x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Brazil's growth and growing role abroad

Thirty-six nations from Angola to China carefully observed Brazil's presidential election on Sunday.

Thirty-six nations from Angola to China carefully observed Brazil's presidential election on Sunday, and not simply because they are interested in the country's electronic voting system.

Brazil is a rising power that deserves attention. From the well-heeled neighbourhoods of Sao Paulo to the rural outback of Regiao Nordeste, the country's economy is experiencing unprecedented growth - 8 per cent this year - and has been little bothered by the global financial crisis. Its 2,000-kilometre long transoceanic highway - but one example of its plans for the future - will shuttle goods from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic when it is finished in 2012, extending the reach of the country's export capability from Peru to China. Such steady growth has allowed Luiz Ignacio "Lula" da Silva, the country's charismatic, outgoing president, to ride a wave of popularity during his past eight years in office. Brazil's boom is also one that he has helped to create. A former factory worker who rose through the ranks of the political elite, he leaves Brazil in a position to set the Latin American agenda for years to come.

But, as the adage warns, with great power comes great responsibility. Brazil's economic success has lately allowed it to flex its foreign policy muscle on matters such as energy policy. Militarily, it has raised its profile by signing defence agreements with the US this past April - the first between the two most populous nations in the western hemisphere - and Brazil is expected to sign a deal with the UAE in the coming months.

However, Mr Lula has also raised the country's diplomatic profile - and not a few eyebrows - by his support for Iran's nuclear programme. His foreign minister, mindful of the US's meddling in the early stages of Brazil's own abandoned nuclear efforts, attempted to broker an uranium fuel-swap deal this past May. If the P5+1 talks recommence this month with some measure of success, Brazil may have another feather to put in its cap from having played a part in engaging Iran. Brazil is younger than most of the countries with which it now shares the international stage. That it is less burdened by historical grudges can be a blessing, and not only for Brazil.

But such high stakes call for delicacy. Brazil will have to navigate a complex set of relationships if it is to responsibly take up its role as a rising power. Domestically, it will also have to contain the rampant spending of its government. Poverty remains endemic in the country and drug cartels and gang violence pose considerable threats to Brazil's security. These issues will be front and centre when Brazil hosts the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics.

While Brazil's football team will play a friendly against Iran in Abu Dhabi on Thursday, it is far to soon to say where Mr Lula's successor will direct this particular friendship, and the country's larger diplomatic effort, in the years to come.