Via Teleconference
(September 19, 2023)

3:18 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, [operator].  And thank you to everyone for joining us today.  This is a background call previewing President Biden’s meeting with President Lula and the announcement of the U.S.-Brazil Partnership for Workers’ Rights

On the call today we have [senior administration official] and [senior administration official]. 

As a reminder of the ground rules, today’s call will be on background with the contents attributable to “senior administration officials.”  And the call is being held under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday.  By joining today’s call, you are agreeing to these ground rules. 

I will now turn it over to speaker one, senior administration official one, to kick us off.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   Thanks, everybody.  And thank you for joining.  I know it’s a busy week. 

So, as — as was mentioned, the President and President Lula are going to be meeting tomorrow.  And they’re — they’re going to be doing the announcement of — of the Partnership for Workers’ Rights immediately thereafter.  So, this will be the second time the two presidents have met, the third time they’ve had a conversation.  They had a call in between the two meetings. 

But that does not cover what has been a fairly active pace of engagement across the administration, to include the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s direct engagement with his counterpart, Ambassador Celso Amorim — who he coincidentally will be meeting this afternoon — but also, I would say, active engagement from the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and across the government on a whole host of issues. 

What I want to — you know, try to get to the point where my colleague is going to talk about the initiative. 

I also want to note that, you know, the President’s UNGA speech, there was a part of it where he really applauds organizations like the United Nations really having more leaders step up and more voices being heard and being engaged on issues that impact countries like the United States, but the rest of the global community. 

And on that, Brazil has been an important leader on climate and the — President Biden and President Lula really made that a signature of their conversation when they met for the first time in Washington. 

And now, this Partnership for Workers’ Rights is another area where there’s a clear — clear affinity and complement between the United States and Brazil, but also between our two presidents as really this being one of the top priorities, making sure that working families have their rights protected. 

So, this, I think, just highlights the fact that the U.S.-Brazil relationship is not just bilateral, it’s global in nature — the two largest exporters of food in the world, important leaders on climate, and on issues from food security to nonproliferation.  The conversations that we had with Brazil are bilateral, regional, and global in nature. 

And I think there’s probably no better initiative for the two of them to launch — global initiative for them to be launching tomorrow when they meet.  I think it represents that they hold, really, a common vision for equitable, inclusive economic growth.  And, obviously, their deep commitment to workers’ rights. 

And I think it also is something that builds on the years of successful collaboration between the United States and Brazil on these and other issues. 

So, I thought I’d pause there, let my colleague really dive into the details, and then we look forward to taking any questions you might have. 

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   Great.  Well, so, thanks so much.  Just picking up where we left off, we are excited to preview that President Biden is joining with President Lula to launch the Partnership for Workers’ Rights that’s been mentioned.  This will be the first initiative of its kind, a U.S.-Brazil global initiative to advance the rights of working people around the world. 

We’re taking advantage of this opportunity where we have two presidents that are uniquely aligned in their common vision for how the economy should work for workers.  Both leaders have elevated the role of workers in our economic policymaking, and both share that commitment to workers’ rights as a key way of elevating the role of workers. 

In this new initiative, the United States intends to strengthen and expand our bilateral partnership to promote workers’ rights and, in doing so, address some of the most salient challenges facing working people around the world. 

The upcoming U.N. General Assembly high-level week provides an opportune time for these leaders to raise this awareness, to emphasize labor rights, and to inspire other partners to action. 

A few — just a few key points on why we chose Brazil as a partner and how we will kick this initiative into gear.  As has been mentioned, this initiative builds on many years of successful collaboration on a whole host of issues that have already been raised.  It also takes advantage of this historic moment and alignment between the two leaders and their commitment for workers’ rights. 

It will build off of all of this and take advantage of this unique partnership, and that’s really why we’re starting this off with Brazil as our co-lead. 

The Partnership for Workers’ Rights will aim to expand this bilateral cooperation with additional partners.  And we think that, by highlighting this at UNGA, we will be more successful in doing so.

We will use the vehicle of advancing workers’ rights to address some of those key challenges that I mentioned.  Those are: ending worker exploitation, including forced labor and child labor; increasing accountability in public and private investments; the clean energy transition; technology and digital transitions, including the gig economy; tackling workplace discrimination, particularly for women, LGBTQI+, and marginalized racial and ethnic groups. 

We are looking to take this partnership — to extend this partnership to other governments and stakeholders, and we are looking to elevate this forward-looking agenda in multilateral forums, including at the G20, COP 28, and COP 30.  We want to elevate the importance of workers’ rights in forums where they have not necessarily taken first-order priority.  And we really want to make sure that this initiative delivers concrete results for workers. 

So, over the coming months, our teams are committed to working on a plan to implement these ideas, and we’ll be sharing more on those conver- — those discussions as they develop.  We’ll be working closely with our Department of Labor and other agencies, and we’ll be working with U.S. and Brazil labor stakeholders and the International Labor Organization as partners to help us with that implementation. 

Although, as I mentioned, the United States and Brazil are going to formally launch this together, we do hope to expand it to include additional stakeholders.  We do want to include other partners.  We hope that by, kind of, aligning with U.S. and Brazil in the near term, in the medium term and the long term, we’re able to broaden that out to a much more expansive initiative that’s able to accomplish even more than we set out to do at the outset. 

And with that, I’ll turn it back to you, [moderator].

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you very much, senior administration official two. 

With that, we’ll open it up to Q&A.  I know both of our officials are under a time crunch.  So, [operator], if you could repeat the instructions on how to ask a question.

Q    Thank you very much, guys, for this call.  So, my first question would be about the global labor initiative.  You said that your mission is to bring other partners to these initiatives.  So, I wonder, if there are other countries already showing interest in joining this, if you are already expanding this conversation to other countries and if you expect in the future any kind of summits, like the Summit for Democracy, for example. 

And another question for one about — today, President Lula sent a message to the U.S. during his speech.  He defended Julian Assange, (inaudible) sanctions, the U.S. embargo to Cuba.  So, I want to hear your reaction to it.  And on the embargo, tomorrow, President Lula is expected to raise the issue with President Biden on the embargo.  So, how would that conversation (inaudible)?  Would you — this administration consider any change?  Thank you very much.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   I can take the first question.  The answer is we do hope to expand to other partners, but we want to make sure that we have a good sense of the lines of effort that we hope the initiative will include and how we want to implement those efforts — those lines of effort before we expand to other partners.  So, we have not yet begun that outreach but think that this initiative — the launching of this initiative at UNGA will certainly drive a lot of the interest that you inquired about and make it easier for us to find those partners when the time is right in the very near term.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   Great.  On the other — Raquel, thank you for the question. 

Look, as I had mentioned, you know, Brazil is an important voice in — global voice.  It is, I think, also an important bridge between, I would say, G7 and G77 economies.  And it has a long history of, you know, working around the world on a number of issues, including climate change; has a longstanding relationship with Africa, where it’s really built its own architecture in the South Atlantic; and certainly is a powerful voice in its own right. 

Look, on the issue of Cuba, what I would mention is, on the embargo, of course, that is something that is up to the U.S. Congress. 

But the second point I would make is that the Biden administration has made some significant changes to Cuba policy, most importantly by undoing some of the travel restrictions that were imposed by the Trump administration; also restarting — enabling the restarting of remittances; and obviously, working toward the full operation of consular services in Cuba to ensure that we are fully in line with our migration accords.

We remain seriously concerned.  And I think it is a — I think we welcome a debate about the situation in Cuba because what hasn’t happened and needs to happen in Cuba is I think a dialogue between the Cuban people about their future.  And what we saw on July 11th, 2021, and I think — and subsequently has been what has been a crackdown to actually stifle that conversation and maintain, you know, control — for apparent control. 

So, I think we welcome that conversation, not just in terms of U.S. policy, but really with the rights — the human rights of the Cuban people and, really, what it is that we stand for. 

And it’s important for the United States, I think, and Brazil to have that conversation as two robust democracies that I think have been challenged and really value the importance of having institutions of governance that ensure and protect our democratic system. 

I think we — I think the people of Cuba, I think we have a responsibility to advocate for their rights as well.  So, I think the two presidents will discuss this and a number of other issues, as they have in the past, and I think it’ll be a productive conversation.

Q    Thanks so much for doing the call.  As a matter of housekeeping, President Biden is also supposed to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister tomorrow.  I was wondering if the NSC also plans to do a call previewing that meeting. 

MODERATOR:   We’ll get back to you on that one, Josh.


MODERATOR:  Yeah, we’ll get back to you on that one, Josh, and we’re more than happy to try to help with any — any background previewing events however we can. 

Did you have another — another question for our speakers here?

Q    I guess, kind of, the big question is you’re rolling this labor initiative out at the same time as we see a major UAW as well as a screenwriters strike in the U.S.  Does President Biden believe that, in a sense, these strikes will be helpful and productive?  Or is the belief that a labor initiative like this will limit the need for strikes going forward in order for workers to get wage increases?

MODERATOR:  Senior administration two, do you want to take that?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Nothing about this initiative should be interpreted as discouraging or limiting the right to strike, which is a key part of freedom of association, collective bargaining, and workers’ rights, generally speaking.  So, I just want to be really clear about that. 

The President has already issued statements about the UAW strike and his position supporting workers’ efforts to, you know, advocate for themselves in the collective bargaining process.  I really won’t speak to that here. 

But I think it’s clear that you can draw a straight line between all of the above, right?  The President, you know, voicing support for workers who are exercising their collective bargaining rights, exercising support for workers trying to form a union for the first time in a private-sector facility, exercising — expressing support for labor rights around the world to make the global economy more fair, which helps American workers, which helps workers abroad. 

So, it’s all part of the same commitment to workers’ rights, whether it’s a worker on strike, whether it’s a worker at the collective bargaining table, whether it’s a worker trying to form a union, whether it’s a worker just trying to get through the day safely, without discrimination, and with dignity.  This is all part of President Biden’s commitment to workers’ rights. 

And we view this initiative as an important opportunity to share that commitment and advance an agenda with an important partner like President Lula, who has that same commitment and prioritization of workers’ rights.

Q    Hey.  Thanks so much for doing this.  I want to talk — ask you about China.  So, Brazil has continued to maintain very strong relationships with China and has been strengthening those relationships.  But at the same time, it’s caused a little bit of consternation with this new agreement to conduct bilateral commerce in their respective currencies, rather than the U.S. dollar.  Can you just contextualize for me how you see this, you know, partnership working in the context of Brazil’s, you know, desire to strengthen its relationship with China? 

And then, separately, I just wanted to ask about this partnership.  You know, what can be done to ensure that this initiative continues even past the upcoming election in the U.S., but also elections that might happen in Brazil?  Is there any — you know, is there anything that you can do to ensure that it continues if there is a change in government on either side?  Thanks.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   Thank you.  So, I mean, the Biden administration, we’re planning on a five-year timeline, and I think this initiative fits perfectly in that. 

On the question of China, I’ll just say that, fundamentally, we do not put noncompete clauses in our bilateral relationships and are confident in our ability to, I think, compete economically. 

And if you look at some of the companies that are in Brazil, they’ve been there so long — companies like Pilgrim’s Pride and General Motors — I think a lot of Brazilians think that they are — they are Brazilian.  I think regionally, maybe on the trade side, China has — is doing more.  On the investment side, the United States eclipses Chinese investment.

And we’ve been very clear about our concerns on human rights violations in China.  Also, their just, I think, designs of military expansion are areas of concern. 

And we are having those conversations with countries like Brazil and others.  It is their — obviously their right to engage in any relationships that they want.  It’s a sovereign right.  And, you know, we don’t feel like there’s a competition. 

What’s key here, I think, and an important distinction here is that, whereas China does not recognize non-state actors as really legitimate in global politics, for the United States, they are central.  And that applies to stakeholders in the labor sector.

And our ability to really advance workers’ rights through this initiative is a way for — really, for us to — not just our governments to connect, but also to work with stakeholders that are already having these conversations and, in some cases, are way out ahead of our respective governments in building relationships, collaborating on these issues.  And I think it’s — the timing is perfect for us to take this to a global level.

Q    Can you just say which stakeholders you’re referring to as the non-state actors?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   I mean, you know, civil society.  I mean, in this case, labor.  I think there are also climate, you know, activists.  There are different stakeholders outside of governments that are playing an increasingly important role in global politics.  And we see them as legitimate, as a democracy, and I think take the views and priorities of those stakeholders as incredibly important. 

But [senior administration official], I mean, anything you want to say on how this ties to the initiative?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:   I’m not sure I have too much more to add.  I mean, I’m happy to answer a specific question, but I think you’ve mostly covered that one.

Q    Hi, guys.  Thank you so much for doing this.  So, my question is, in terms of the work initiative, is it a more of compound of principles or has it (inaudible) steps to be implemented by both countries?  And which steps would those be? 

And the second question more for — about the bilateral relationship.  Is Haiti going to be a topic in this conversation?  We know that the U.S. is probably finalizing a — kind of a plan for — to present to the Security Council and that Brazil has committed to train Haitian police force.  So, I want to know if this is in any kind of agreement between Brazil and the U.S. to look forward on that conversation on Haiti. 

Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  So, just answering your first question, if I understood it appropriately, this is about kind of the principle of advocating for workers’ rights.  But we also want this initiative to advance key lines of effort that help workers to address those five challenges that I outlined. 

And that means, you know, really trying to think through how we can deliver concrete results at each of those lines of effort, what is the right approach to implementation that will make sure we’re being inclusive with our stakeholders; that we’re collaborating to the maximum extent possible; that we’re building off the expertise of the ILO.

And so, it isn’t just about principles; it is also about an actual agenda that we want to deliver real benefits to workers.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  And what I would add is, you know, the two leaders are going to have a wide-ranging conversation, but Haiti is definitely a central topic. 

Right now, in terms of finalizing plans, I would note that Kenya has expressed an interest in potentially leading a multinational presence to support Haiti’s efforts to improve the security situation. 

You know, and I think the sequence that we’re very much focused on is, number one, you know, trying to make sure that we’re supporting Kenya’s efforts to correctly assess the situation on the ground and the potential need; trying to be supportive of Kenya’s role in this; obviously, talking to the international community to secure the commitments to provide either funding, you know, training, or actually contribute, you know, forces, whether they be police or military. 

And on that, you know, Brazil has a long — has a lot of experience on Haiti, recognizes very well, I think, the unique challenges.  And so, this is a conversation that we are having actively with Brazil.

What I would note is key here is going to be a resolution coming out of the U.N. Security Council.  We have a lot of countries, for a number of reasons, are going to, I think, require a Chapter VII authorization. 

Now, the question is, is this something that is going to be ultimately a peacekeeping operation.  And I think, from the perspective of the United States, the challenges in Haiti are ones that the multilateral system and the U.N. specifically have a key role to play.  The President made very specific mention of that in his speech at the United Nations. 

And the challenge there has been, frankly, opposition from China to actually having a potential peacekeeping mandate going down there.  So, we are engaging with China directly to kind of better understand their concerns and try to navigate those. 

But as it relates to Brazil, they are an important voice, not just in understanding the situation in Haiti, playing a — you know, being a potential contributor, but also, I think, being a voice in engaging other members of the U.N. Security Council, including China, to really move — really advance our efforts to address the situation

As the President said, really, Haiti cannot wait for us to respond.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, both.  And that is all the time we have.  I know both of our speakers have to get to their next events at UNGA.  So I just want to say thank you to both of them, and thank you to all of you for joining us today. 

Just as a reminder of the ground rules of this call, it’s being held on background, attributable to “senior administration officials,” under embargo until 5:00 a.m. Eastern time tomorrow morning. 

Thank you and hope everyone has a good day, and feel free to follow up with the NSC press team directly with any outstanding questions.

3:41 P.M. EDT

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