Jair Bolsonaro. Picture: REUTERS
Jair  Bolsonaro. Picture: REUTERS

Brasilia — The US will strengthen military ties with Brazil to a level usually reserved for Nato allies during President Jair Bolsonaro’s visit to Washington next week, boosting growing co-operation between the Americas’ two largest militaries, two Brazilian government officials said on Thursday.

Bolsonaro will meet US President Donald Trump in the White House on Tuesday during a visit aimed at strengthening economic, political and military ties between his right-wing government and Washington.

The status of “major non-Nato ally” (MNNA) gives a country preferential access to the purchase of US military equipment and technology, including free surplus material, expedited export processing and prioritised co-operation on training.

Currently, 17 countries have MNNA status. Brazil would become just the second Latin American country to join their ranks after Argentina, which received the designation in 1998. Last year, Colombia became a Nato partner, allowing Colombian armed forces to take part in Nato exercises other Nato activities.

The Brazilian officials said they have been negotiating the designation since the beginning of this year. They requested anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss it publicly.

The White House declined to comment.

The MNNA designation would ease the transfer of defence technology at a time when Brazil’s aerospace industry has forged new ties with the US, including a planned tie-up between Boeing  and Brazilian plane maker Embraer on both defence and commercial aircraft.

Last year, the Trump administration embarked on an arms export policy to help American defence firms compete better against increasingly aggressive Russian and Chinese manufacturers.

Brazil may be the top South American consumer of equipment from the US, but that number is still very small. In fiscal 2017, the US delivered only $39m in foreign military sales to Brazil.

The US and Brazil have also reached an accord to safeguard US space technology that the South American nation hopes will be used in commercial rockets using its launch centre near the equator, officials said on Monday. They expect the deal to be sealed in Washington next week.

Allies in the space race

Brazil hopes to get a piece of the $300bn-a-year space launch business by drawing US companies interested in sending up small satellites at a lower cost from the Alcântara base run by the Brazilian Air Force on the Atlantic coast.

Irrespective of the designation of Brazil as an MNNA, the US military has made deepening ties with Brazil a top priority.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for enhancing and strengthening our partnership with Brazil,” the head of the US military’s southern command, Admiral Craig Faller, told Reuters in an interview earlier this week, without addressing Brazil’s potential designation as an MNNA.

Faller said he was looking for “pragmatic and practical” ways to deepen ties. Those could include greater sharing of intelligence and information, more robust participation in military exercises and more educational exchanges, he said.

The greater co-operation comes as the Trump administration is ramping up pressure on Venezuela’s leftist government to hold free elections and working closely with Colombia and Brazil to address their neighbour’s mounting political and economic crisis.

The Brazilian and US military have co-operated since the Second World War when Brazil was the only Latin American nation to send troops to fight with the allies in Europe. Ties cooled in 1977 when the administration of former US president Jimmy Carter enforced a US arms embargo over rights abuses by Brazil’s military government.