44th UNITED STATES – PORTUGAL
STANDING BILATERAL COMMISSION
Washington, D.C., Lisbon, Azores
December 17, 2020
1) The 44th Session of the Portugal-United States Standing Bilateral Commission (SBC) met virtually December 17 in Lisbon, the Azores, and Washington, D.C. to discuss cooperation on key bilateral issues and exchange views on matters of mutual concern, such as Portugal’s priorities for the Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2021 and the importance of cooperation in security and defense. Both sides reiterated that a strong Transatlantic relationship remains essential for our shared security and prosperity and recognized current challenges to joint interests, including in some cases from the People’s Republic of China. The SBC thus stressed the importance of finding common ground to move forward on a broad, positive U.S.-European agenda, and in this context welcomed the efforts to reach solutions to Transatlantic trade disputes.
2) Portugal and the United States underlined the negative social and economic impacts of COVID-19. The SBC noted the growing importance of digital transition for economic recovery, and the need to ensure the cybersecurity of 5G networks, protecting our economies and societies. The participants recognized the challenges presented by the digitization of the global economy and identified investment screening as a tool in protecting critical infrastructure and communications networks in order to prevent any risks to national security and sovereignty and ensure transparency.
3) The SBC recognized the continued growth of cultural and academic exchanges between the two countries. According to the most recent Open Doors report, the number of U.S. students coming to Portugal increased 64 percent between 2016 and 2018, often through the SIPN/ FLAD program. The SBC welcomed the signing of MOUs with universities and recognized state education authorities for the integration of Portuguese language in elementary and secondary school curricula.
4) Portugal presented its main priorities for its Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2021, to include its planned Social Summit, promoting a fairer, greener, and more digital Europe.
5) Portugal and the United States underscored their shared commitment to promoting human rights around the world. The SBC welcomed the continued close contact concerning the crisis
in Venezuela, noting the need for a peaceful political solution through credible, free, and fair presidential and parliamentarian elections. Both sides observed that the December 6, 2020, parliamentary elections in Venezuela did not meet international standards for a democratic electoral process and therefore do not recognize its results.
6) On Africa, Portugal and the United States reiterated a determination to deepen consultations and to further engage on initiatives of mutual interest. Both sides expressed their willingness to consider
support to African countries to counter transnational terrorist threats, including ISIS-affiliated groups, in the region.
7) Both countries recognized defense cooperation as a cornerstone of our relationship and agreed that topics such as the security of the Atlantic, the strategic role of the Azores, and sub Saharan Africa should continue to be regularly discussed. The SBC also encouraged further collaboration in maritime security and defense capacity building in the Atlantic, with a focus on the Gulf of Guinea. Portugal underlined the proposed Atlantic Center as an important contribution to both maritime and regional security.
8) Portugal and the United States reaffirmed their commitment to NATO, the cornerstone of the wider Transatlantic partnership. The SBC took note that all Allies made commitments to better burden sharing at the Wales Summit. It also noted that Portugal values the Transatlantic bond in defense matters and has more than 50 percent of its overseas military personnel operating under a NATO flag.
9) Portugal indicated that during its Presidency of the Council of the European Union, its priorities in defense and security are: strengthening the EU-Africa Partnership in security and defense; strengthening the EU Maritime Security Strategy, with a focus on the Gulf of Guinea; a more ambitious EU-NATO relationship with tangible results; strengthening the EU’s military resilience and capabilities for more credible and effective crisis management; deepening the European Defense Economy; strengthening civil-military synergies; increasing preparedness to counter hybrid threats and disinformation; and responding to complex issues, such as climate-related or health emergencies. The United States stressed the importance of ensuring that increased European efforts
complement and do not duplicate NATO capabilities.
10) The SBC welcomed the inauguration of a new tactical landing airstrip at Lajes Field, Azores, showcasing the transformation of an abandoned runway deactivated since the 1990s into a new, mid-Atlantic training venue as a result of a joint Portuguese-U.S. military effort. The SBC highlighted environmental safety at Lajes Field as of continuing importance.
11) Both sides were encouraged to continue to explore possibilities to reach a common understanding about the status of the remaining environmental questions with a view towards their resolution. In particular, the SBC highlighted the Technical Commission’s role and welcomed the three environmental experts’ meetings since July to discuss technical findings at sites 3001 and 5001 and encouraged the continuation of efforts to reach a common technical understanding based on technical facts The SBC also welcomed the in-person visits between AFCEC and LNEC to Lajes Field as soon as the pandemic situation allows.
12) The SBC acknowledged that a path forward was identified for sites 5003 and 5014 at Lajes Field. The SBC highlighted the Technical Commission’s role in continuing to track progress on the remaining sites and on actions implemented, and supported the continued exchange of data, further consultations and exchanging of reports, and technical expertise to identify collaborative results.
13) The SBC highlighted the strength of U.S.- Portugal military and economic cooperation in the Azores. The SBC reviewed the benefits underlying the 60-year partnership with the Fulbright Commission, particularly in the awarding of scholarships to Azorean students and reiterated the will to reinforce this partnership in the future. Portugal and the U.S. discussed the importance of attracting new U.S. investment to the Azores, as well as exploring possibilities to cooperate in digital transition and tourism. Portugal expressed a desire to increase internship opportunities in U.S hospitals and healthcare practices.
14) The SBC commended the excellent cooperation in science, technology, and environmental issues, and highlighted the steps taken towards further bilateral cooperation in higher education and research, space, wave energy, maritime, and fisheries studies. Both sides praised the important support of FLAD and the Fulbright Commission, as well as FCT, for cooperation in the STEE field. Both sides acknowledged their mutual commitment to promote the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources and looked forward to engaging in the second UN Ocean Conference, to be cohosted by Portugal and Kenya in Lisbon.
15) The Justice and Home Affairs Committee focused on trafficking in persons, immigration and border control and security, and exchanged best practices on combatting the pandemic and dealing with forest fires.
16) The SBC noted U.S. and Portuguese Labor Committee members met on December 9 to discuss work-related issues. In addition, the U.S. team provided an update on health and safety activities at Lajes Field.
17) The Trade and Investment Committee held fruitful exchanges on maintenance of bilateral Foreign Direct Investment stock. The two sides encouraged initiatives to stimulate economic and commercial ties and investment.
18) The SBC decided that its next meeting, to take place in Washington in summer 2021, would return to an in-person format, should health conditions permit.