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LATIN AMERICA | 01-08-2019 00:08

Trump boosts Brazil's status as 'major Non-NATO military ally' of US

Moves eases path for the Latin American giant to buy more sophisticated weaponry from Washington.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday boosted Brazil's status as a US military ally, easing the path for the Latin American giant to buy more sophisticated weaponry.

In a notice sent to the US State Department, Trump said, "I hereby designate the Federative Republic of Brazil as a major Non-NATO Ally of the United States," referring to the powerful North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

Countries with Non-NATO Ally status enjoy a higher level of trust with Washington, allowing them priority access to the US weapons market and bolstering military-to-military ties. Egypt, Israel, New Zealand and Taiwan are among other allies of the United States already in the group. Trump had already declared in May that he intended to give Brazil the status.

The Republican president is forging close links with Brazil's new far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the Trump of Brazil since his surprise election last year.

On Tuesday, Trump said his administration is working with Brazil, a major producer of raw materials and farm products, on a new free trade agreement that would lower tariffs.

Last year, Washington threatened to impose tariffs on Brazilian steel and aluminum, but later granted an exemption.

Bolsonaro Jnr a step closer to Washington

Earlier this week, Trump welcomed the prospect of the Brazilian president’s son becoming the new ambassador to the US, as he played up the chances of a free trade deal with the Latin American nation.

Trump described the pick of Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker, for Brazil’s top diplomatic posting as a “great appointment” in comments to reporters in Washington and downplayed suggestions that it might be considered nepotism. “He’s a brilliant, wonderful young man.”

Eduardo, 35, is the president of the lower house’s foreign relations committee, but has no diplomatic experience, prompting even some government allies to express concern about the suitability of his appointment. President Bolsonaro, however, has shown no signs of backing down, expressing confidence that the Senate will approve Eduardo’s nomination as his English-language skills and good relationship with Trump would ensure stronger US-Brazil trade ties.

Trump also said his administration would start working on a free-trade agreement with Brazil, remarks echoed by US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross at an event in São Paulo on Tuesday.

“Trump and Bolsonaro are committed to reducing trade barriers and facilitating investments across a variety of industries, especially energy, infrastructure, agriculture and technology,” Ross said.

The US Chamber of Commerce in Brazil, known as Amcham, hosted the event and set out a proposal for a free trade agreement between the two countries that could increase the Latin American nation’s annual GDP by 1.3 percent by 2030.

As a member of Mercosur, the South American customs union, Brazil needs to be attentive to any “poison pills” in the bloc’s recent trade agreement with the European Union that could hinder a deal with the US.

China overtook the US as Brazil’s top trading partner around a decade ago, but Bolsonaro has repeatedly spoken of his desire to expand trade relations with Washington, currently worth around US$62 billion a year. In a recent visit to Washington, he told Trump that Brazil would be willing to forgo some benefits at the World Trade Organisation in return for US deal.

Asked about the timing of a deal with Brazil, Ross said trade agreements by nature “can be thousands of pages and can take a long time.”

- TIMES/AFP/BLOOMBERG

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