Letter to the Hon. Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative - Ways and Means Democrats Strongly Oppose Expanding Economic Relations with President Bolsonaro's Brazil


As Members of the Ways and Means Committee, we write to share our strong objections
to pursuing a trade agreement or expanded economic partnership with Brazil's President Jair
Last month, you issued a statement after your call with Brazil's Foreign Minister about
"intensify[ing] the economic partnership" between the United States and Brazil, noting that in
the coming weeks you would be consulting and seeking guidance from Congress. In response,
we believe it is important to enumerate the litany of reasons why we consider it inappropriate for
the Administration to engage in economic partnership discussions of any scope with a Brazilian
leader who disregards the rule of law and is actively dismantling hard-fought progress on civil,
human, environmental, and labor rights.
Jair Bolsonaro was elected President of Brazil in October 2018 amid controversy due to
his long and consistent history of making derogatory statements regarding women, indigenous
populations, and people based on their gender identity or sexual orientation, among other
targeted groups, and his general desire to weaken protections for the environment and workers.
Unfortunately, those concerns have proven to be well founded. Through reprehensible rhetoric
and actions, the Bolsonaro government in Brazil has demonstrated its complete disregard for
basic human rights, the need to protect the Amazon rainforest, the rights and dignity of workers,
and a record of anticompetitive economic practices. In addition to being worthy of condemnation
in their own right, these positions and actions demonstrate that Brazil under Bolsonaro could not
credibly be prepared to assume the new standards for worker rights and environmental
protections established in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Negotiating any trade agreement
with Brazil is a nonstarter. On his first day in office, President Bolsonaro issued executive decrees that weakened or
eliminated protections for indigenous groups, Afro-descendants, and the LGBTQ+ community.1
President Bolsonaro's administration has also overseen a significant increase in illegal and
violent invasions of indigenous and Afro-Brazilian territories as well as violence against
indigenous community leaders. In 2019, the rate of invasions of indigenous territories more than
doubled, which many attribute to the Bolsonaro administration's refusal to protect their property
rights and its aggressive rhetoric regarding indigenous populations generally.2
In addition, at
least eight indigenous leaders were killed in 2019, while hundreds more were threatened with
The Bolsonaro administration's failure to investigate and prosecute these crimes has
led to a culture of impunity in which perpetrators have little to no concern that their crimes will
ever be punished.4
Under the Bolsonaro administration, the Amazon rainforest, two-thirds of which is
located within Brazil, is also under serious threat. Since President Bolsonaro took office, his
Administration has significantly scaled back the enforcement of environmental protections in
Brazil. Enforcement actions such as imposing fines, confiscating illegal material, and destroying
illegal equipment have significantly decreased during the Bolsonaro administration.5
According to Brazil's National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the number of fires
in the Amazon rainforest increased 30.5 percent in 2019, which led to widespread international
outcry in August 2019.6
Further, deforestation rose by 85 percent in 2019.7
Some experts are
concerned that 2020 statistics could be even worse as the Bolsonaro administration has failed to
take necessary preventative measures.8
Recent deforestation in Brazil has had dire impacts on
global efforts to combat climate change.9
The United States is situated in a unique position because it is a major importer of many
of the goods that are produced as a result of Brazilian deforestation. The United States is
estimated to account for two-thirds of Brazil's timber exports and is a major destination for
goods from cattle farms, such as beef and cowhides, that replace the rain forest and often drive
the economic incentives behind deforestation. Instead of liberalizing access to the U.S. marketfor these goods, the Administration should aggressively use its current enforcement tools to
incentivize positive change in Brazil.
President Bolsonaro has also taken significant steps backward regarding protections for
workers in Brazil. On his first day in office, President Bolsonaro eliminated the Labor Ministry,
delegating many of its functions to the Economy and Justice Ministries. The registration of new
unions and the legalization of union elections was suspended in its entirety from January through
April of 2019. President Bolsonaro continues threatening to weaken labor rights in order to boost
job creation.10 Most recently, President Bolsonaro was forced to back down from a decree that
would have allowed companies to suspend payments to workers during the current coronavirus
In addition to these recent backward steps on labor issues, Brazil still faces deep
difficulties in eradicating slave-like working conditions, which remain a significant problem.12
This type of active disrespect for basic worker rights and labor standards should disqualify Brazil
from being considered an appropriate partner for a closer economic partnership, much less a
trade liberalizing agreement that will undermine the competitiveness, wages, and rights of U.S.
We also note the limitations on meaningful export opportunities for the agricultural sector
presented by Brazil. So many Brazilian agriculture exports are already very competitive in the
U.S. market, without the advantages of a tariff eliminating trade agreement. Furthermore,
Brazilian agricultural producers have a history of employing unfair trade practices, including in
the seasonal produce sector where U.S. trade laws and trade agreements provide U.S. producers
very limited recourse.
In light of all of these concerns, we strongly oppose pursuing any type of trade agreement
with the Bolsonaro government in Brazil. Enhancing the U.S.-Brazilian economic relationship at
this time would undermine the efforts of Brazilian human, labor, and environmental rights
advocates to advance the rule of law and protect and preserve marginalized communities.
Instead, we urge you to aggressively address these issues by using U.S. enforcement tools and by
raising them with your Brazilian counterparts through other, more appropriate, channels.
We look forward to your prompt reply.