WASHINGTON ― Brazil established the Ministry of Defense less than two decades ago to, among other things, strenthen the country’s cooperation with international allies. Since that time, partnership with the United States has been slow to move, in part due to U.S. restrictions on the sale of strategic systems.

Brazil’s defense minister Raul Jungmann caught up with Defense News while in Washington for talks with the Pentagon and the defense industry.

I know you’re here on business, so to speak. Can you just tell me how the trip has been going here in the United States and what you’ve accomplished?

This visit was organized first on our conversations and dialog with authorities in the public sector. The second aspect was our interactions with the private sector, and also with society in general, through the think tanks. This visit is included in a much broader strategy that we call “defense diplomacy.” This includes, first of all, our neighboring region South America, and second, the United States, Russia, China, the Middle East and India — and obviously the European Union.

Our goal, first of all, is to consolidate our bilateral relations in the area of defense, and we’re going through a very positive time in those relations. Our agreements are working very effectively. First of all, the framework agreement, and second, the information sharing agreement and third, the research and development agreement.

Brazil has a wonderful defense company in Embraer, of course. What is the hope in terms of building up and expanding Brazil’s defense industrial base, and how might Brazil go about doing that?

Embraer is already here in the United States in Sierra, Nevada, and they have an industrial plant there. And there are companies that want to establish partnerships, especially Boeing; I’ve talked to the head of the Boeing international sector, and they want to establish this partnership and move forward with it.

I know Boeing is already partnered with Embraer on aspects of the KC-390 aircraft program and the A-29 Super Tucano. Any more specifics in terms of Boeing’s interest in partnership?

They are working toward commercializing the KC-390 for Saudi Arabia. And they want to explore the Alcântara base launching site. I think that this partnership is very interesting and very positive.

Do you see opportunities for growth in defense contributing to the economic stability of Brazil? What kind of role could defense potentially provide?

The defense industrial base in Brazil accounts for 3.7 percent of Brazil’s GDP, it employs around 80,000 people with direct jobs, and indirect jobs is in the range of 130,000. Defense in Brazil has the fourth-largest budget in the government, at about [U.S.] $29 billion per year, and we have a portfolio of projects for the next 15 years that could reach $80 billion.

And how much emphasis is placed on export?

Through the Brazilian Development Bank, the largest development bank in South America, we created a line of credit for import and exports in the area of defense. This would help with our trade balance because of the exports, and for that we also are implementing reforms and making reforms to the tax system, the regulatory system, the fiscal system, [to] help support import and export in the defense industry in Brazil.

I know there was an exercise — Amazonlog 2017 in November involving both the United States as well as Brazil. Can you tell me a bit about that and how that went?

The exercise was very successful; it was conducted in the tri-border area with Brazil, Peru and Colombia. It has 22 countries, including the United States, that participated for the first time. The exercise was geared toward humanitarian assistance and helped create a positive perspective of how the armed forces can help with disaster situations and bring relief.

The exercise spurred questions about the U.S.’ role in Brazil something that has been brought up before. Is there any concern about the U.S. being positioned in Brazil — in a military sense, of course?

We had a few reactions that were very unwarranted and disproportionate. We invited the members of Congress, both from the opposition and the parties that support the government, to come and participate and watch what was going on in the exercise. We had Venezuela participate — they had a general come. And after everybody was there, any questions or doubts they had about the exercise dissipated because it was conducted with the utmost transparency. And regardless if it is the United States or China or Russia or Israel that were participating in the exercise, they are more than welcome anytime that we need help with humanitarian assistance and exercises such as this one.

So, just to explain, everything that I saw and watched, everybody else saw and watched because it was conducted in a fully transparent environment.

I know there’s talk from the opposition about the United States trying to assert some sort of sovereignty by way of its presence. Is that a concern of the current government or Defense Ministry at all?

They’re ideological, preconceived ideas — no more than that. We have participated in military exercises for humanitarian assistance here in the United States and in other countries. And any country that wants to participate in humanitarian assistance, saving lives and helping in that aspect are welcome.

This is included in a global diplomatic effort of Brazil in terms of defense. Brazil and the United States are going through a very positive moment in their relationship in defense, and that’s what we want to continue to pursue —this positive relationship.

You have an election coming. What kind of impact would the outcome of that election potentially have on defense?

Elections always have an impact, but I believe that these changes would be more in terms of style and speed, not as much in substance. Because defense is a state policy, it is established between two countries, and they’re long-term policies and goals. Brazil and the United States have a traditional relationship in defense, and this relationship has been consolidated and it’s strong.

Brazil is one of many countries that have had to balance the role of the military in terms of domestic challenges. What role for Brazil does the military play in addressing challenges tied to narcotics and the like?

Brazil has a lot of challenges with regard to public safety; and the constitution establishes that under very extreme situations when the order is being challenged, then the military can be called to restore order. The government has helped states to deal with these extreme, extraordinary situations. But the true vocation of the military is national defense and security. And we are more concerned with the issues of borders and transnational crime because Brazil has the third-longest border in the world. This is a focus. And we have implemented measures, and we will implement more measure to defend Brazil in this situation because crime is becoming an international network.

It is very clear to us that transnational crime is a threat, especially when it involves drugs, smuggling of weapons. Transnational crime is not something that can be dealt with only domestically, especially when these criminal networks are created [in other countries] and becoming increasingly international.

We have the Ministry of Justice that deals with some aspects, and then the Institutional Security [Cabinet]. We have the Ministry of Defense and the Ministry of External Relations — all of them have some areas that they deal with. And we’re going to establish an initiative of South American defense to deal with this issue with all of our neighbors. It is something that affects the entire region.

When I was in Vancouver for a U.N. conference about peacekeeping missions [earlier in November], I met with representatives from Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay, and we’ve decided that this South American security initiative is going to move forward. And we have scheduled the first meeting to take place in early 2018 in Argentina.

Before I let you go, what would you name as top priorities in terms of defense investment?

Space, cybersecurity and modernizing our ships. [For the latter], we have a request for proposals for four corvettes. Also, technologies for inspection and monitoring of our border areas, satellites, drones, radars that can be integrated into this effort.

[We also hope to] develop a binational project with the United States. I’d like to say one more thing: We have an expectation of not having a relationship that is only topical with the United States, with no specific [areas of cooperation]. We would like to have a strategic partnership, a state partnership, based on [mutual] interests. We are the two largest democracies and the two largest economies in the hemisphere. That’s what we are seeking to build; there are opportunities to [support] each other in terms of the defense industrial base [and] to jointly explore other markets.