A Brazilian federal judge didn't like the recently announced policy of taking certain foreign visitors' pictures and prints when they enter the U.S.
Comparing the policy to the worst atrocities of the Nazis, he ordered that all U.S. visitors entering Brazil were to be treated the same. The problem was that the Brazilian border police weren't quite ready for the new program.
On the first day of the order, the wait for an American to get fingerprints and a photograph in Rio de Janeiro was as long as seven hours for some, who left the immigration control area of the airport with ink-stained fingers.
The fingerprinting dispute, however petty it has become, seems symptomatic of a growing split between the government of Brazil and the U.S.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dined with radical Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro on his inauguration day a little more than a year ago. And in December he returned from a Middle East tour during which he met with the despots of several countries, including Syria and Libya.
Many Brazilians are still trying to figure out the purpose of those stops on his itinerary, other than to further demonstrate Brazil's independence from the U.S. It's a posture the country aggressively adopted in both the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and the failed World Trade Organization (WTO) meeting in Cancun, Mexico, late last year.
Meanwhile, the anti-biotechnology rhetoric from some lawmakers in the capital city of Brasilia often sounds more like a rant against U.S.-based multinational companies than against the technology itself.
But setting symbolism and rhetoric aside, not much has really changed in the Brazil-U.S. dynamic as it relates to agriculture, particularly soybeans. The two countries are agricultural competitors, but even competitors have mutual interests.
Both Brazil and the U.S. would benefit from reduced European Union (EU) farm subsidies. Both countries — despite noises to the contrary from European-based activist groups — would benefit from a workable and reasonable EU policy on traceability and labeling of biotech crops. And, obviously, both the U.S. and Brazil could benefit from greater worldwide demand for vegetable protein.
What if U.S. researchers could work more closely with Brazilian scientists to develop rust-resistant soybean varieties? After all, the Brazilians have been working on the problem since 2001.
What if the U.S., Brazil and Argentina joined together to face down the EU on its farm policy in WTO talks? The EU is dependent on soy protein for most of its feed rations — and almost all soybeans and soybean meal exported to Europe come from those three sources.
Much of the political posturing from Brazil lately has been churned out for domestic Brazilian consumption. Taking symbolic stands against the world's hyperpower is about all that is left of an administration made up of former radicals who are now exercising conservative fiscal policy.
Look past such posturing and the common needs of the two soybean competitors may be greater right now than the issues separating them.