Brazil: The South American Tiger Is No Black Sheep Anymore

    Brazil's Morumbi Shopping mall

    Brazil's Morumbi Shopping mall On Tuesday, May 13, The Wall Street Journal published an article stating that after decades pursuing a convincing economic growth, Brazil has finally reached the other great emerging economies of the world. Until recently Brazil had been kind of looked down as the black sheep of the BRIC group (Brazil, Russia, India and China), to the point that some even suggested that the B should be dropped and the group should be named RIC.

    Not any more. Now it is being finally recognized that Brazil has made it to the front line of the new economic powers of the planet. WSJ said so and all those who write about the economy seem to agree: B is effectively in BRIC, and it’s as simple as that.

    All freedom is something live
    and bright and limpid,
    just like a fire or like a river,
    and thereby man’s heart shall forever
    provide it with a dwelling.
     Thiago de Mello (poet from the Amazon)

    Gone seems to be the time when the South American giant came by struggling slowly, showing signs of instability all over. The truth is that the Brazilian economy, slowly, true, but steadily, reached a turning point, with a valued and stable money, the real, and credibility.

    In the last years foreign investment in Brazil has grown enough to help push this kind of stability. Even if Brazil is not growing as much as China, the picture is significant, when not too long ago, in 2002, the country was drowning in debt. Brazil does not have as much money and investment as China and India, but on the other hand it has reached a more mature level in its trail of development, more so than the Asian giants, with a bigger urban population and better standard of living.

    Let’s see what’s happening in some areas. Food, for instance. One of the world’s present major concerns is the shortage in food supply. Brazil is doing very well in the area and it can do better if it plans the use of all the land and the capacity to plant and harvest the entire year responsibly, in a sustainable way. In few years Brazil became the number six biggest producer of meat in the world.

    In 1991, Brazil was producing 56 million tons of grains; in 2007, the number grew to 133 million tons, taking Brazil to the group of the largest grain producers in the world. Brazil is also the most competitive producer of biofuels; sugar cane, the most important element for the making of alcohol/fuel, takes small planted areas, and it is not one of the basic foods, unlike the corn used in the US, crushed to produce energy when it could be used as food.

    This is reality, and it is good reality. However, it is also reality that this great fortune might turn against Brazil, if this is done through the use of illegal and/or excessive deforestation. The government has to work out its laws, policies and regulations, and it has to keep an open dialogue with institutions that protect the environment and the associations gathering producers to make sure the privileges of the combination of a climate that favors the agribusiness and the extension of territory will be used to benefit the economy   and the people of Brazil and the world, without causing irreversible damage to  the environment, with no irresponsible deforestation.

    The best and only acceptable scenario is to grow while preserving the environment. And there are many ways for the government to keep control and to stop more damage than what has already been done.

    There is a popular say in Brazil that the best way to reach people, to make them listen, is to reach in their pockets. The Brazilian government recently said that they will start denying money to finance those who are caught causing damage to the environment. This is a good way, as it also would be to change the rules for money loans.

    In 2007, from one program alone cattle breeders got over 1 billion dollars in subsidized loans. While the interest rates for companies in general were between 26% and 34%, cattle breeders in the Amazon only paid between 5% and 9%. Another program took only between 1% and 4% from them. Such major difference seems to feed the greed that blindly destroys the forest: more and more land to make more and more money.

    The money making wheel will not stop on its own, but it can and it must be controlled. Numbers do not lie and they indicate that as prices go up, so does the greed and deforestation. Either the government has to establish ways to control this by reaching in the pockets of greed, or the government will be accused of financing such greed and deforestation.

    Presently, when deforestation happens, the producer pays a big fine and goes on using the land. So the government gets paid for the crime and then it’s OK? Well, now the government is saying that there will be a fine and the land will not be used. And they are planning to catch the other ends too, like if the meat dealers buy from producers who have committed the crime of deforestation, they may be accused of dealing with criminal product. There is even talk of suspending all deforestation, even what is legal. As good as it sounds, reality is sad when one considers that 99% of deforestation in the state of Pará today, as just one for instance, is done illegally.

    The truth is Brazil wants progress and a better life for its citizens; Brazil wants to be a true giant, it is growing and showing that this is not just a dream that may happen, this is already happening.

    But we must keep in mind that there is a price for everything in life. And the price of the agribusiness cannot and should not be so high; progress does not have to come at the expense of life for future generations, in Brazil and in the rest of the planet.

    Clara Angelica Porto is a Brazilian bilingual journalist living in New York. She went to school in Brazil and at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Clara is presently working as the English writer for The Brasilians, a monthly newspaper in Manhattan. Comments welcome at clara.angelica@gmail.com.

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