This weekend President Obama embarked on his five-day Latin America trip to Brazil, Chile (where he touched down on Monday) and El Salvador to strengthen relationships, with a particular focus on the U.S. trading role in some of the world's fastest growing markets.

Addressing Brazilians directly in a speech from Rio de Janeiro on Sunday afternoon, he spoke of shared values between the United States and Brazil, and how the two countries can work together through student exchanges, expanding collaboration between science and technology researchers, and working to stop drug trafficking. Obama also singled out working together to combat hunger, disease and corruption in Africa.

"As two countries that have been greatly enriched by our African heritage, it's absolutely vital that we are working with the continent of Africa to help lift it up," he said to applause from the audience at the Teatro Municipal. "That is something we should be committed to doing together."

Brazil, which has the second-largest population of African-descended people in the world after Nigeria, has long worked with African nations in terms of oil and energy, humanitarian aid and trade. What's new, however, is President Obama's allusion to Brazil and the United States doing joint work on the continent.

"He's making a logical connection which has not been made before by the United States: the fact that our common origins in Africa create a common opportunity to Africa," said David Vidal, director of the Conference Board Center for Citizenship and Sustainability, and former Brazil correspondent for the New York Times and Associated Press. "It's a new statement of intention and redirection that I think is very significant."

So far, Brazil and the United States have already launched their first trilateral project in Africa, an agricultural program in Mozambique. By training Mozambique's famers how to grow and sell more vegetables through improved production and marketing methods, U.S. and Brazilian agricultural experts hope to bolster the country's farm sector.

Vidal says such collaborations are particularly important given the rapid expansion of China in Africa, where Chinese workers have created roads, hospitals and schools in exchange for access to raw materials. "It certainly puts into context whatever may come of a U.S.-Brazil collaboration because there's a lot already going on, and China's leaving everybody in the dust."

Sharon Freeman, president of Americans, Chinese and Africans Connecting, which facilitates African business collaborations between Chinese-, African- and other black-owned firms around the world, agrees that President Obama may have been alluding to competition with China. "If Obama was hinting that the U.S. and Brazil should combine efforts in Africa, why would he be saying that?" she told The Root. "The answer is because we want to compete with China, and maybe we could do it better together."