Hitching a ride on Brazil’s coattails
Massachusetts would do well to strengthen its ties with the young superpower
PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF of Brazil opened the General Assembly at the United Nations last week, becoming the first woman in its 66-year history to do so. She marks the rise of women leaders, but also of Brazil, the forgotten young superpower to our south. Brazil is no longer an afterthought, no longer the perpetual country of tomorrow. Clamoring for a permanent seat at the Security Council to reflect the new world order, Rousseff wants to play with the big boys.
She will certainly find a receptive audience in Massachusetts, where ties to Brazil grow greater every year. As Brazil asserts itself globally, Massachusetts is well positioned to benefit locally.
Brazil today can be summed up by the number five: it is the fifth-most populous country in the world, the fifth-largest land mass, and soon to be the fifth-largest economy. Forget geopolitics and Brazil’s somewhat puzzling failure to support the Libyan airstrikes. Its all about the money, and Massachusetts is no wilting flower in this regard.
Last year, the state exported close to $400 million worth of goods to Brazil, a 27 percent increase over 2009. This is more than Massachusetts sends to Israel, Spain, or India. Not to be outdone, 2011 promises to be historic as exports to Brazil are already up 31 percent.
For many in this state, Brazil is just a country whose citizens are well represented here. That is undeniably true; nearly 350,000 of 1.4 million Brazilians living in the United States are in Massachusetts.
Indeed, during every election season in Brazil, the country sets up a voting facility in Framingham for its citizens.
Admittedly, Brazilians and Boston Brahmins can make for an odd couple. The state’s New England reserve and unbearable winters seem inconsistent with the more vivacious attitude of a nation that mocks us with photos of a liberated Gisele Bundchen dancing at the Rio Carnival, in March no less. They couldn’t possibly be having that much fun, and economic success, simultaneously?
Yet Brazil’s economic boom has lifted nearly 30 million people out of poverty. It is the major power in its region - Venezuela pales in comparison - and is at the forefront of global issues as far ranging as climate change and energy efficiency. It has to be; Brazil not only has the Amazon, but when it discovered massive oil deposits in 2006, it soon became one of the world’s leading energy producers. And it holds $160 billion in US bonds.
Brazil’s desire to aggressively engage as a global player is evidenced not only by its effort to join the UN Security Council but its assistance in the European Union’s financial crisis. It needs to expand globally, and it is looking for receptive places.
Massachusetts ought to be crudely blunt about attracting more Brazilian business. One can imagine the pitch: Come to a state that’s famously warm to migrants and newcomers, even if they freeze in the winter.
While this state’s acceptance of foreigners reflects its curious and broad-minded spirit, it also helps Massachusetts businesses and universities compete with the other 49 states to lure overseas companies, money, and tuition into our bank accounts. That so many Brazilians already live here - only Florida has a larger Brazilian population - is an obvious lure. That so many Brazilians already succeed here - we have the highest rate of labor participation and Brazilian-owned businesses in the United States - bodes well for future engagement.
It is understandable why Brazil continues to focus on an international strategy that stresses its emerging clout in institutions like the UN. That will be a long upward climb.
In the meantime, Brazilian companies and business figures will continue to court, and be courted, by localities throughout the world that see dollar signs. This state can continue to benefit from Brazil’s growing largesse as our history, population, and politics all confirm to Brazil that “we want you.’’ And in the cold of March, we actually want to be you.