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Portuguese President Meets with Donald Trump to Reaffirm Strong Bilateral Ties

Following celebrations across the US for the “June Month of Portugal”, President Rebelo de Sousa traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with US President Trump. While EU-US relations have recently been tested by a spate of protectionist measures, this visit demonstrated that Portugal’s relationship with the US remains strong.

On June 27 President Rebelo de Sousa met with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington D.C. The meeting between the two heads of state was followed by an expanded bilateral consultation with representatives from each country discussing sensitive topics such as energy security, defense cooperation and trade. Despite growing tensions between the EU and the US, it was a friendly meeting that reaffirmed the deep relationship between the two countries.

During their joint press conference, de Sousa took the opportunity to remind President Trump of the special friendship that has existed between Portugal and the US for more than 200 years.  Specifically, Portugal was the first country to recognize the US in 1791 after its war of independence from Great Britain, despite having England as its oldest ally. “We have a very long-lasting friendship and partnership that started the moment we recognized you,” de Sousa said.

The presence of nearly 1.5 million Americans of Portuguese descent has served to deepen the ties of the enduring friendship between Portugal and the US. In recognition of this, de Sousa’s visit was timed with the “June Month of Portugal”. The monthlong celebration of Portuguese – American culture included cultural, scientific, and economic events across 60 cities in the US.

However, Portugal’s relationship with the US isn’t just anchored in history but also real economic benefits that could be undermined by rising protectionism. The US is Portugal’s largest non-EU trading partner with bilateral trade worth around $6.6 billion in 2017. This represents a 32 percent increase in trade from 2013. Moreover, the US invested around $1.6 billion in Portugal last year in the banking, insurance, pharmaceutical, and chemical sectors. Consequently, a ratcheting up of trade hostility between the EU and the US would have negative implications for the Portuguese economy.

Amid an on-going EU-US trade spat surrounding the Trump Administration’s tariffs on steel and aluminium, it is crucial to both the bloc and its individual members that bilateral trade ties remain strong across the Atlantic Ocean. This is particularly true for Portugal, whose largest non-EU trading partner is the US. Copyright: alexfan32/

Portugal is also keen to maintain its defense cooperation with the US. Both countries are founding members of NATO and have participated in missions together in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Central and Eastern Europe. More recently, Portugal has deployed military experts to Iraq to help train soldiers fighting ISIL.

While America maintains strong relations on nearly all fronts with the westernmost country in continental Europe, the two nations are still manoeuvring through one particularly sensitive topic: the US Lajes Air Base in the Azores. The Azores islands have hosted the air base for 70 years, which provides crucial refuelling and other support to US and NATO air forces that fly over the Atlantic. However, in 2015 the US announced it would downsize its military presence on the island. As the Lajes base is one of the largest employers in the region, the decision has taken a toll on the island’s economy. More recently, the President of the Azores has claimed that the air base has resulted in soil contamination on the island and that the US is liable for this environmental degradation.

Tensions aside, de Sousa’s visit showed that the US and European nations share fundamental principles. As expressed by de Sousa, “It’s a long, long story, this one, of our friendship and partnership based on common values, democracy and freedom and rule of law and human rights, but also of a very strong community, of fellow citizens”. While relations between the EU and the US may be difficult, last week’s meeting is evidence that there is scope for building positive bilateral ties between the US and individual EU countries.

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Katrina Pirner

Katrina is a Berlin-based freelance writer who focuses on economics, disruptive technology and politics. She’s previously worked in Canada, Italy, Belgium, and the US. Katrina holds a MA in International Relations from Johns Hopkins University where she concentrated in European political economy.

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