The UMKC Public Affairs Student Association and Pi Sigma Alpha welcomed Portuguese Ambassador Nuno Brito to campus October 6. He was introduced by Allan Katz, distinguished professor in the departments of public affairs and political science and former U.S. ambassador to Portugal.
Ambassador Brito, who was appointed to his post in 2011, visited UMKC to strengthen ties with the Kansas City community and the campus. He spoke about how Portugal interacts with Europe and how Portugal sees the relationship between Europe and the U.S. He stated that he and his group are probably the only officials to have ever visited Kansas City. The relationship between Portugal and the United States, however, is a long one, as Portugal was the second country to recognize the U.S.’s independence from Great Britain.
Brito began his presentation by outlining Portugal’s plan for recovering from economic setbacks the country has experienced since the collapse of Wall Street in 2008 and the Eurozone debt crisis of 2009.
“The financial situation on Wall Street has a very strong impact in Europe,” Brito said, “and Portugal was significantly affected by that situation.”
He explained that Portugal had to make an extraordinary economic adjustment. The country received loans from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank in 2011 to assist with those adjustments, including stabilizing its banking sector. Within the past three years, the country has moved from a deficit of nearly 10 percent of its gross domestic product to about four percent. The economy is, for the first time, growing, and Portugal’s number one priority is to continue this growth. There is a positive trade balance for the first time since 1942 – exports have more than doubled this fiscal year. Instead of only exporting to other European countries, Portugal is now focusing on the U.S., China, Brazil and Africa.
“We are moving globally, like other countries are doing,” Brito said.
The political situation in Europe, Brito explained, is divided between a focus on growth and a focus on fiscal discipline. The Portuguese government, however, sees these two areas as linked because there is a need to produce more, but also a need to export more.
Brito touched on the recent Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union. According to the “White House Fact Sheet on T-TIP,” the agreement aims to “boost economic growth in the United States and the EU” by eliminating all tariffs on trade, addressing differences in regulations which make trade difficult and promoting global competitiveness, while maintaining employee health and safety, as well as environmental protection. Brito stressed the importance of political willingness to move forward in this partnership, which is intended to create economic opportunities for both parties.
Brito said the relationship between Portugal and the U.S., as well as the rest of Europe, is more than financial. The two countries have a bilateral defense agreement and are both founding members of NATO. Both also continue working on global issues such as climate change and investing in renewables such as wind and solar power.
“We want to negotiate a chapter on energy,” Brito said, “because energy will be another building block between the United States and Europe in the near future.”
Brito finished his presentation with a few words on the universities in Portugal. The Portuguese Foundation of Science and Technology has been running programs in four U.S. universities: MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin. There are also Portuguese language programs at Rutgers, Berkeley and Dartmouth. He is looking for opportunities for expansion into other American universities, and is looking at ideas to work with UMKC in the future.
For more information about the Portugal Embassy, visit www.embassyportugal-us.org. For more information about T-TIP, visit www.ustr.gov/ttip (for the U.S. perspective) and ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/in-focus/ttip/ (for the European perspective).