For many people, the word "Brazil" conjures up images of lush rainforests, golden beaches and the famous "Cristo Redentor" statue stretching its arms from Corcovado Mountain over the expanse of Rio de Janeiro below.
But for Congressman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., Brazil and its flourishing economy represents opportunity for Washington farmers.
Brazil was one stop on a Latin American trip taken by Hastings, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and other House Republicans to visit the three top U.S. export markets south of the border.
The group left Jan. 8 and returned Sunday with stops in Brazil, Mexico and Colombia.
"I thought it was a very good trip," the Pasco Republican said."I think we in Congress need to pay more attention to our friends in the same hemisphere. That was the purpose of the trip."
With a population of about 195 million, Brazil is not only the largest nation in South America, but the fifth largest in the world.
Brazil recently overtook the United Kingdom to become the world's sixth largest economy, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported in December.
It's also a major export market for Washington-grown hops and pears, which Hastings said means the U.S. government should be paying attention to the growing nation.
"The fact that Brazil is the (sixth) largest economy means we need to be talking to them more," Hastings said.
As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Hastings also wanted to exchange ideas with Brazilian officials about how it handles offshore oil drilling -- an issue Hastings has pushed in Congress.
"I was interested in hearing what they are doing down there," he said.
A visit to Colombia was important to solidify a recently adopted free trade agreement with the South American nation, he said.
"While there are still some details to work out, I am very pleased that it passed and I think the Colombians were too," Hastings said. "I think they look forward to getting more of our products."
Hastings said while in Mexico that he talked to high-level officials about issues related to the recently resolved dispute over cross-border trucking, and issues related to exporting fresh potatoes from Washington south of the border.
"I think it was important to show these nations we want to work with them in a variety of areas -- trade is one of those areas," he said. "I had an opportunity in every country to talk to their people involved in trade and encourage them to look to Washington products."