Background Conference Call with Senior Administration Officials on Vice President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden's Trip to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil
3:37 P.M. EDT
MS. TROTTER: Thanks, everyone, for joining today’s call. Our hope is to provide you with a more detailed sense of the Vice President and Dr. Biden’s schedule and goals during their trip next week to Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil.
This call will be on background and our speakers are happy to take questions after they give some brief opening statements at the top. We’d like to keep this call as focused on the trip as much as possible and just remind everyone it’s one question per person.
With that I will turn it over to our first official who you can quote as a senior administration official.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Thanks, everyone, for joining the call. As you all know as this point, Vice President Biden will be making his fourth trip to the region next week since he became Vice President. And it follows on President Obama’s recent visit to Mexico and Costa Rica as our latest demonstration of the United States’ commitment to reinforcing our partnerships in the Americas.
It will also be our latest demonstration of an approach to engagement from the beginning that has been based on mutual respect and shared responsibility.
President Obama and Vice President Biden right from the outset of their time in office have made clear their view that the Americas represent a region of opportunity for the United States, and they're looking at the period that we’ve entered now as a time to really ramp up our engagement in the hemisphere in every part of the hemisphere, in Mexico, in Central America, the Caribbean and South America. And you will see a number of visits in the coming months, most immediately President Piñera of Chile and President Humala of Peru, and further travel by the Vice President to the region later in the year as well.
When we look to the Americas, we see a region that has reduced poverty by over 50 percent in the last decade and has seen tens of millions of people join the middle class. And I said earlier that we look at this as a region of opportunity, and it’s in no small part because the countries of the region are among our most important trading partners, and that's only becoming more true as time goes on. Our economies, our societies, our people are becoming more and more connected.
The Vice President gave remarks on May 8th to the Conference of the Americas at the State Department where he laid out the vision and the agenda for the administration’s approach to the hemisphere in the second term. And his sort of fundamental, underlying point was that our objective is to work with our partners across the hemisphere to promote a hemisphere that's middle class, secure and democratic. And that's the message that he’s going to be carrying with him when he goes on this trip next week.
Now, the countries that the Vice President is going to visit are all very different. But they each have governments that share our democratic values, that are focused on delivering for their citizens and on working as partners to advance common interests across the region and around the world. The countries of the Americas, including Colombia and Brazil, are playing an increasingly large and important role in global affairs, and that's just one more reason for why the hemisphere and the region are so important to U.S. interests.
So before going to your questions, I just want to take a minute to talk through the specifics of the Vice President’s itinerary and the purposes of each of the stops along the way. So he will depart Sunday for Bogota and will begin his trip in Colombia. On Monday, he’ll have the opportunity to meet with President Santos. And his visit to Bogota will be a chance to reaffirm the strength of our relationship with one of our most important partners in the Americas. It will allow us to highlight the remarkable progress on security in Colombia, both our support for President Santos’s efforts to bring an end to conflict in the Americas.
The Vice President last was in Colombia in 2000, so he will personally get to see the distance that Colombia has traveled over the last 13 years. He'll also have a chance to meet with people and business leaders who will demonstrate firsthand to him the importance of our commercial relationships in the years since our free trade agreement came into force.
In Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, the Vice President will meet with President Carmona and Prime Minister Persad-Bissessar and participate in a meeting and working lunch with a number of other Caribbean leaders who have been invited by Trinidad and Tobago to a regional meeting with the Vice President.
And in that series of meetings, we anticipate good discussions on regional efforts to promote economic growth; on cooperation around citizen security; on energy issues, and other issues that are high on the priority list of our partners across the Caribbean.
Then on Wednesday, in Brazil, the Vice President will visit Rio de Janeiro, where he will have a public speaking event to help frame our view of Brazil at a strategic partner of the United States, and the trajectory of the U.S.-Brazil partnership as we head into the future. He will also tour a Petrobras site and discuss our energy cooperation, meeting with Petrobras officials and Brazilian officials to discuss issues related to the future of energy, both in Brazil and the United States and the global energy picture. And he will also have the opportunity to discuss with local leaders issues around security and social inclusion.
And then in Brasilia, on Friday, the Vice President will meet with President Rousseff and with Vice President Temer, and have a chance to talk about the architecture of the partnership that we’ve built together over the last four years, and then get down to the specifics in terms of the bilateral and global agenda that our two countries share moving forward.
It's our perspective that we've already accomplished a significant amount with Brazil, but we think there's much more that we can do together to promote the common interest and common values that we share.
So that gives you I think a lay-down of the trip over the course of next week, and as sense of the context in which it's taking place and the main purposes. And with that, we -- my colleague and I would be happy to take your questions.
Q I wanted to ask -- as you guys well know, President Xi of China is going to be right on the heels of Vice President Biden, particularly in Trinidad, but doing his own Latin American tour. And the Chinese tend to show up with a lot of deliverables, whether it's financing for a stadium or expanding financing for ports or roadways or whatever. What kind of deliverables does Vice President Biden bring to the region? Is there any concern that the Chinese showing up a few days later and perhaps making a lot of announcements about new investment in the region might undercut the perception of U.S. commitment to Latin America?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll go ahead and address that question. So, first of all, we don't really see ourselves as being in competition with any particular actor in the Americas. There is of course a natural commercial competition that exists across the board in all countries.
And we're very pleased with the type of trade that we engage in throughout the Americas, a very diversified level of -- type of trade. It's a trade that emphasizes the value-added products from many countries throughout the region. So we're content on that -- and we're moving in a good direction. We do of course want to promote commercial growth and economic growth throughout. And that's been a big theme of this administration in its relations with the Americas.
With respect to our cooperation in the Caribbean, we have a very strong level of cooperation regarding energy, regarding the environment, regarding sustainable growth and economic growth and regarding citizen security. And these are all areas that have been signaled to us by our partners in the Caribbean as being very important to them. And we're very pleased to be able to continue that, that high level of cooperation.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to add to what my colleague said, we will have specific steps forward in many of those areas that we'll discuss with our partners in the Caribbean on trade, on energy, on citizen security -- but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves here today in terms of what exactly it is that we'll be bringing to Trinidad and Tobago.
And, more broadly, I would say that our focus on a hemisphere that is middle class, secure and democratic is a fundamentally inclusive concept that looks to every country across the region and, frankly, partners outside the region who are prepared to contribute to that vision because we want to see things move forward in this hemisphere in a positive sum way, where everybody agrees on the objectives and works towards them and nobody undermines them.
Q There are two topics right now in the Brazil-United States relationship -- two topics right now the Brazilian government that is -- one, is the purchase of military airplanes in which an American company, Boeing, is interested. And this is a $5,000 -- million-dollar deal. And another one is visa waiver problems for tourists, for Brazilian tourists able to go to the United States without a visa. So I was wondering if that is going to be one of the topics in Vice President Biden's visit to Brazil.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I would say, first of all, the commercial relationship, the trade relationship with Brazil is going to be an important element not only of Vice President Biden's trip, but in our interaction with Brazil throughout. It has certainly been a big topic that has been raised by the Brazilian government in the last several years.
With respect to the FX-2 fighter competition, the United States government is fully committed to the technology transfer package that contained in the Boeing F-18 offer. I should say at the outset, we think it's the best product at the best price. We've been continuously engaging with the Brazilian government and supporting this effort, which we think is going to be not only important in itself with respect to Brazil's security objectives, but also as a way to foster good cooperation between Boeing, one of the leading aerospace companies, and Brazilian counterparts to create thousands of jobs in both countries. So in that respect, I think we're looking forward to discussing that.
With respect to the visa waiver issue, the United States and Brazil have a structured dialogue to talk about progress towards that objective. We also have interim measures such as global entry and other efforts intended to speed, to facilitate travel between the United States and Brazil. But I'd say the most important single confirmation of our commitment to speeding and facilitating travel is the work that we've done to reduce these waiting times for visas, which has been a spectacular reduction and can now be done within just a few days as opposed to several weeks, as was the case in the past. And, as a result, travel in both directions have increased, but especially travel from Brazil to the United States has increased dramatically.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to underscore that, since the beginning of last year, the start of 2012, we have more than doubled our consular staff in Brazil. And even though demand is going up for visas to the United States, our wait times have dropped from 14 weeks to two days. So it shows the level of commitment that the United States has to ease the process by which Brazilians are able to travel to the United States for a range of purposes.
And on the issue of visa waiver and Global Entry and other things, as my colleague said, we will continue to discuss this intensively with the Brazilian government, because our fundamental objective is taking all the considerations into account to facilitate as much travel -- lawful travel, commerce, tourism and the like between Brazil and the United States. And we think what we've done so far has been pretty impressive; we want to build on it.
Q Thanks for the opportunity for to talk to you. You have said that the commercial relationship will be -- the commercial aspects. I'd like to talk about the political aspects a little bit, especially concerning the support from the -- U.S. support for permanent seat in the Security Council, which is something that Brazil aspires, and the U.S. has never given it to Brazil. Now, at least, Dilma will come as a state guest in a state visit. And the political support to Brazil seems to be increasing, but I wonder if this particular aspect of the Security Council will be in the agenda?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So I'm sure that there's going to be a broad range of multilateral architecture issues that are going to be on the agenda and that are going to be about the work that we're doing at the multilateral level -- not just at the U.N., but at the Organization of American States, at the G20, and at the U.N. Human Rights Council. So there's going to be a broad discussion about international architecture.
Certainly, as we've said, we appreciate Brazil's aspiration to become a permanent member of the Security Council, and we think -- we've said this before -- that the long-term viability of the U.N. Security Council depends on the Council reflecting the world of the 21st century. We’ve been very clear in that respect. We're very committed to a serious and deliberate U.N. Security Council reform, working with other member states to improve the ability of the Security Council to carry out its mandate and meet the challenges that we're facing together in this century.
Q Thank you.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, go ahead.
Q Yes. On immigration please. My question is will Vice President Joe Biden promote the American health care industry, especially cancer research in Latin America by sharing the great accomplishments of (inaudible) St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital? Well, mainly my primary question is, will Vice President Joe Biden promote America's health care industry with Latin America?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm sorry, could you repeat the question? It just didn’t come through very clearly.
Q Will Vice President Joe Biden promote America's health care industry, especially cancer research to Latin America? And especially how we're doing great accomplishments here in the United States regarding St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital (inaudible)? Will the Vice President promote our health care industry?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Certainly. I should say that health care is one of the issues that is an important -- a particularly important issue in the Americas with the expansion of the middle class.
What's very clear is that this is one of the most important phenomena in the Americas and one of the reasons why the United States is very involved. Because as the middle classes emerge, they're going to be more interested in having access to functional and effective public services, including health care, I would say in general terms, this is an area where we’re certainly very open to continuing our collaboration.
In both Colombia but especially in Brazil, we’ve had very active collaboration between the Department of Health and Human Services and their counterparts, and this is something that’s going to continue.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And just to add to what my colleague said, I think science, technology, and innovation are incredibly central features of U.S. engagement across the hemisphere. It’s something President Rousseff is particularly interested in driving in Brazil, and so deepening the U.S.-Brazil partnership in this space.
But beyond Brazil, in many other countries in the region as well, we view this as an area where the United States has a lot to offer and it will certainly be the sort of thing that the Vice President raises in the various stops of his visit.
MS. TROTTER: All right, we’re going to take one more question.
Q My question has to do with the war on drugs, drug strategy, the new strategy that has been billed on this part of the trip, Colombia, a very important ally in this fight in Brazil, one of the main players in the region.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: So your question is about the new drug strategy?
Q Yes, and how it’s going to play into the visit. You have Colombia, a major producer; you have Brazil, a transitional country and a very important market; and you have the Caribbean -- Trinidad and Tobago.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we should start this by saying, number one, we have a very good counternarcotics and law enforcement relationship throughout the Americas. We expect that to continue. We’ve had that indicated to us both in the meetings that the President had in Mexico and Central America and the meetings since then and what we expect to see during the Vice President’s trip as well.
I think what is very clear is that there are no simple solutions. All sides are recognizing that this is a matter of shared responsibility and shared action. And what we’re seeing is an evolution where countries are both transit countries, some production countries, as well as consumer countries. So there’s no one country that fits into a particular category on its own.
We’ve had a very ample level of cooperation obviously in Colombia, which has seen impressive turnarounds in security postures due largely to the work of successive Colombian administrations to put citizen security at the front of their agenda and to dedicate their resources and policies to bring that about.
In the case of Brazil, we have a very strong counternarcotics cooperation -- level of cooperation, as well. In both cases, we have been very focused on demand reduction. In the case of the United States, as you mentioned there was a new strategy that was rolled out by the Office of National Drug Policy, and that strategy, which I recommend people look at, emphasizes demand reduction, to which the United States has dedicated $30 billion over the last three years, and alternative resolutions for people who should not be incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.
In other words, these are all issues that we’ve seen indicated a lot of interest from our partners in the Americas and an area where we expect to continue to collaborate closely.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: And so just to add to that, citizen security is going to be an important feature of the agenda, though it will not be the dominant feature of the agenda.
Economic growth, energy cooperation, partnership on regional and global issues -- it’s going to be broad-ranging agenda.
But within that context in both Colombia and in the Caribbean, we have very deep security partnerships. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative will be a significant topic of conversation in Trinidad and Tobago. Our ongoing cooperation with the Colombians on the work they're doing will be a topic. And then the work we’re doing together with Brazil that my colleague referenced will obviously come up in the meetings with the President and the Vice President.
So we feel like the steps that we’ve taken on a multi-pronged approach to citizen security and to dealing with the issue of drug trafficking and drug consumption both at home and throughout the region that we are pursuing the right course, and we’re going to look to continue and deepen the cooperation that we have with each of the countries we’re visiting.
MS. TROTTER: All right, thanks, everyone, very much for joining the call. That's it.
4:00 P.M. EDT