Get used to Brazil as growing power, ambassador tells EU

02.06.10 @ 17:39

  1. By Andrew Willis

BRUSSELS - Brazil's top diplomat to the EU has said his country was disappointed by Europe's reaction to the recently brokered nuclear agreement with Iran, indicating that the West must get used to his country's expanding heft on the international stage.

  • Brazil is a member of the four BRIC economies (Photo: guipimenta)

Speaking to EUobserver in the elegant surroundings of the Brazilian mission on the edge of Brussels' Bois de La Cambre, ambassador Ricardo Neiva Tavares also suggested there may be lessons for Europe in Brazil's greater ability to withstand the global economic downturn.

The two issues are clearly linked, with the rise of Latin America's largest economy the key driver behind its growing confidence.

"What this shows, broadly speaking, is that there are new kids on the block," said Mr Neiva Tavares on Brazil's role in brokering the Iranian deal. "The EU and the US could show a more positive attitude," he added.

Part of Brasília's frustration stems from the West's apparent support prior to the deal, one that was very similar to a failed initiative last October that commanded International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) support.

US President Barack Obama sent a letter of goodwill to the Brazilian administration, two weeks before the eventual agreement, said Mr Neiva Tavares.

Under the Brazil-Turkey deal, submitted last week to the IAEA, Iran has agreed to ship 1,200 kilogrammes of uranium to Turkey, where it will be stored. In exchange, Iran would get fuel rods made from 20 percent enriched uranium, suitable for research reactors but not sufficiently enriched for nuclear weapons.

Opponents of the deal say it fails to tackle the question of higher-level enrichment, while Brazil has stressed the agreement was never meant to be a final accord. "It's a confidence building initiative," said Mr Neiva Tavares, adding that Brazil is highly sceptical of the effectiveness of further sanctions against Tehran.

"We've seen the film in the past in other countries in the Middle East. They didn't solve the problem."

Eurozone crisis

The increasingly confident tone is not just limited to the field of foreign policy. With a population of almost 200 million people and a landmass approximately twice the size of the EU27, Brazil is forecast to jump from the world's eighth largest economy to fifth largest by 2025.

The former Portuguese colony has weathered the global downturn better than most, and at a EU-Latin America summit in Madrid last month, the country's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva voiced his opposition to the speed of Europe's planned deficit cuts.

The popular Brazilian leader who will step down this October after two terms stressed that European austerity measures risked putting a dangerous brake on the region's growth prospects, according to EU sources.

He is not alone in this belief. Last Friday, the rating agency Fitch downgraded Spanish debt due to a lack of plausible growth initiatives, despite Madrid's austerity plan to halve the budget deficit over 12 months.

For Brazil, the key lies in achieving the right balance between export- and domestic-led growth, said Mr Neiva Tavares, a subject that has recently come to the fore in Europe after France told Germany to boost its domestic consumption.

"We don't want to give lessons, but we believe that people should observe our system," he continued, referring to Brazilian government programmes that are designed to boost consumption amongst the poor.

"The more balanced EU member states are, the better it will be for the group as a whole."

EU-Mercosur trade talks

Despite the emphasis on domestic demand, the subject of international trade is clearly a key issue for the ambassador. Since 2008, he has been working quietly in the background to restart talks on a bilateral deal between the EU and South American trade bloc Mercosur (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay).

That work appears to have borne fruit, with the European Commission last month announcing its intention to restart the talks, which broke down in 2004.

Estimates suggest the potential free-trade deal could be the largest of its kind in the world, and roughly four times the combined size of the recently initialled agreements between the EU and Peru, Colombia and Central America.

A number of EU countries led by France have already indicated their opposition to any agreement however, concerned that it will usher in a flood of cheaper agricultural products into the region.

Despite the resistance, Brazil is still confident a deal can be struck. "The commission has a key role to play in the negotiations," said Mr Neiva Tavares, an apparent reference to the need to secure qualified majority support among EU member states.

"At the end of the day, it depends whether the agricultural lobby gets the upper hand over the rest of Europe."

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