The U.S. is looking to enlist Brazil’s newly elected right-leaning president in its trade battle with China and its efforts to isolate Venezuela’s leftist government.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to press U.S. concerns about Chinese trading practices during a visit to Brazil to attend the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday, a State Department official said.
The official said that China’s “predatory trade and lending practices” would feature highly on the agenda for the trip.
Mr. Pompeo was also expected to rally allies against Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, who is expected to begin a new six-year term in office next month, after an election most countries in the Western Hemisphere have described as illegitimate.
The official declined to say whether the U.S. was prepared to cut diplomatic ties with Venezuela, a move that others in the region have discussed.
The Trump administration is hopeful that Mr. Bolsonaro, who been fiercely critical of Chinese investment in the country, will emerge as a powerful ally against China. Brazil is the world’s eighth-largest economy, but has struggled with a bloated government and moribund growth. Mr. Bolsonaro, a regular Twitter user that some media outlets nickname “Trump of the Tropics” has promised widespread reforms.
The trade battle between the U.S. and China has shaken global markets over the past year and companies closely watching talks after the two sides agreed to a 90-day cease-fire earlier this month.
“We are more than happy to compete on a level playing field with Chinese companies,” the official said. “We just want to be sure that there is in fact a level playing field.”
The U.S. has temporarily postponed plans to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods as part of that agreement, while China has promised to reduce auto tariffs and boost purchases of soybeans and other crops.
Mr. Pompeo is expected to stress to the Brazilians that the U.S. and Brazil have a common interest in confronting China. The State Department official cited examples of Chinese investments in Brazil that had failed to benefit the country or violated the fair trade practices.
“We’re all concerned about China and the way China enters countries,” the official said. “It’s not always the case that when China shows up it’s with good intention for the people of the country.”
Also on Mr. Pompeo’s agenda in Brazil is an anticipated meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the second encounter in less than a month. It follows Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and leave the last remnants of Islamic State to Turkey. Israel is concerned about expanding Iranian influence in the region.
Mr. Pompeo was expected to be accompanied by the U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green, the National Security Council’s Mauricio Claver-Carone, and the deputy assistant secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Julie Chung.
Brazil has suffered through recession and feeble growth since 2014, and Mr. Bolsonaro won over voters with his promises to fight corruption and rampant crime.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s opponents question his judgment after he praised Brazil’s former dictatorship and aroused criticism for his comments toward women, homosexuality and race.
By Jessica Donati
Wall Street Journal