and clientelist tendencies, disrespect of democratic institutions, and the circulation of fake news for political gain. Trump’s protectionist "America First" policy also created tensions with China, Brazil’s main trade partner.
Those years saw democracy under threat both countries, including during the invasion of the US Capitol and the storming of government buildings in Brazil’s Three Powers Square. However, the two countries now seek to strengthen their alliance in order to restore their trade partnership. Biden confirmed that he will attend this year’s Summit for Democracy, which will be held in Brazil in March. This attests to Biden’s commitment to building democratic institutions and combatting extremism and political violence.
Both the Brazilian and US presidents recognize the leadership role their countries can play in combating climate change and in shaping debates about the climate. In this regard, Lula highlighted the need for richer countries to commit to providing social and economic protections for forests in the southern hemisphere which are under serious threat from illegal mining and deforestation.
Lula and Biden also agreed that the US-Brazil Climate Change Working Group (CCWG) would meet as soon as possible to discuss bilateral and multilateral cooperation to combat deforestation and environmental degradation, strengthen the bioeconomy and clean energy, and promote low-carbon agriculture. Furthermore, Biden affirmed US interest in providing resources for Amazon rainforest protection and conservation programs.
The US and Brazil have different positions towards the Russian war in Ukraine. The US has been providing military support to Ukraine, while Brazil has chosen non-involvement and hopes to create a league of neutral countries to mediate a possible end to the war. Lula has acknowledged that the war threatens the development of many countries and exacerbates food and energy insecurity in already impoverished areas.
Both Biden and Lula expressed their intention to work side-by-side to pursue major reforms in the UN Security Council. There are plans underway to designate permanent seats in the council for African, Latin American and Caribbean countries. This more balanced representation will enable the council to more efficiently respond to issues affecting world peace and international security. Lula likewise reaffirmed his plan to create a negotiation team to further peaceful solutions to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
The US is Brazil’s second-largest trade partner after China. The main products that Brazil exports to the US are semi-finished iron and steel, crude oil, coffee, aircraft, turbines, motors, and landscaping machinery. For its part, the US mainly exports fuels, medicine, medical instruments, and gases and hydrocarbons.
For the betterment of both societies, the two presidents agreed to ramp up bilateral relations to expand economic cooperation, and created guidelines for joint investment in trade, energy, health, technology and innovation, and education and culture.
Finally, Brazil is known worldwide for its foreign policy role as a mediator for peace. Lula’s meeting with Biden indicates that he is adopting a geopolitical strategy focused on restoring Brazil’s standing in the international political arena. Brazil’s cautious steps forward in this regard aim to avoid any further erosion of US-Brazil relations or ties with other commercial and diplomatic partners.
With regard to the Russian-Ukrainian war, Lula is avoiding coming across as pro-Ukraine, since this posture would make it difficult to maintain relations with Russia, which has been a commercial and diplomatic partner for Brazil for decades. Brazil seeks only to identify peaceful solutions to the war that would be conducive to bolstering diplomatic and commercial bilateral and multilateral relations. Brazil hopes to encourage a permanent peace and foster democratic dialogue around the world, which would enable further development of international relations, while prioritizing collective well-being and human rights.