Sun, 10 Dec 2023

Biden Meets Brazil's Lula to Tout Workers' Rights

Voice of America
21 Sep 2023, 10:35 GMT+10

President Joe Biden met with his Brazilian counterpart on Wednesday and launched a joint effort to improve work conditions - one of the few key areas of agreement between the two leaders, whose views on Russia and China do not align.

Both presidents stressed their convergence in remarks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, as they launched the global workers' rights initiative.

'The two largest democracies in the Western Hemisphere are standing up for human rights around the world and in the hemisphere,' Biden said. 'That includes workers' rights.'

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has called for greater recognition for developing nations like his, described their meeting as 'the rebirth of a new era in the relationship between the U.S. and Brazil. It is a relationship of equals.'

Valerie Wirtschafter, who researches the region at the Brookings Institution, told VOA that Washington and Brasilia are finding a diplomatic balance under Biden and Lula. Both followed presidents who were better known for their bold public pronouncements than for their skills at delicate diplomacy.

'There will likely always be divergences between Brazil and the U.S. with respect to foreign policy, but I think the Biden administration has so far done an effective job of avoiding a whole-cloth dismissal of Brazil's foreign policy ambitions, while pushing back when necessary,' she said.

'Brazil is back'

Lula, who served two terms as president from 2003 to 2011, was re-elected in 2022 and has spent the first year of this presidential stint on a diplomatic blitz, visiting more than 20 countries and meeting with dozens of heads of state. He recently took over the presidency of the Group of 20 major and developing economies, known as the G20.

'Brazil is reencountering itself, the region, the world and multilateralism,' he said during his speech Tuesday at the General Assembly - the first time he has taken his place at the distinctive green marble-backed rostrum since 2009. 'As I never tire of saying, Brazil is back. Our country is back to give our due contribution to face the world's primary challenges.'

But as Wirtschafter noted, Brasilia is careful about which challenges it discusses with which partner.

'Issues like workers' rights and climate change seem to be clear areas of overlap between the two nations, and offer fruitful potential for meaningful cooperation outside of much of the rhetorical noise,' she said.

She cited the Brazilian leader's 'recent eyebrow-raising rhetoric - including, to name a few, statements about a thriving democracy in Venezuela and off-the-cuff comments that he later walked back about not arresting [Russian President] Vladimir Putin if he attended next year's G20 summit in Brazil.'

The White House said the two discussed both Venezuela and Ukraine in their closed-door meeting, with Biden tying democratization in Venezuela to sanctions relief, and with Biden expressing his concerns about the effects of Russia's invasion on the global food supply.

That summary of their meeting did not mention another sensitive diplomatic issue that has divided much of the world. Earlier this year, Lula traveled to Beijing to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a bid to build business ties.

'There seems to be a concerted effort by Brazil's foreign policy establishment not to view the growing systemic competition between China and the United States in terms of a zero-sum game,' analyst Ryan Berg, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote at the time.

'Hence, Brazil will tend to compartmentalize its relationship with partners based on specific affinities. In theory, this allows its foreign policy to engage with a wider range of actors.'

Leaders laud labor

Biden and Lula described their new partnership on labor as a way to stop the exploitation of workers and forced and child labor, as well as workplace discrimination, and create a possible template for others in the G20 to join.

The two leaders also want guarantees that the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy emphasizes workers' rights.

Biden sees support from organized labor as an essential part of his 2024 reelection effort, stressing that his policies will create factory and construction jobs that do not require a college degree.

Lula got his start in politics as the leader of a powerful metalworkers union and, on Wednesday, highlighted that he spent more than two decades in factories and has no degree himself.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

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