Despite the differences, the Brazilian-U.S. trade relationship is at its highest point ever, argues Sueli Bonaparte.
BY JOACHIM BAMRUD
The past few weeks have not been good ones for supporters of close U.S.-Brazil relations. After the United States refused to abide by a ruling from the World Trade Organization in favor of Brazil and against US cotton subsidies, the South American nation threatened to impose tariffs on a wide range of U.S. goods and even break U.S. companies' patents and intellectual property rights.
The dispute comes after the U.S. senate had delayed the ratification of the new American ambassador to Brazil, Thomas Shannon. (He was ratified in December after a five-month delay.)
However, Brazil experts like Sueli Bonaparte, executive director of the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce in New York, says that even those disputes won’t dampen the fact that U.S.-Brazil relations are at their highest point ever.
“Despite the differences between the two countries, the Brazilian-U.S. trade relationship is at its highest point ever with this increase in bilateral commerce,” she says.
Bonaparte is scheduled to retire from the chamber job next month after 17 years. In this interview with Latin Business Chronicle, she talks about what heir highlights have been, who in Brazil she has been most impressed by and the outlook for US-Brazil relations.
Latin Business Chronicle: What has been your proudest achievement at the Chamber over these 17 years?
Bonaparte: During these past 17 years, the Chamber has faced a number of challenges, including the global economic crises in several regions during the 1990s, the internet and real estate bubbles, the meltdown of the financial sector in 2007, and the current recession. My proudest achievement was being able to weather these challenges, with the assistance of an effective and diligent team of professionals and the support of the Chamber Board, and continuing to offer our members (and the general public) support and unmatched service during these difficult times including high-level programs to fulfill their informational needs. To that end, we have invited highly respected experts from the public and private sectors to discuss business and investment opportunities in the Brazilian economy; we redesigned our website so that it has now become the main source of Brazilian business news, providing the opportunity to attend our events in New York in “real time” from anywhere in the world through live Webinars; and last year, in the midst of the economic downturn, we managed to reach the highest number of members in the history of our organization.
Can you say something about how the Chamber has grown since you started?
When I first started, we had 350 corporate members. After 17 years, we now have 550 corporate members and have nearly doubled annual membership revenues, despite the consolidation of several industries (banking, legal) and the global economic crises that have affected our membership base. We have designed new initiatives to retain our members and recruit new ones. When I first started, the Chamber held only one monthly event; now we organize an average of 4 programs per month. We are considered the most active international organization in the United States.
What will you miss most from not working at the Chamber?
I will miss not being able to interact on a daily basis with my team, our members, and the thousands of friends I have made over the years. They all have inspired me and have shaped the executive I am today.
GABRIELLI AND MEIRELLES
Which Brazilian businessperson that you've dealt with during all your years at the Chamber has most impressed you?
José Sérgio Gabrielli, President of Petrobras. He represents the modern, bold and social-conscientious Brazilian executive. Moreover, he is a successful and effective global businessman investing in Brazil and several corners of the globe, and contributing to the economic and social developments of the communities and countries where he is doing business. During one of the deepest economic crises of our history, the capital value of Petrobras rose more than most of the oil companies in the world. Under his leadership, Petrobras has increased production, improved fuel quality and delivery capacity, and implemented consolidation projects in Brazil and overseas.
Which Brazilian policymaker that you've dealt with during all your years at the Chamber has most impressed you?
Henrique Meirelles, President of The Central Bank of Brazil, for helping to manage the Brazilian economy during the global financial meltdown and keeping the worst of the financial crisis at bay. After a brief process of recession, the Brazilian economy has entered into a phase of investment expansion and is showing a resumption of confidence in Brazil's economic outlook for 2010. According to recent Central Bank surveys, the economy is expected to grow more than 5 percent this year. Meirelles has been recognized as one of the most effective and admired Central Bank governors by his peers for his performance at the helm of this challenging position.
How has US-Brazil business relations changed over these 17 years?
Brazil has become a model for countries in the Western Hemisphere. With the resurgence of Brazil as a major economic powerhouse, the United States now views Brazil as a regional and global partner. Under the leadership of President Lula, several initiatives have been established to strengthen economic and commercial ties between the two nations. One of these initiatives was the establishment of the U.S.- Brazil CEO Forum that aims to bring together business leaders to develop strategies for improving competitiveness and innovation in both countries and discuss issues of mutual interests (chiefly bilateral tax agreements, intellectual property protection laws, and trade barriers). With solid economic fundamentals, a mature political system, and a vibrant private sector playing an important role in shaping Brazil's position in the global economy, I envision an interesting two-way trade and investment scenario in 2010 and beyond. The dynamic of the FDI has changed over the years with more Brazilian corporations investing in the United States, but we have also noticed that American firms are interested in investing in Brazilian infrastructure projects, especially with the upcoming sporting events set for 2014 and 2016. However, trade-related challenges between the U.S. and Brazil continue as the Doha Round remains delayed. Yet despite the differences between the two countries, the Brazilian-U.S. trade relationship is at its highest point ever with this increase in bilateral commerce.
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