Obama heads to Latin America

President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland -- December 17, 2009

Jeremy Hobson: Today, President Obama kicks off a five-day trip to South and Central America. First stop: Brazil, South America's largest economy which has been growing like gangbusters despite the weak global economy.

Dan Grech reports.


Dan Grech: When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, the U.S. was Brazil's top trading partner. Today, China is number one.

Peter Hakim is with the Inter American Dialogue. He says China has a voracious appetite for Brazilian raw materials, such as iron, soy beans and oil.

Peter Hakim: Trade with China has risen something like five times in the last 10 years. It's really pulled Brazil through the economic crisis without much damage.

Exports to China helped Brazil's economy grow more than 7 percent last year. But Brazil, like the U.S., has a love-hate relationship with China.

Susan Segal runs the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Susan Segal: Brazil is very worried about the competitiveness of the Brazilian currency vis-a-vis the Chinese currency, just as we are worried about exactly the same issue, dollar Chinese currency.

Critics say a weak yuan makes it nearly impossible for manufactured products from the U.S. and Brazil to compete. Obama is traveling to Brazil with nearly his entire economic team. That includes the Secretaries of the Treasury, Energy and Commerce.

Syndicated columnist Andres Oppenheimer says the goal of the trip is for the U.S. to team up economically with Brazil.

Andres Oppenheimer: The world is splitting up in major trade blocs. China is creating a free trade area with Asian countries. Europe, of course, has a common market of 27 countries. And if we don't team up with Latin America, we're going to end up pretty much without major markets to export.

Obama gives the keynote address Saturday at the U.S.-Brazil Business Summit, then moves on to Chile and El Salvador.

In Miami, I'm Dan Grech for Marketplace.

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