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Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Clifford M. Sobel, discussed U.S.-Brazil bilateral relations.

Clifford M. Sobel, U.S. Ambassador to Brazil
Clifford M. Sobel
U.S. Ambassador to

Event Date: 3/7/2008

Jonathan in California writes:

What is the best way that the United States can reengage the countries of Latin America to strengthen regional ties and relations, especially with Brazil? Thank you.

Ambassador Sobel:

Thank you for your question, Jonathan.  In fact, the U.S. is very much engaged in Latin America and we regard our partnership with Brazil as one of our most important bilateral relationships. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said when she visited Brazil with President Bush last year, “ Brazil is a regional leader and a global partner” of the United States .  

2007 was a year of positive and comprehensive U.S. engagement in the Western Hemisphere . Our engagement was built on the four pillars of our Americans policy: consolidating democracy, promoting prosperity, investing in people, and protecting the security of the democratic state.  It included President and Mrs. Bush’s visit to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico; the President’s participation in the North American Leaders’ Summit in Montebello, Canada; a cascade of visits by Cabinet officials; high-level conferences including the White House Conference on the Americas, Conference on the Caribbean, and the Americas Competitiveness Forum; the deployment of the Navy hospital ship, USNS Comfort; and several forward looking initiatives such as U.S.-Brazil Biofuels Partnership, the Merida Initiative, and the establishment of a regional healthcare training center in Panama.

This is a very good time in U.S.- Brazil relations, and I look forward to working in 2008 to consolidate and build on the important accomplishments of 2007.

Matheus writes:

There is any law that allows me to enlist in the [U.S.] army while I live in Brazil (without a lawful permanent residence status in U.S.A.)?

Ambassador Sobel:

I appreciate your interest in serving in the U.S. army.  However, enlistment in any of the U.S. armed services by non-U.S. citizens is limited to foreign citizens who reside legally in the United States and who possess what is popularly referred to as a “Green Card.”  Applicants must be between 17 and 35 years old and have mental and physical health appropriate for enlistment and be of good moral character.  They must also speak, read and write English fluently.  

Brad in Montana writes:

In Brazil is the amount of biofuels [used] more or less than in the United States?   

Ambassador Sobel:

Brad, As you may know, in his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush called for, and Congress has authorized, legislation requiring that fuel producers substantially increase their use of biofuels. The legislation, as passed at the end of 2007, required the use of at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022.  That will represent a fivefold increase from current levels and will be approximately 20 percent of the total projected motor fuel market in the United States in 2022.

The U.S. is the world’s largest ethanol producer.  Between 2001 and 2007, U.S. fuel ethanol production capacity grew 220% from 1.9 billion to 6.1 billion gallons. In 2007 it grew to 7.9 billion gallons annually, increasing annual production capacity a remarkable 32%. All of the ethanol currently produced in the U.S. is for domestic consumption.

Brazil is currently the second largest ethanol producer and, although it uses most of its ethanol to supply the large domestic market, is the world’s largest ethanol exporter. In 2006, Brazilian fuel ethanol consumption amounted to approximately 13 billion liters, equal to approximately 3.43 billion gallons and to approximately 14.69% of Brazil ’s total fuel consumption. Ethanol will account for 60 percent of Brazilian vehicle fuel in six years (28 billion liters/about 7.4 billion gallons), up from 43 percent currently.  The production capacity has passed 17 billion liters annually (approx. 4.491 billion gallons) and is projected to reach 26 billion (about 6.87 billion gallons) by 2010.

All gasoline sold in Brazil is currently blended with about 24% ethanol, and almost 90% of all new cars in the Brazilian market are flex-fuel vehicles that can run on either this blended gasoline or pure ethanol. In the U.S. , for comparison, the proportions of the gasoline-ethanol blend are a bit different. Minnesota has plans to require a 20% mix by 2013 but for the rest of the country the goal is 10%.  

As you may know, our current biofuels production in the U.S. is centered on corn ethanol, while Brazil ’s is based on sugar ethanol. We are however cooperating in our shared interest to develop the next generation of biofuels, which will mean producing fuel from crops such as switchgrass and sugarcane stalk. 

But I think the most exciting part is in the area of our joint cooperation. Together the U.S. and Brazil make up about 70% of the world’s ethanol production. We are working together to develop new technologies, agree on worldwide standards, and help our hemispheric neighbors develop their own domestic ethanol capabilities. We will continue to work together to help meet the world’s growing demands in ethanol.

Jason writes:

Is Brazil a good country for a born-and-raised American to move and live in? I would love all the information please.

Ambassador Sobel:

I’m glad to hear of your interest in Brazil , Jason.  I arrived in Brazil in August 2006 as U.S. Ambassador and have had the opportunity to visit a number of states and cities throughout this wonderful country.  There are many similarities between Brazil and the United States , including a large, diverse, multi-ethnic population, tremendous natural beauty, and shared values, such as a strong commitment to democracy.  I would encourage you to visit Brazil and see for yourself all that the country has to offer.  I would also strongly suggest that you visit the State Department website and take a look at the country-specific information available for U.S. citizens who intend to travel abroad, such as the Consular Information Sheet for Brazil . 

Martin in Germany writes:

Ambassador Sobel: What do you expect of Brazil with regard to your relations to Venezuela under Chavez? Is a moderate and democratic left-wing government that we are facing in Brazil a partner which could help normalize the bilateral relations between the U.S. and Venezuela ? Best regards.

Ambassador Sobel:

Thank you for your excellent question, Martin. As Secretary Rice and other senior U.S. officials have made clear, we will work with any democratic government that is willing to put differences aside to meet shared objectives.  We impose no ideological litmus test on potential partners in the region, and do not fear political differences. We have forged productive relationships with governments from across the political spectrum, from the Lula administration in Brazil and the Bachelet administration in Chile to the Calderon and Uribe administrations in Mexico and Colombia . Frankly, there is a great deal in common among these governments: all are committed to democracy and the rule of law, and all are seeking pragmatic solutions to age-old problems, to bring the benefits of prosperity to their people.

In terms of U.S. – Venezuela relations, I would note that, despite our differences, the U.S. is Venezuela ’s most important commercial partner. Last year, our commercial relationship grew to almost $50 billion dollars.  

Jorge in Brazil writes:

Mr. Sobel: How do you see the tension with Colombia and Ecuador ? What's your point of view from this? Thanks.

Ambassador Sobel:

Jorge, I know that this is an issue that many people are concerned about.  We welcome the positive outcome of the Rio Summit last Friday and we hope all parties will work together to address the underlying cause of recent tensions, which is the FARC’s presence in the territories of Colombia and its neighbors. We believe the OAS is an appropriate venue through which regional leaders can develop strategies to combat the destabilizing threat of the FARC.

Keith in Arkansas writes:

With the Presidential Election well on the way, a lot of voters are asking which candidate would be the best representative of America . Do the people of Brazil talk about the upcoming election, and if they do, which candidate would they feel the best about having diplomatic relations with?

Ambassador Sobel:

Keith, the U.S. presidential election process receives quite a bit of media coverage in Brazil and a number of major Brazilian news outlets have correspondents in the United States covering the campaign. Although I can’t say who would be the favorite of most Brazilians, I can say that there is a great deal of interest in the candidates running for the nomination of the Democratic Party, as either one of them would make history as the first woman or the first African American president of the United States, should one of them prevail in November.

Sergio in Texas writes:

Why does it take so long to schedule an interview for a Visa in Brazil ? I heard that it takes 109 days in Rio, comparing to 15 days in Beijing and 2 days in Buenos Aires ...

Ambassador Sobel:

Thanks for your question, Sergio.  Visas are a topic of interest for a great many people.  Last year the U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Brazil processed 385,000 visas requests, up from 165,000 in 2004. In the same period, our refusal rate dropped from more than 30 percent to a little over 10 percent, meaning that almost 90 percent of our applicants in Brazil now are issued visas. 

To respond to the rapidly increasing demand for US visa interview appointments, we have introduced systems that give priority to students, people traveling on business, and those renewing their visas. These applicants can get an appointment within a month (students generally within a week). But even with more than a doubling of our capacity, we haven’t been able to keep up with the demand and our waiting period for first-time applicants wanting to travel on tourism has shot up to unacceptable levels. In order to increase our capacity even further, we are bringing in more American interviewing officers and will increase our interviewing capacity by almost 40 percent over the next four months. If that does not bring the waiting period down, we will seek to increase our staff further.  

There is no question that we have some of the longest waiting periods worldwide; there is also no doubt that we have seen the greatest increase in demand. After all, the biggest change between any two major currencies over the past three years has been between the Real and Dollar, making the U.S. much more affordable for Brazilians than it was just three years ago. Our goal is to meet this new demand and bring down the waiting periods and we have taken important steps toward realizing this goal.

Martin in Germany writes:

Sir: What do you think can the U.S. do to enforce the educational exchange between the two countries? Is there a relevant part of pupils and students from Brazil going to high schools and universities in the U.S. ? And what about U.S. citizens going to Brazil to study?

Ambassador Sobel:

Martin, I am pleased to tell you that Brazil is the number one country in South America that sends students to the U.S. , and the number 16 country in the world. According to Open Doors, a publication of the International Institute of Education, there are presently 7,126 Brazilian students studying in undergraduate and graduate courses at U.S. universities. There are also Brazilian students in youth exchange, certificate/short-term courses ,and study abroad programs that add to this number . The U.S. State Department maintains a network of EducationUSA offices all over Brazil that are responsible for giving information and orientation about study in the United States ; they respond yearly to more than 65,000 inquiries. Also, the Fulbright program, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in Brazil , brings U.S. students and scholars to study/teach in Brazil and sends Brazilian students and scholars to study/teach in the U.S. According to Open Doors, in 2005/2006 there was an increase of 17% of U.S. students coming to Brazil . For more information about these programs, please access www.fulbright.org.br, www.educationusa.state.gov .

Juan in Utah writes:

Over a year ago I heard some talk in the news of the U.S. planning to purchase ethanol from Brazil in order to curb our dependency on oil, but I haven't heard anything else about this lately. What's the status of this plan?

Ambassador Sobel:

Juan, you’re right that there has been a lot of talk about the U.S. increasing its use of ethanol and increasing ethanol cooperation from Brazil in the past year. In his 2007 State of the Union Address, President Bush called for, and Congress has authorized, legislation requiring that fuel producers substantially increase their use of biofuels in order to decrease our oil dependency. The legislation, as passed at the end of 2007, required the use of at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022.  That will represent a fivefold increase from current levels and will be approximately 20 percent of the total projected motor fuel market in the United States in 2022. This effort will replace 11.3 billion barrels of oil, reducing the outflow of dollars to foreign producers by $817 billion.

With this encouragement, even before the legislation passed, ethanol consumption in 2007 grew far beyond the 4.7 billion gallons required by the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) passed in 2005. Approximately 450 million gallons of imports brought total ethanol consumption to about 6.5 billion gallons last year, almost 2 billion gallons more than the previous year’s record. By some estimates, the use of ethanol in 2007 displaced the need for 228 million barrels of oil, saving more than $16 billion, or $45 million a day.

Also, in March of 2007, President Bush and Brazilian President Lula signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on Biofuels. U.S. imports of biofuels are currently capped to 7% of U.S. biofuels consumption to enable our fledgling industry to thrive and most of Brazil ’s current ethanol production is used to supply their large domestic demand. Our current focus under the MOU is cooperation and expansion of the ethanol industry overall. One immediate outcome of the MOU was that it enabled other countries and the private sector to make long-term financial investments in this sector. Why? Because they were secure that our governments were committed to the development of biofuels, irrespective of the price of oil.  A number of American investors have also taken up the challenge and have made significant investments in the development of biofuels in Brazil , just as investors continue to invest in large-scale ethanol projects in the United States . We are also cooperating to develop worldwide standards for biofuels globally and we’re working together to develop the next generation of biofuels. This is a very dynamic area, and I’m excited about all that the U.S. and Brazil can do together to foster the increased production, use, and efficiency of biofuels.

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