Brazilian general consul talks economy

By Ardee Napolitano

Brazil has come an incredibly long way in terms of economic growth and political stability, said Fernando de Mello Barreto, the consul general of Brazil in Boston, in a talk yesterday titled “Brazil Today” at the University of Massachusetts.

Courtesy umass.edu

Barreto, who was previously Brazil’s ambassador to Australia, said that not more than 25 years ago, the country got hammered with problems such as inflation, censorship and human rights violations. But ever since  its democratization in 1985, he said, the economy has gone nowhere but up.

“The most important thing is that we got rid of the military regime,” Barreto said, referring to the authoritarian government that ruled the country for almost 21 years before the 1985 democratization.

And throughout the last decades, Brazil has become one of the most economically stable countries in the world, according to Baretto. One of the most remarkable economic achievements of the country, he said, was that it established a stable economy while other countries struggled to survive.

Brazil has also received growing interest from foreign investors, Barreto said. As a result, its international reserves, he noted, have gone up dramatically since 2003. This increase in foreign trade has helped to lessen the impact of the recession in 2008, he said.

“[It was] a way to keep us afloat in the international crisis,” Barreto said.

Almost            23 percent of Brazil’s foreign markets involve European countries, according to Barreto, and 26 percent involve countries in Latin America. Also, foreign trade with Asian countries has been increasing, while trade with the United States has become “less important” because of economic crises in the country, he said.

Furthermore, the apparent growth can be seen in domestic terms, he said. The poverty rate in the country fell from 36 percent in the early 1990s to 15 percent in 2010, according to statistics Barreto provided in his talk. The number of middle class families rose from 43 to 52 percent, according to his statistics, and the country’s gross domestic product increased 7.5 percent in 2010. Also, Barreto said that the unemployment rate in the country “keeps going down.”

The number of children who have stayed in school also increased from 15 percent in 1995 to 3 percent in 2005, according to the statistics that Barreto provided during the talk. Social programs, such as Bolsa Familia – a program that provides financial aid to Brazilian families with children going to school – helped to achieve this improvement, he said.

Currently, however, the country needs to focus on improving “the quality, not the quantity” of education in the country, Barreto said.

Brazil, according to Barreto, has also taken major steps to protect the environment. Most notably, he said, the country has endorsed ethanol as a substitute to gasoline for fuel in motor vehicles. At present, 93 percent of Brazilian vehicles use ethanol in place of gasoline, he said.

“We would like this to be replicated in other countries,” Barreto said.

Brazil aims to be the world’s largest producer of biomass in the following years, he added.

But, deforestation in the Amazon continues to be one of the country’s biggest problems, Barreto noted. This problem, he said, has subdued, due to the government’s use of satellite images to monitor the world’s largest rainforest.

Still, Barreto said that the current instability of European economy might impact Brazil’s seemingly presently stable economy. But looking at the country’s current condition, he said he still expects a 3 to 4 percent economic growth that would eventually make Brazil the world’s fifth largest economy by 2020.

And although he presents an optimistic view of Brazil’s future, Barreto said that the government must not become too complacent.

“Things are going quickly, but there is still a lot to do,” Barreto said.

Ardee Napolitano can be reached at [email protected]