Brazil and its backyard

October 24, 2014

The Economist (print edition),  10/25/2014

Like voters in most democracies, Brazilians pay little heed to foreign policy when choosing leaders. Yet the presidential election on October 26th matters not just to Brazil but to the region. Over the past two decades Latin America’s giant has overcome its introversion and wielded growing influence in its backyard. And on foreign policy, as on economics, there is a clear gap between President Dilma Rousseff of the centre-left Workers’ Party (PT), who wants a second term, and her rival, Aécio Neves, of the centre-right Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB).

Brazil’s greater assertiveness began under Fernando Henrique Cardoso of the PSDB in the 1990s and continued under the PT’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the president in 2003-10. Both gave importance to the Mercosur trade block (founded by Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay), to South America and to ties with Africa and Asia. Both had reservations about a 34-country Free-Trade Area of the Americas, a plan that Lula helped to kill.

But there were differences, too, partly because of Brazil’s changing circumstances. Lula put far more stress on “south-south” ties and on the BRICs grouping (linking Brazil to Russia, India, China and later South Africa). In Latin America he emphasised “political co-operation”. Relations with the United States were cordial but distant, especially after Lula tried brokering a nuclear deal with Iran which the White House opposed.

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Brazil Drought Boosts Coffee Prices, Threatens Sugar Production

October 14, 2014

Brianna Lee – International Business Times, 10/13/2014

A deepening drought crisis across Brazil is hitting two of the country’s largest exports as coffee prices surged to their highest level in two years and sugar production is headed for a steep decline. The drought affecting Brazil this year is the worst the country has faced in decades, triggering alarm for cities like Sao Paulo, which has instituted emergency measures to cope with a water supply crisis.

The price of Arabica coffee, of which Brazil is the world’s top supplier, soared to a two-year high last week as meteorologists predicted low prospects for rainfall in Brazil’s coffee-producing regions for the rest of October and November.

Brazil joins other Central American countries dealing with coffee crop woes as El Salvador, Honduras, Panama and Guatemala have all dealt not only with drought but also coffee rust, a fungus that hit crops and resulted in the loss of more than $1 billion since 2011. Meanwhile, however, Colombian coffee seems to be taking advantage of the situation. Colombia’s coffee output looks set to reach a 20-year high this year.

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Andres Oppenheimer: Brazilian election could help end country’s ‘paralysis’

September 19, 2014

Andres Oppenheimer – Miami Herald, 9/17/2014

Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso confirmed this week something that many of us have suspected: If the opposition wins the Oct. 5 presidential election, there will be changes in Brazilian foreign policy that might affect all of Latin America.

Cardoso, who modernized Latin America’s biggest economy during his two terms from 1995 to 2003 and remains one of Brazil’s most respected politicians, told me in an interview that if opposition candidate Marina Silva wins, she would not give her unconditional support to Venezuela, Argentina and other leftist populist governments, as current President Dilma Rousseff has done.

According to the latest polls, no candidate is likely to win in the first round of voting. In a second round, scheduled for Oct. 26, Socialist Party candidate Silva would have 47 percent of the vote, while Rousseff, of the ruling Workers’ Party, would get 43 percent, according to an Ibope poll released Wednesday.

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Insight: Brazil’s slump hits job market as election approaches

August 25, 2014

Brad Haynes and Silvio Cascione – Chicago Tribune, 8/22/2014

Many of Brazil’s biggest retailers, homebuilders and carmakers are cutting jobs as Latin America’s largest economy teeters on the edge of recession, a fresh blow to President Dilma Rousseff’s re-election bid.

For years, low unemployment was key to Brazil’s emergence as an economic power and important gains in the fight against poverty.

The unemployment rate remains near record lows of around 5 percent and the leftist Rousseff regularly touts it as a success of the ruling Workers’ Party over the last 12 years.

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How Argentina’s Debt Crisis and Brazil’s Civil Unrest are Eclipsing Latin America Opportunities

August 21, 2014

Tim Pennington – International Business Times, 8/21/2014

News stories emanating from Latin America rarely frame the region’s economy in a positive light.

This summer’s excellent World Cup – while not eclipsed on the field – was against a backdrop of strikes and civil unrest in Brazil’s major cities. Similarly, Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner and her government were forced to default on their debts for a second time in thirteen years.

The negative image that these high-profile stories create does not do justice to the economic transformation taking place in Latin America or the investment opportunities the region now offers to business.

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Japan PM tells Brazil ‘Abenomics’ working, time to do more business

August 6, 2014

Anthony Boadle – Reuters, 8/1/2014

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touted the success of his economic policies on a visit to Brazil on Friday and said it was time for the two nations to expand their trade and investment partnership.

On the first visit to Brazil in a decade by a Japanese prime minister, Japanese banks extended $700 million in loans to boost Brazilian soy and corn exports to Japan and help finance oil platform construction for Brazil’s growing offshore oil industry.

Abe told Brazilian business leaders that Japan has closed a 15-year deflation cycle since his stimulus policies began to kick in and there is great potential to expand trade and investment with Latin America’s biggest economy.

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Japan Inc. Seeks to Recover Influence in Brazil

August 5, 2014

Juan Pablo Spinetto – Bloomberg, 8/4/2014

In the 1950s, Japan helped Brazil establish industries such as steelmaking and initiated key purchases of Brazilian iron ore. Now the Asian nation is seeking to regain influence in Latin America’s largest economy, where China is the No. 1 trading partner.

Japan has signed deals from energy to food and health care during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the country, the first by a Japanese leader in a decade. Abe wants to strengthen ties with Brazil, where about 1.6 million people of Japanese descent live, as he urges his country’s companies to seek more business outside their domestic market.

Top representatives from Toyota Motor Corp., Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal Corp. and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group Inc. were among the business people accompanying Abe in Brasilia and Sao Paulo, the last destinations of a nine-day tour through Latin American and the Caribbean. Brazil is important for Japan because it has industries such as infrastructure and is a safe jurisdiction, said Yutaka Kase, the chairman of Tokyo-based commodity supplier Sojitz Corp.

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