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Brazil's growing international presence

BBC News

The Brazilian government's recent mediation efforts to persuade Iran to sign a deal on enriching uranium as a way of allaying suspicions about its nuclear programme highlighted Brazil's ambition to project its influence beyond South America.

Rubens Barbosa, former Brazilian ambassador to the US and the UK, offers his views on his country's growing international presence:

The world has undergone major political and economic changes in recent years. The era of US unilateralism has ended and new centres of power have emerged, a transformation accelerated by the global economic crisis.

Brazil is one of the countries to most benefit from the new international disorder.

But which specific factors explain why Brazil is opening up to the world and expanding its interests?

There are, first of all, various domestic reasons.
Brazilian president Luiz Inacion Lula da Silva shortly before receiving the prize of the New Economy Forum 2010 in Madrid on 18 May President Lula has pursued a pro-active foreign policy

The most important has been the political and economic stability over the past 16 years, first under President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1994 - 2002) and then under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2002 to the present).

Democracy and democratic institutions have been strengthened. At the same time, Brazil has enjoyed high levels of economic growth, the result of continuity in economic policy that saw inflation remain low and stable, the fiscal situation under control and a floating exchange rate.

Poverty has been significantly reduced, and 31 million Brazilians lifted into the middle class, which in turn has brought about a rapid expansion of the domestic consumer market.

Commercial liberalisation and the globalisation of Brazilian companies are indicative of how Brazil's economy has modernised. Diversification in the industrial and service sectors has gone hand in hand with the growth of the agricultural sector, highly competitive and with a strong presence in international markets. Brazil today sees itself as a global trader.

So economic stability and the attraction of Brazil's growing domestic market have begun to change foreign perceptions of the country. The downgrading of the "country risk" attributed to Brazil, and the awarding of investment grade by financial institutions have reinforced positive forecasts about the Brazilian economy.

Brazil, along with China, has become one of the motors of growth amid a global shift in industrial and agricultural production. The two nations are an important part of the increasingly influential emerging markets.

Honest broker

Brazil's last two leaders, President Cardoso and President Lula, each in his own way, played their part in raising Brazil's profile through their contacts abroad, their life stories and their ability to interact with fellow heads of state.

Two other significant factors behind Brazil's international prominence should be highlighted.

BRAZIL: KEY FACTS

* Pop: 193.7m (2009)
* Urban population: 85.2%
* GDP per capita: $8,205 (2008)
* Life expectancy: 76 (women), 69 (men)
* Main exports: Manufactured goods, iron ore, coffee, oranges, other agricultural produce
* Main trading partners: US, Argentina, China

Brazil's voice cannot be ignored on issues of importance to the developed world, such as foreign trade, climate change, energy (biofuels and oil), food, water and human rights.

Then there is the emergence of the Bric countries, as Brazil, Russia India and China are known, a grouping that has become one of the new players on the international scene in recent years.

Brazil's traditional diplomatic involvement in multinational organisations has reinforced the image of the country as a builder of consensus, an "honest broker".

International attention has also focused on Brazil's ethnic and religious harmony and the role it plays as mediator in more troubled parts of South America.

The more pro-active foreign policy pursued by the Lula government in South America, Africa and the Middle East, the result of the priority given to ties with the developing world (South-South relations), has brought about Brazil's growing involvement in both regional and global issues.

Brazil, unlike the other Bric members, is not a nuclear power. This, together with an independent stance on defending its own interests, has allowed the Brazilian government greater leeway in its involvement in disputes long handled exclusively by developed nations.
Reforms needed

Brazil is also engaged in the reform of global governance. It has been a strong voice in the G20 (a grouping that is gradually replacing the G8), calling for greater participation by emerging countries in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
A boy waves a Brazilian flag as he sits on a roof to watch Brazil's national football team train on 23 May Brazil's younger generation: Set to be top of the world?

For several years, Brazil has advocated wide reform of the UN's economic and political structures. It also supports the expansion of permanent and non-permanent members of the UN's Security Council that would give it greater weight and make it more representative in its role of overseeing international peace and security.

For these reasons, Brazil today, confident and assertive, is seeking to carve a role for itself outside South America as a regional power able to act well beyond its immediate borders.

In this context, Mercosur (the customs union that joins Brazil with neighbours Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), from the commercial point of view, and Latin America, from the political point of view, are assuming lesser importance given Brazil's global interests.

Brazil now needs to complete the process of modernisation by enacting structural reforms (in tax, politics, social security and the labour market).

These reforms are needed to allow the great leap forward that could position the country as an economic superpower over the next 15 years, according to forecasts from governments and institutions such as the US National Intelligence Council.

What is clear is that Brazil's voice is set to be heard ever louder on the world stage.