RIO DE JANEIRO -- U.S. Vice President Joe Biden praised Brazil’s “vibrancy and inclusive democracy” and strides made in social and economic development in a half-hour speech Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.
“You can no longer claim ‘We are a developing nation.’ You have developed,” Biden said to a crowd that included Rio de Janeiro’s Mayor Eduardo Paes and local business leaders in a warehouse along the city’s bustling port zone. “What goes with that is worldwide responsibility to speak, to speak out.”
Biden’s speech touched on issues ranging from trade, potential cooperation in Brazil’s energy sector, educational exchanges and Brazil’s rising international prominence.
Biden confirmed in the Rio speech that he would invite President Dilma Rousseff for an official state visit to the United States in October. It will be Washington’s only state visit this year, he said.
He recognized that the U.S. overture to Brazil may not be welcomed by everyone. “For many in Brazil, the United States doesn’t start with a clean slate,” he said, adding that he understood the “skepticism” that came with engaging the U.S.
Brazil is the final stop on the vice president’s six-day Latin American tour. The trip began in Colombia, where Biden met with President Juan Manuel Santos. He praised the country’s progress with security, peace efforts with the country’s FARC rebels, and said Santos was helping lead Latin America toward a “middle class, democratic and secure” future. In Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, Biden met with Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and several Caribbean leaders, including Dominican Vice President Margarita Cedeño de Fernández and Haitian President Michel Martelly for talks covering security, trade, energy and development.
Biden spoke at length about opportunities to increase trade and energy cooperation between the two countries. Bilateral trade stood about $100 billion annually but he said there is “no reason” that number could not be $400 to $500 billion.
Both countries have made massive breakthroughs in the energy, as shale oil in the United States and the deepwater “pre-salt” oil finds in Brazil give each country hope of energy independence. Brazil estimates that between 70 billion and 100 billion barrels of oil equivalent are available under this region’s deep layer of salt, though the exploration of these fields remain at an early stage. Brazil will host in October the first auction for the rights to develop a pre-salt field, which has sparked great interest amongst foreign oil companies.
“We stand ready to be your partner” in offshore development, Biden said, though he added that “it is for Brazil to decide if it makes sense for you” to take advantage of U.S. companies’ technology and capabilities in deepwater exploration.
After the speech, Biden visited the Technological Park of Rio de Janeiro’s Federal University and the Petrobras research facility CENPES, which largely focuses on technology needed to develop the deepwater pre-salt oil finds.
Despite the many references to energy, analysts said Biden’s trip was intended to broadly address the U.S. relationship with Brazil and not just foreign interest in pre-salt development.
“The U.S. overture toward the region and Brazil is coinciding with a potential change in focus on energy domestically [in Brazil], which is propitious” for U.S. companies, said Christopher Garman, director of Latin America research at the Eurasia group, a global political risk and consulting firm.
Biden also stressed the growing prominence of Brazil in international affairs, citing the recent selection of Roberto Azevedo as the World Trade Organization‘s director general and Brazil’s announcement that it would cancel or renegotiate almost $900 million of African debt. He praised Brazil’s leadership in social welfare, saying that such programs as the cash transfer “Bolsa Família” and homeownership promotion were “studied and copied around the world.”
Geraldo Zahran, a professor of international relations at the Pontifícia Universidade Católica of São Paulo, said the vice president’s visit came during an increasingly “friendly” and positive climate between the two countries. President Barack Obama visited Brazil with his family in 2011 amid much fanfare, including a visit to the City of God favela and a speech to the Brazilian people from Rio de Janeiro’s municipal theater.
“What has happened in the last five to 10 years is that Brazil has been distinguished from the rest of Latin America, so [the United States] does not treat Brazil as a Latin American country,’’ Zahran said. “There is a perception in Washington that we are a different political and economic animal.”