- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - The economy, energy and the environment confront President Barack Obama and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in their White House talks Saturday.

Trade, relations with Latin America and the case of a New Jersey man trying to bring his 8-year-old son back from Brazil may come up, too.

The leaders planned to compare notes on two international forums on their schedules next month _ a meeting of the Group of 20 nations and the Summit of the Americas.

Brazil has become a major U.S. trading partner, and its cautious economic policies have helped South America’s largest country weather the global financial crisis better than almost all other major economic powers. Brazil also has huge new sources of offshore oil and abundant ethanol, which could give it an important role in helping the U.S. wean itself from Venezuelan crude and shift to cleaner sources of energy.

Silva, who runs the world’s fifth-most-populous nation and ninth-largest economy, has close ties with leaders across the political spectrum. He has been asked to lobby Obama for free trade on behalf of conservatives in Colombia and for dropping the U.S. embargo against communist Cuba.

Even Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has had a prickly relationship with the U.S., has asked his Brazilian counterpart to put in some good words for him.

“I’m going to ask that the U.S. take a different view of Latin America,” Silva said before leaving his country. “We’re a democratic, peaceful continent, and the U.S. has to look at the region in a productive, developmental way, and not just think about drug trafficking or organized crime.”

The world’s largest exporter of ethanol, Brazil has seen little progress on its demand that the U.S. lift a 53-cent-per-gallon import tariff on the gasoline alternative. But in the past two years, Brazil has made offshore oil discoveries of some 80 billion barrels. The find could help turn Brazil into a major crude exporter and become a bargaining chip with the U.S.

The custody issue involves David Goldman of Tinton Falls, N.J., who is trying to bring his young son back from Brazil. The boy was taken there in 2004 by his mother, who died several years later while giving birth. She had divorced Goldman and married a lawyer from Rio de Janeiro. Both children are being raised by the lawyer’s family.

This past week, the House unanimously urged Brazil to “act with extreme urgency” to return the boy to Goldman. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said she has discussed the case with high-ranking Brazilian officials.

Thomas A. Shannon, the assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said Friday that Obama is aware of the case.

Silva was the first Latin American leader to sit down with Obama. Obama has met with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

___

Associated Press writer Bradley Brooks in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, contributed to this report.

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