Sat, May 17, 2008 - Page 9 News List

The country of the future finally arrives on scene


Sitting in his air-conditioned office in Guaranta do Norte, a remote agricultural town on the edge of the Amazon rainforest, local mayor Jose Humberto Macedo looked a contented man.

Thanks largely to the global boom in commodities, this soya-growing region has been transformed into the vanguard of Brazil’s march on to the world stage.

“This is going to be the new Brazil,” Macedo beamed, explaining how ballooning commodity prices had made his region, Mato Grosso state, into a powerhouse of the Brazilian economy.

Across the country, similar optimism can now be heard among businessmen and politicians, all convinced that South America’s sleeping giant is finally waking up. Brazil has long been known as the pais do futuro (country of the future). But a series of economic and political crises and 21 years of military rule somehow meant the future never quite arrived.

Now things seem to be changing. Brazil’s currency recently hit a nine-year-high against the dollar, inflation is under control and millions of Brazilians are being propelled towards a new middle class. Last week, meanwhile, Brazil was awarded “investment grade” status by the financial rating agency Standard & Poor’s, sending the country’s stocks soaring to an all-time high.

Following the announcement, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said: “If we translate this into a language that the Brazilian people understand, it means that Brazil was declared a serious country, that has serious policies, that takes care of its finances with seriousness and because of this we deserve international confidence.”

From oranges and iron ore to biofuels, Brazilian exports are booming, creating a new generation of tycoons. Brazil’s millionaire club grew from 130,000 in 2006 to 190,000 last year — one of the fastest rates in the world, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.

“We are the biggest exporters of meat, coffee, sugar, fruit juices and the second biggest of grains,” Brazilian Agriculture Minister Reinhold Stephanes boasted at a conference in Brasilia last month.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s stockmarket, known as the Bovespa, was one of the best performing in the world last year.

Despite the world economic crisis, the Brazilian government recently raised the projected growth rate this year to 5 percent — impressive for a developing country.

“The future has already arrived,” said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. “Foreign investments coming into Brazil are very strong; inflation is more or less under control; Brazil now has more international reserves than foreign debt, and the commodities are booming.”

Not to mention the oil. A series of huge offshore discoveries by the state-owned energy company Petrobras has led many to dub the president “Sheikh Lula” and claim that Brazil may soon become a major oil producer.

Last month, when Haroldo Lima, head of Brazil’s national petroleum agency, made headlines after claiming that another huge oilfield had been found off Rio’s coast, the news appeared to confirm what many Brazilians have long claimed: God is Brazilian.

Lia Valls, an economist at Rio’s Getulio Vargas Foundation, said: “We are now living a singular economic situation we have never experienced before. The international situation is very favorable to Brazil.”

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