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The real "Girl from Ipanema"

March 19-21

You know the song: "Tall and tan and young and lovely, the girl from Ipanema goes walking...."

Well, these days, that girl has come to represent the nation of Brazil in one way: everyone is courting her.  Brazil is now the seventh largest economy.  It has gone from a global debtor to a global donor nation, now strong enough to have played a critical role in stabilizing the world economy during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.  

The Real is now pegged at about R$1.6 to the $1 US, and its strength is visible.  On my commercial flight here, at least three quarters of the flight was full of Brazilians returning from the US on shopping trips and visiting families.  It had the feeling of a flight to Delhi, full of babies and teenagers and shopping bags stuffed with "Made in America" or at least "Sold in America" name brand clothing.

So, who are Brazil's suitors?  China and the US.  And so far, China is much closer to taking her to the dance, than the US.  China has eclipsed the US as Brazil's main trading partner, importing so much iron ore and soybeans from this South American giant, that Brazil's wealthiest businessman has decided to build a super port to accommodate larger cargo ships which can more speedily transport the iron ore from his mines to Chinese steele mills.

Enter, US President Barack Obama.  Two years into his presidency, his charm is not lost here; a nation of 200 million people just as diverse ethnically and racially as the US.  Brazil has the largest number of Japanese outside Japan, and it, like the US, has millions who descend from parts of Africa.  Obama sought to point out all the common areas of interest between the US and Brazil in his public statements with President Dilma Roussef, a former guerilla, economist, presidential chief of staff, and now first Brazilian female leader.  He also spoke directly to about 2200 Brazilians packed into the Teatro Municipal in downtown Rio.

And of course, against the backdrop of escalating military actions in Libya, he also used Brazil's fight for democracy, to underscore US support and kinship with such movements, calling Brazil "a model for freedom."  He underscored the common commitment to education, innovation, infrastructure development and energy security.  (Half the vehicles in Brazil can run on biofuels.)  He made clear the US "supports Brazil's success" and called the two nations "equals."

If the US wants to regain the level of traction that China has in this region, it has a lot of catching up to do.  Roussef, though, represents a chance to start over.  She has voiced concerns over the value of the Chinese currency, the yuan, and the impact of Chinese manufacturing in competition with Brazilian made goods.  Even the Brazilian flag is being made in China, much to the disgust of some Brazilians.  

But Brazilians are skeptical of the US as well.  While soaking up some rays on the beach in Barra, I saw a plane flying a message over the tanning Brazilians, warning that Obama should stay away from the pre-salt oil reserves that were discovered off the coast of Brazil in 2006, estimated to provide some 8 billion barrels of crude oil.  Roussef is also critical of US inflation rates, making the Real an attractive shelter for foreign investors.

So, the dance continues...

With this visit, the US hopes to re-establish a relationship for economic and strategic cooperation between the hemisphere's two largest democracies.  The US knows it can't afford to have these song lyrics ring true:

"The girl from Ipanema goes walking.  And when she passes, I smile - but she doesn't see (doesn't see.)"


Reader Comments (3)

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