White House says it aims to strengthen ties with Brazil, but will speak out on concerns

The Biden administration is closely following developments in Brazil with regard to human rights and the environment, but aims to keep strengthening U.S. economic ties and trade with the South American country, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday.

The administration of Democratic President Joe Biden on Feb. 5 had announced an additional $300,000 (1.5 million reais) in funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development to bolster Brazil’s emergency COVID-19 response, Psaki told a White House briefing.

“We are by far the largest investor in Brazil, including in many of Brazil’s most innovative and growth-focused companies, and will continue to strengthen our economic ties and increase our large and growing trade relationship in the months ahead,” she said.

Asked about calls by human rights groups and Democrats to halt trade talks with Brazil over concerns about human rights and the environment, Psaki said the Biden administration would not refrain from raising concerns where there were differences.

“Just as is true in many of our relationships, we look for opportunities to work together on issues where there is joint national interest, and obviously there’s a significant economic relationship, and we will not hold back on areas where we disagree, whether it’s climate or human rights, or otherwise,” she said.

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee last year blasted the administration of former President Donald Trump for cozying up to Brazil.

In a letter in June, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal said President Jair Bolsonaro’s government had shown “a complete disregard for basic human rights,” and argued that expanding ties would undermine the efforts of Brazilian human, labor and environmental advocates to “advance the rule of law and protect and preserve marginalized communities.”

Nestor Forster, Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, welcomed Psaki’s comments and said Brazil was “fully on board” to address sustainable development and climate change concerns, and looked forward to expanded trade ties.

“What we want is to keep moving, keep working with the United States,” he told a trade conference hosted by the Washington International Trade Association, adding that Brazilian investment in the United States had already increased fourfold over the past decade, generating thousands of jobs.

The Trump administration had sought to boost ties with Brazil, the largest economy in Latin America, and provide a counterweight to China, which has become Brazil’s largest trading partner.

In October, Brazil and the United States signed three agreements to ensure good business practices and stop corruption, and set a target for doubling bilateral trade in the next five years from around $100 billion currently.

Bolsonaro last month wrote to Biden on the day he was inaugurated and said he hoped the two countries would pursue a broad free-trade agreement during Biden’s tenure.

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