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Remarks on Strengthening U.S.-Brazil Relations at Columbia University Event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank
Remarks on strengthening U.S.-Brazil relations at  Columbia University event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Boa tarde. Thank you, President Bollinger. Lee hired me in 1999 to work for him as the dean of the public policy school at the University of Michigan. I have watched him over the last decade become a major leader in higher education in the United States. It’s a pleasure to be with you today, Lee, to celebrate a new beginning–the Global Center of Columbia University in Rio de Janeiro.

Of course, I also want to thank Governor Cabral for hosting us here in the beautiful Palace. Obrigada. Thank you.

Columbia is just one of many leading U.S. institutions that are recognizing Brazil’s dramatic transformation in the 21st century.  

Over the last decade, the fruits of democracy have spread quickly in Brazil. Millions of Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty and into a vibrant and powerful middle class.

As a result of this progress, in recent years, the United States and Brazil have seen increased opportunities for partnership, shared growth, and mutual prosperity.  Our commercial and economic ties have blossomed.

For example, our two-way trade has more than doubled in just a decade, reaching nearly $76 billion last year. Also, every day, thousands of Brazilians wake up and go to work at U.S. firms operating here in Brazil due to investments from companies like GE, who you will hear from on the panel.  Thousands of United States citizens, too, work in at Brazil-based firms in the United States.

So the question is: Where do we go from here? What are the next steps in our journey together?

We are now embarking on the next natural stage in the U.S.-Brazil relationship. From a foundation of robust exchange in goods, services, and investments–all of which will continue to grow–we are now moving into sharing knowledge, ideas and innovation.

The new Global Center provides a great example of our maturing relations.

Prior to the establishment of this Center, the ties between Columbia University’s faculty and Brazil’s scholars were already flourishing. But the faculty and alumni here–along with President Bollinger, Governor Cabral, and others–felt the need to deepen this relationship. . . because we are all realizing that the challenges and opportunities in the United States are very similar to the challenges and opportunities here in Brazil. In fact, many of these challenges–from public health, to environmental sustainability, to education itself–are shared with other countries around the world.

Columbia’s Global Centers recognize this.  For universities to fulfill their mission in the 21st century, they must take the deep and sometimes narrow expertise that faculty members pride themselves on–and find ways to share that knowledge outside of their own campus. They must show how knowledge can be both gained and applied in communities around the world, broadening the impact of university-based research and education across the globe. 

Leaders in both of our nations are beginning to understand the need for this type of outreach from our knowledge communities. 

And I think that this week’s celebration of this Global Center provides a perfect backdrop to discuss the two things that are really going to matter in driving the long-term competitiveness of both the U.S. and Brazilian economies: the presence of a skilled workforce, and our ability to stay on the cutting edge of innovation and invention.  Let me talk about each of these in turn.

Both President Obama and President Rousseff know that investing in education is crucial if we want to make sure that the next generation–tomorrow’s workforce– is equipped with the skills they need to lead. It’s particularly important that our young people learn to understand and operate in a global world. This means they need to feel comfortable in countries other than their own. 

Beyond the new Global Center itself, I’ll give two examples of what each of our nations is doing to make that happen.

President Obama launched an initiative two years ago called “100,000 Strong in the Americas.” It aims to increase the number of U.S. students studying abroad in the Western Hemisphere to 100,000 while also attracting 100,000 students from throughout the Hemisphere to come to the United States.

Meanwhile, President Rousseff has launched Brazil’s Science Without Borders–known in the U.S. as the Scientific Mobility program. It aims to send 101,000 students from Brazil to places like the U.S.–for one year–to study in the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics–the crucial STEM fields that help drive innovation in both of our countries.

Not surprisingly, business leaders in both of our countries are strongly supportive of these efforts.

In fact, I just came from co-chairing a meeting of the U.S.-Brazil CEO Forum in Brasilia. The companies in the CEO Forum have endorsed these efforts. Many of the U.S. companies in the CEO Forum have already hosted Brazilian interns while the Brazilian companies have provided financial support to students studying abroad.

They are doing this because they know that students in these programs will be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators in the private sector. They need a pipeline of globally trained students with diverse perspectives coming into their companies in the years ahead.

We, too, are promoting these exchanges at the U.S. Department of Commerce. Last fall, our Undersecretary for International Trade led the largest-ever educational trade mission in U.S. history. He took representatives from 66 U.S. colleges and universities to Brasilia, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro–including Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education.  At three fairs, these schools met with 7,500 students and parents who wanted to learn more. 

We must undertake these kinds of efforts because we know–like all of you here today know–that a globally competitive economy requires a globally competitive workforce.

But we can’t stop there.

The other key driver of 21st century competitiveness is “innovation and economic development”–which is the title of your panel discussion in just a few moments.  Innovation has driven the U.S. economy for decades. Some studies suggest that innovation–in both products and processes – accounts for two-thirds of U.S. economic growth since World War II. 

There have never been more opportunities for the United States and Brazil to work together to encourage economic development and foster innovation–often at the same time.

Developing infrastructure is an excellent and timely example of this. And we are already seeing successful collaborations. 

For example, in December, the United States company CH2M Hill was selected to help develop an Economic Master Plan for a 270-square mile region around Belo Horizonte the capital city of Minas Gerais. The company will work with local officials to create a framework for smart growth over the next 20 years for that region – leveraging their knowledge in mixed land use, transportation, and environmental sustainability. They will serve as a true partner in helping the region achieve its vision of attracting more investments, more jobs, and a better quality of life for millions of people.

Our two governments want to see more of these successful collaborations.

In fact, the Brazilian government recently hosted an Infrastructure Road Show in New York. The conference highlighted the many infrastructure projects in Brazil related to ports, airports, highways, railroads, oil and gas, and more. U.S. companies learned about where needs exist–and how they can partner with Brazilian firms to get the job done.

So, Brazil has reached out to the United States. And I’m pleased to announce that the United States will be reaching out to Brazil as well.

In mid-May of this year, the Commerce Department will lead a Secretarial Trade Mission on infrastructure business development to Brazil. We will bring some of our brightest minds in project management and engineering services–including construction, architecture, transportation, energy, safety and security.

These companies are aware that Brazil has a set of ambitious goals–such as a sustainable and environmentally-responsible Olympics. U.S. businesses stand ready to serve as partners in helping achieve that. 

If we harness the innovative spirit of our companies, the World Cup and the Brazilian Olympics will be–as the students at this Global Center are likely to try to say–Muito legal!  Very cool!

Energy is another area that is ripe for the joint innovation and development by the United States and Brazil. I have been joined by Daniel Poneman, our Deputy Secretary of Energy, who co-leads the U.S.-Brazil Strategic Energy Dialogue, which met yesterday. 

Over the past two years, this dialogue has hosted numerous events in both countries focused on everything from natural gas development, to civil nuclear energy, to adopting renewable energy.

It’s clear that both nations have much to gain from working together in this area. For example, the United States can learn from Brazil’s leadership in areas such as hydropower, biofuels, and, increasingly, wind power.

Together we can jointly uncover the technologies and innovations that will build greener economies in both of our nations and throughout the world–creating good jobs and ensuring a cleaner and brighter future for our children.

Our choice is clear. 

Brazil and the United States can each work separately to build and innovate within their own economies. We are both large and diverse nations and we will both be reasonably successful on our own. But we can accomplish much more if we collaborate, building our economic ties, sharing our knowledge, and educating each other’s youth.

So today, let us give the young people in both our nations the true global education they need to succeed, through places like the Global Center. And let us continue to foster the exchange of new ideas and innovations that will bolster economic development and competitiveness for both nations in the 21st century.

President Obama has stated his commitment to this vision. Let me quote what he himself said here in this great city exactly two years ago to this very day: “Let us stand together–not as senior and junior partners–but as equal partners, joined in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect, committed to the progress that I know we can make together.”

Congratulations again to Columbia University and to Rio de Janeiro on their historic partnership. This is only the beginning. Thank you.