RIO DE JANEIRO — Members of the Home Overseas Affairs Committee mentioned Friday they have been “extraordinarily alarmed” by assertions that the American ambassador in Brazil had signaled to Brazilian officers they may assist get President Trump re-elected by altering their commerce insurance policies.
In a letter despatched Friday afternoon, Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel demanded that the ambassador, Todd Chapman, produce “any and all paperwork referring or associated to any discussions” he has held with Brazilian officers in latest weeks about their nation’s tariffs on ethanol, an vital agricultural export for Iowa, a possible swing state within the American presidential election.
The committee’s letter was despatched in response to experiences within the Brazilian information media this week saying that Mr. Chapman, a profession diplomat, made it clear to Brazilian officers they may bolster Mr. Trump’s electoral probabilities in Iowa if Brazil lifted its ethanol tariffs.
Eliminating tariffs would give the Trump administration a welcome commerce victory to current to struggling ethanol producers in Iowa, the place the president is in a close race with his Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr.
The Home committee mentioned it was opening an inquiry into the matter.
The State Division mentioned Friday afternoon in an emailed assertion that “allegations suggesting that Ambassador Chapman has requested Brazilians to help a selected U.S. candidate are false.”
The assertion added: “The US has lengthy been centered on lowering tariff obstacles and can proceed achieve this.”
The O Globo newspaper printed a narrative on Thursday saying Mr. Chapman had underscored “the significance to the Brazilian authorities of protecting Donald Trump” in workplace. Mr. Bolsonaro, a far-right chief, has made nearer alignment with the Trump administration his prime overseas coverage precedence.
A competing newspaper, Estadão, published an article Friday saying its reporters independently confirmed that the ambassador framed his argument in opposition to tariffs in partisan phrases. The article mentioned the Brazilian officers who met with Mr. Chapman rejected the attraction, declining to be drawn into the American presidential battle.
Neither article named its sources. However Alceu Moreira, a Brazilian congressman who heads the agricultural caucus, advised The New York Instances in an interview that Mr. Chapman had made repeated references to the electoral calendar throughout a latest assembly the 2 had about ethanol.
He mentioned that Mr. Chapman didn’t explicitly urge him to assist the Trump marketing campaign or convey up the competition in Iowa — however that the American ambassador did tie the ethanol situation to the election.
“He mentioned, ‘You recognize, we’ve elections in the USA, and that this is essential,’” Mr. Moreira mentioned, recounting their dialog. “He mentioned this 4 or 5 instances.”
Within the letter, Mr. Engel mentioned that if Mr. Chapman had pressured the Brazilians to assist the Trump marketing campaign, it might be a violation of the Hatch Act, a 1939 legislation that bars federal officers from partaking in sure partisan actions.
“These statements are fully inappropriate for a U.S. ambassador to make,” Mr. Engel, a Democrat from New York, wrote within the letter, which was additionally signed by Consultant Albio Sires, who chairs the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Safety and Commerce.
The letter referred to as on Mr. Chapman to “reassure Congress and the American those that our Ambassador to Brazil is actually representing the pursuits of the USA and never the slim, political pursuits of President Trump.”
Selling favorable phrases for American industries overseas is a core precedence for American ambassadors. However American diplomats are reminded in election years to avoid any actions which may moderately be construed as partisan.
The committee’s letter additionally took situation with Mr. Chapman’s protection of a video selling the Trump marketing campaign that Eduardo Bolsonaro, a federal lawmaker and a son of President Jair Bolsonaro, posted Sunday on Twitter.
The video ends with a slide that claims “Trump 2020: The Nice Victory.”
Requested concerning the video in an interview with O Globo, Mr. Chapman mentioned he noticed no downside with Eduardo Bolsonaro’s endorsement.
“I’m an enormous defender of freedom of expression,” Mr. Chapman advised the newspaper. “And everyone seems to be free to say who they like and who they’re in opposition to as they see match; I’m not going to inform somebody they will’t converse in favor or in opposition to my president.”
Mr. Engel and Mr. Sires, a Democrat from New Jersey, mentioned the ambassador ought to have responded otherwise.
“Whereas Mr. Bolsonaro has the best to talk freely, it’s merely not applicable for sitting authorities officers — in any department of presidency — to advertise the campaigns of candidates in the USA,” the congressmen wrote. “We frankly consider that it’s best to know higher.”
Eduardo Bolsonaro is the uncommon Brazilian official who has brazenly supported reducing ethanol tariffs for American sellers. In a video he posted last September, he mentioned taking a success on ethanol can be a boon for Brazilian exporters of meat and sugar by enhancing the possibilities of a free-trade settlement between the 2 international locations.
“That would convey so many advantages to us as Brazilians,” mentioned the youthful Mr. Bolsonaro, an ardent supporter of Mr. Trump who wore a “Make Brazil Nice Once more” baseball cap throughout a go to to the White Home final 12 months.
The US has lengthy pushed Brazil to decrease tariffs on ethanol. These talks gained a brand new sense of urgency in latest months because the coronavirus pandemic led to plummeting demand, and American ethanol sellers have been squeezed by the commerce dispute between Beijing and Washington.
At present, American ethanol corporations can promote as much as 750 million liters of ethanol to Brazil per 12 months with out paying tariffs. Any gross sales past which can be topic to a 20 % tax. The Brazilian authorities raised the tariff-free cap final September from 600 million liters — a gesture supposed to present Brazilian sugar producers better entry to the American market.
Mr. Trump hailed that transfer, calling it “nice progress for our Farmers.”
However Washington didn’t make good on the sugar entry, which left the Brazilians feeling embittered.
The present ethanol tariff framework is about to run out in August. If the 2 international locations don’t attain a deal, Brazil will apply a 20 % tax to all ethanol imports, a blow to an trade that’s pleading for presidency bailouts.
Mr. Moreira, the Brazilian congressman who heads the agricultural caucus, mentioned he advised Mr. Chapman that Brazilian politicians additionally had political issues to contemplate, given coming municipal elections in September. Ethanol producers in Brazil’s northeast states would look dimly on tariff guidelines that put them at a aggressive drawback.
“Is the ethanol producer essential electorally talking? Sure, essential,” Mr. Moreira mentioned. “We very very similar to the American folks, however we like our folks extra.”
Congressman Arnaldo Jardim, who leads a Brazilian congressional bloc that helps ethanol producers, mentioned Mr. Chapman has been negotiating with a way of urgency because the deadline approaches.
“Let’s simply say he’s placing strain,” on Brazilian officers, mentioned Mr. Jardim, including that he had not personally met with the ambassador about this situation, however commonly speaks to a number of officers who’ve. “He’s saying that that is paramount for the USA and paramount for Trump.”
Orlando Ribeiro, who heads the division of economic and worldwide relations at Brazil’s Ministry of Agriculture, mentioned that negotiators had hoped to achieve a deal on ethanol tariffs earlier than the August deadline that took into consideration the pursuits of all stakeholders.
Barring that, he mentioned he feared Mr. Trump and Mr. Bolsonaro may hash out a deal over the cellphone on the final minute.
“What may occur is that on the eve, Trump may name Bolsonaro they usually would possibly determine to raise all” tariffs, he mentioned.