New to the Washington Scene
By Susan E. Pritchett Post
Ambassador Rubens Antonio Barbosa, a newcomer to Washington's embassy community, is a man with a sharply focused, clear agenda for further improving already close ties between Brazil and the United States.
In October, Ambassador Barbosa launched his 'Visit Brazil' program, a public-private initiative aimed at better promoting tourism and investment in Brazil. Although about 500,000 tourists from the United States visited Brazil last year, second only to the 1 million tourists from Argentina, Ambassador Barbosa believes there is a largely untapped American market. The Ambassador explains the program:
'The idea is to develop a coordinated effort to target tour operators, travel agents, and other travel related companies. Our goal is to make people aware of the diversity of travel destination options beyond Rio, including the coastal areas of the northeast, where there are many new tourist facilities, and it is sunny year round; also the southern farming area; as well as eco-tourism in the Amazon. We also want to focus on our cultural diversity as well as the diversity of our geography. We plan to do this by publishing books and brochures and by holding four meetings over the next year in different parts of the United States: Los Angeles, Houston, New York and Miami.'
Ambassador Barbosa also points out the importance of local tourism.
'There is a large domestic tourism industry with millions of Brazilians traveling each year, exploring the diversity of our own country. For this reason, there is a further need for development of the domestic tourism industry, and so we are particularly interested in attracting foreign capital for the construction of more hotels and resort facilities.'
'Visit Brazil' is, however, only one piece of Ambassador Barbosa's clearly outlined agenda in which he seeks to capitalize on Brazil's importance to the US as a trading partner and to further expand trade opportunities. With a gross domestic product of more than $750 billion, Brazil has the eighth largest economy in the world and is the third largest market for US exports in the Western Hemisphere. Ambassador Barbosa hopes that his campaign will increase US investment and imports of Brazilian goods. Furthermore, Ambassador Barbosa plans to build a 'Brazilian constituency' on Capitol Hill beginning with Congressional representatives from the 10 states that each export goods and services to Brazil with a value in excess of $500 million annually.
Ambassador Barbosa cites the January, 1999, devaluation of the Brazilian currency, the Real, as a positive factor for his program since Brazilian goods and services are now more competitively priced. He is encouraged and optimistic about the recent turnaround in Brazil's economy.
'Originally analysts' forecasts after the devaluation were for negative growth of 4 to 6% and 40 to 60% inflation, but our economy showed greater resilience due to the fundamentals and our government's strong measures. The recovery has been tremendous, with inflation below 10% and the prospect of growth in December already marking the beginning of a turn around. In fact, if the US economy continues at its current pace and there are no dramatic overseas events, we are projecting growth of 3 to 4% in 2000.
This prediction of growth for Brazil's economy is based on Ambassador Barbosa's belief in the fundamental strength of the economy and the impact of tight governmental fiscal controls combined with expected tax reform and social security legislation. Although there is optimism for the future, Brazil's economic recession over the past few years and this year's imposition of tight fiscal controls have had an impact on social and environmental programs.
Ambassador Barbosa spoke particularly of the urban poor and the problem of street children.
'Only economic growth will help the poor rural people who have moved to the cities, the 'swollen cities,' as they are called by the social scientists. The problem of street children is primarily in our large cities and is not as large an overall problem as people outside the country perceive.
There are about 3-4,000 street children in Sao Paolo and about the same number in Rio. A particular concern we have is that since our social welfare system is based on the contributions of working people, the children fall outside of the system. Fortunately, our government has been able to work with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to attack this problem, and 'volunteerism,' a new concept in Brazil, has been introduced as a way to combat the problems of this population.'
In the environmental area, Ambassador Barbosa notes, Brazil has been left to finance the protection of the Amazon with its own limited budgets, despite the pledges of assistance from developed countries at the Rio Conference in 1992 totaling over $250 million. Of those pledges, only $35 million (from Germany) has been received to date. Therefore, although the government is committed to preserving its natural resources, funds are not available for activities such as expanding the number of guards in the Amazon. Despite these limitations, there is an ongoing project to place sensors throughout the forest to detect degradation through fire, deforestation, and illicit activities, including contraband and drug businesses.
None of these problems-economic, social or environmental-has a simple answer, but Ambassador Barbosa believes that developing the economic underpinnings of the country is critical to the success of the other programs. To that end, he has dedicated much of his professional career to promoting trade and economic development of his country, within the region and world wide.
As Undersecretary-General for Regional Integration, Economic Affairs, and Foreign Trade, and Coordinator of the Brazilian Section of Mercosul from 1991 to 1993, he worked closely with the Southern Common Market (Mercosul) and thereby contributed to the vast expansion of intra-regional trade from $4 billion to $20 billion in six years.
The history of Mercosul dates back to 1960, just three years after the creation of the European Economic Community, when the countries of Latin America signed a treaty creating the Latin American Free Trade Association (ALALC), providing for a free-trade zone negotiated by individual member states. Although initial acceptance was good, the implementation and results did not live up to expectations.
Therefore, in 1980, the Latin American Integration Association (ALADI) was created replacing ALALC and establishing an economic preference zone with the ultimate objective of creating a common market. In 1986, under the framework of ALADI, Brazil and Argentina signed 12 commercial protocols, followed in 1988 by a Treaty of Integration, Cooperation, and Development. Its goal was development of a common market between these two countries within 10 years, the gradual elimination of all tariff barriers, and harmonization of macroeconomic policies.
In March, 1991, Ambassador Barbosa negotiated and signed a new treaty that provided for the inclusion of Paraguay and Uruguay, identifying the treaty signers for the first time as the Mercosul, the Southern Common Market. Chile and Bolivia are now included as associate members of the group.
Although Ambassador Barbosa has been in Washington only since June of this year, he has been quick to put his economic experience and his commitment to trade issues to work. Clearly, he brings to his Ambassadorship in Washington a highly focused and well-constructed plan-one that he hopes will be both mutually beneficial and have broad and positive implications for the issues facing Brazil today.