President Reagan publicly warned Brazilian President Jose Sarney in a White House arrival ceremony Wednesday that Brazil must open up its markets to American-made products if it wants to keep exporting to the United States at the level of $8 billion a year.
“The fight for free trade must start at home,” Reagan told Sarney before hundreds of dignitaries. “No nation can expect to continue freely exporting to others if its own domestic markets are closed to foreign competition.”
An Administration official described Reagan’s private talks with Sarney after the ceremony as candid, though the two leaders reached no decision on how to rectify the trade imbalance between the United States and Brazil.
Sarney, who will also meet with representatives of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, had been expected to tell U.S. officials that Brazil is ready to increase its American imports if the terms of Brazil’s $105-billion foreign debt can be improved. But the terms of such a deal were left to talks between trade officials.
The United States now exports annually to Brazil goods valued at $3 billion, making for a Brazilian surplus of $5 billion.
Sarney seemed eager to minimize any appearance of discord between the two countries. At a lunch at the State Department, he said he had told Reagan: “As President of Brazil, I did not come here to add to your troubles. I have nothing to ask for and nothing to criticize.”
In an effort to demonstrate good will toward his American host, Sarney, whose language is Portuguese, delivered his arrival remarks at the White House in English. “My English is very broken,” he said, painstakingly sounding out each word. “My effort in speaking your language is a marathon of good will.”
The day before Sarney’s visit, a senior Administration official called Brazil’s restrictive import laws “an irritant” in relations between the two countries. Brazil subsidizes Brazilian products and, in some cases, prohibits the import of foreign products if the same thing is made domestically.
The official said these laws have contributed to a recent boost in the Brazilian economy. Last year the country’s growth rate exceeded 8%, the highest of any country in the world, yet Brazil still wishes to be regarded in the marketplace as a developing country. This gives it special treatment that U.S. policy-makers believe is no longer justified.