[Viewpoint]Connecting with Brazil

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[Viewpoint]Connecting with Brazil

December means the beginning of high summer in Rio de Janeiro. Yesterday, the midday temperature hit 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit). Brazilians proudly call Copacabana the most beautiful beach in the world, and it is covered with rows of beach umbrellas these days.
The 38 meter-high statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Hill seems to be wishing good luck to countless tourists visiting the beaches of Rio.
Rio de Janeiro is a city with two faces. The wealthy towns along the beach are lined with luxury hotels and grand mansions, but behind them is a completely different world. The mountains and hills are covered with matchbox-like houses. They are the shanty towns known as favelas. According to law enforcement authorities, there are about 750 favelas of various sizes in Rio alone, and some 300 of them are involved in the narcotics trade. These favelas are often under the rule of crime syndicates, and gangsters and police often clash in shootouts. This year, an average of 3.5 people per day have been shot and killed in this “war against crime.” The police cannot handle the war by themselves, so the Brazilian government sent over 1,000 federal military troops. It is no less than a civil war. Citizens are often threatened by criminals asking for money. A visitor to Rio is often warned, “Don’t walk around alone, and if you run into a robber, give away all you have.” The robbers who point guns and snatch wallets are mostly teenagers. In many cases, they are under the influence of drugs when they commit the crimes.
This condition grew out of the gap between the rich and the poor. Brazil has the biggest gap between the haves and the have-nots of any country in Latin America. Thirty million people, about 17 percent of Brazil’s population of 180 million, are suffering extreme poverty. The top 10 percent of Brazilians, or 18 million, are among the highest income earners in the world, frequently enjoying luxury trips abroad and using the most expensive products all the time. The evil triangle of poverty, crime and corruption can never be broken.
Nevertheless, the Brazilian economy is enjoying a rare boom these days. Its gross domestic product last year was $1,067.3 billion, marking over $1 trillion for the first time. Brazil’s economy has become bigger than Korea’s and Russia’s and is now the 10th-largest in the world. Per-capita national income has doubled in four years to $5,700. From the beginning of the year to the end of September, Brazil attracted $31.3 billion in foreign investment. With the discovery of enormous seabed oil fields, the country now boasts the 13th-largest petroleum reserves and is working to join the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. The Brazilian government hopes that as the benefits of economic growth spread down to the lower classes, the problems arising from the gap between rich and poor will gradually be resolved.
Brazil takes up 47 percent of the entire South American continent and is 37 times bigger than Korea. The vast territory and abundant natural resources are the key sources of Brazil’s potential. As China and India have become black holes for raw materials, Brazil is becoming evermore valuable.
For two days beginning Dec. 10, the third Korea-Brazil Forum was held in Rio. Government representatives and civilians exchanged views about how to improve substantial cooperation between the two countries. Brazil showed interest in exporting ethanol, a biofuel alternative, working with Korea to make economic and political inroads in other countries and in receiving the latest technology. Korea is especially interested in building a high-speed railway between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo.
Trade between Brazil and Korea is already at $6 billion per year. Samsung, LG and Posco are directly involved in production by investing in the country, and over 40 Korean companies are operating as intermediary agencies. They employ more than 10,000 people. Some 50,000 Korean immigrants live in Brazil.
Brazil is somewhat displeased about China because it is not interested in creating jobs or transferring technology but only in securing resources. Because Korea is aggressive about hiring local people and transferring technology, Brazil is far more favorably inclined to it. Next April, a Korean airline will resume direct service to Brazil. The year 2009 is the 50th anniversary of friendly ties between Korea and Brazil. It is time to rethink Brazil from a long-term perspective and seek a win-win strategy that benefits both sides.

*The writer is an editorial writer and traveling correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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