ImageThe World Affairs Council of Charlotte had the honor of hosting H.E. Nuno Brito, Ambassador of Portugal to the United States on May 24th as part of the Council’s Ambassadors Circle Series lunch program.

Since the economic crisis, Portugal’s presence in the news has remained focused on bailouts, debts and austerity measures. Ambassador Brito gave a more reassuring account, adding insight and hope into the process of getting Portugal back on track.

Ambassador Brito presented Portugal as a proud and fully integrated member of the European Union and member of the Eurozone. He gave a reassuring outlook for the future of the Eurozone while acknowledging the existence of kinks and imbalances in the system that Eurozone members are in the process of ironing out. The Ambassador expressed that the Euro is not at stake but that the Eurozone and Portugal are in the process of figuring out a balance.

Portugal is presently undertaking structural reform initiatives to address their current economic challenges. The country is in the process of reforming their labor laws, updating their judicial system to be more business friendly, installing a more comprehensive regulatory framework for companies to level the playing field, privatizing industries and providing tax incentives to stimulate growth and provide sustainable change to their financial system. Despite Portugal’s current economic hardships, Ambassador Brito expressed confidence in the Euro, his nation’s ability to bring down their budget deficit and their path to economic recovery through sustainable solutions. Portugal’s Minister of Economy and Employment reiterated this sentiment today in a statement saying, “We are suffering but we will persevere and succeed.”

Portugal has a connection to the Americas dating back to the early 1800s when the capital of the country was moved to Brazil. For thirteen years, Rio de Janeiro served as the seat of the realm during the time of Napoleon’s invasion of the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal was the second country to recognize the United States’ independence and since then, both nations have maintained a warm diplomatic and cooperative relationship. As founding members of NATO, Portugal and the United States maintain an excellent defense relationship with soldiers having served together in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The Portuguese Republic has established STEM focused partnerships with several U.S. higher education institutes such as MIT and Harvard Medical School. In addition to their defense, education and growing trade connections, Portugal and the United States are steadfast allies with a relationship cemented by shared values and principles.

Although the United States and Portugal already have existing trade relations, Ambassador Brito communicated a desire to see the two nations do much more in the way of developing this relationship and set the standard for world trade. Asia may be a region of increasing commercial significance, but the Ambassador noted that 45 out of 50 states have stronger commercial connection to Europe than to Asia. Portugal has 2,148 companies that export to the United States. North Carolina and its potential for Portuguese trade and development caught the Ambassador’s eye in his first visit to Charlotte for the Democratic National Convention last fall. Two Portuguese companies now operate in the state of North Carolina. The Ambassador voiced his hopefulness for an increase in bilateral commercial cooperation with North Carolina especially in areas of health and energy.

Ambassador Brito offered additional perspective into the present relationship between Portugal and the United States and his insight into how the two nations might further their relationship through education and trade initiatives. Portugal has made learning English a mandatory educational requirement at the first grade level, preparing their youth for a globalized workforce. The Ambassador made mention that there are eight Portuguese-speaking countries in the world, including Brazil, the up-and-coming player in the world economy. In this globalized world, the Ambassador noted, “There are not small and big countries, only small and big ambitions.”

Summary by Stephanie Phipps (for the World Affair Council of Charlotte)