Trump and Bolsonaro discuss Venezuela, trade over Mar-a-Lago dinner

US President Donald Trump (left) shakes hands with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro during a dinner at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, on March 7, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

PALM BEACH, Florida (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - President Donald Trump hosted Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for dinner at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Saturday (March 7), where the two leaders discussed the US-led effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

The two men are mutual admirers who won election by appealing to nationalist sentiment in their countries. Along with Venezuela, they spoke about a future trade deal, the Middle East and collaboration in military research, according to a joint statement after the meeting.

"Brazil loves him and the USA loves him," Trump said in brief remarks to reporters before their dinner.

The Western Hemisphere's two largest economies had been embroiled in a trade spat over US metal tariffs. But Bolsonaro in December said Trump had told him there would be no new US tariffs on Brazilian steel and aluminum.

Asked whether he would hold off on imposing more tariffs on Bolsonaro's country, Trump said: "I don't make any promises."

A senior Trump administration official told reporters in a briefing on Saturday that the US wants the Maduro regime smashed and destroyed if free elections can't be achieved in Venezuela.

The Trump administration has, so far unsuccessfully, supported efforts by Juan Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition leader, to dislodge Maduro, who has clung to power despite the nation's steep economic decline. Bolsonaro's government this week ordered all of Brazil's diplomats to leave Venezuela's capital, Caracas.

"President Trump and President Bolsonaro reiterated their countries' support for democracy in the region, including Interim President of Venezuela Juan Guaido and the democratically elected Venezuelan National Assembly as they work to restore constitutional order in Venezuela," according to the statement after the meeting.

Officials told Bloomberg News that the leaders would discuss the involvement of the Chinese company Huawei Technologies Co in Brazilian broadband networks, something the Trump administration regards as a security threat. The statement didn't mention Huawei.

Bolsonaro, a former Army officer and right-wing populist who fashioned his successful election campaign after the American president's, will also meet with US business leaders on the trip.

Before leaving for the US, Bolsonaro tweeted that he was getting together with "my friend Trump," and that they would talk about defence, business cooperation and trade.

The leaders "noted the potential benefits to American and Brazilian workers and businesses of growing the bilateral economic relationship," according to the White House statement.

"To this end, they instructed their trade officials to deepen discussions for a bilateral trade package this year, with a view towards intensifying the economic partnership between their two countries."

In his relations with Venezuela and Cuba and on other issues, Bolsonaro has ardently courted the American president, and broke with diplomatic protocol by predicting a Trump re-election victory in November.

The courtship has sometimes seemed unrequited. It didn't stop Trump from threatening to reinstate the US tariffs on Brazilian steel and aluminum, or favouring Argentina and Romania's candidacies for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development over that of Brazil, Latin America's largest economy.

But Trump refrained from the tariffs, and last month the US lifted a ban on fresh-beef imports from Brazil that had been in place since 2017. Trump on Saturday reiterated his administration's support for Brazil's membership in the OECD.

A US senior administration official said Saturday that Trump is also interested in upgrading the American military alliance with Brazil. The official noted that Colombia, which has also been enlisted in the effort to pressure Venezuela, is currently the only official Nato partner country in Latin America.

INTERNATIONAL CRITICISM

But Brazil has fewer international friends because of Bolsonaro's partisan stances and his clashes with other leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron as well as Alberto Fernandez, the new president of neighbouring Argentina.

That position was underscored by a vote at the United Nations last year to condemn the US embargo of Cuba: 187 nations voted for it, while Brazil and Israel were the only two countries siding with the US.

Forest conservation came up at the dinner with Trump. Bolsonaro suffered broad international criticism last year when forest fires ravaged the Amazon rainforest. But the American president was not among those who publicly criticised Bolsonaro for the fires, instead complimenting his Brazilian counterpart in a tweet for "working very hard" to bring them under control.

When his trip was announced last month, the Brazilian government said that Bolsonaro would attend a business seminar in Miami and try to persuade Tesla to build a plant in Brazil. Tesla has so far not confirmed a meeting.

His mission to attract more foreign investment became more urgent this week after Brazil reported that economic growth slowed to 1.1 pre cent last year. The government has acknowledged that the coronavirus will affect economic activity.

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