Brazil-Korea partnership only getting stronger

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Brazil-Korea partnership only getting stronger


Edmundo Fujita, Brazilian Ambassador to Seoul, talks of the Korea-Brazil partnership during an interview on Tuesday at the Brazilian Embassy in Palpan-dong, Jongno District, Seoul. By Lee Chan-weon

Brazil’s efforts to strengthen its partnership with Korea will continue under its new leadership, according to the top Brazilian emissary in Korea.

Edmundo Fujita, Brazilian Ambassador to Seoul, hopes more economic exchanges between Brazil and Korea will be in the future in part because of a newly signed multilateral trade pact involving the two countries.

A stronger pact that can bind Korea and Brazil further ? a Free Trade Agreement between Korea and the prominent Latin American block Mercusor ? will be also closely studied, he said.

The ambassador also said Korea is assessed to be leading the pack in a bid to win a lucrative high-speed train project in Brazil, indicating more room can be found for what he called “complementary and synergistic” ties between the two economies from opposite ends of the globe.

The Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed Fujita last Tuesday, the first interview with him since Dilma Rousseff was sworn as the new Brazilian President.

Rousseff came into office at the beginning of the year after Brazil enjoyed unprecedented economic prosperity under her charismatic predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva. During Lula’s two terms between 2003 and 2010, the largest South American country enjoyed nearly 5 percent annual economic growth, lifting the country to become the world’s seventh largest economy. The performance of Lula is a blessing, but a hard act to follow for Rousseff.

Fujita said Rousseff “follows the same line of interest as President Lula” and wants to carry on high growth. “I think in a sense she will continue his policies: pro-business, pro-population, (with) a lot of impulse to business,” he said.

Fujita said Rousseff is passionate about a strong partnership with Korea based on her considerable understanding of the country. She visited as energy minister, again as chief of staff for Lula and then president-elect during the G-20 Seoul Summit in November.

“We are sure under President Dilma the same kind of dynamism [between the two countries] will continue,” Fujita said.

Since forming diplomatic ties in 1959, Korea and Brazil have increased bilateral trade to $10 billion. As of 2009, Brazil was the 16th largest export market and 7th largest import market for Korea, and Korea was the ninth biggest trade partner for Brazil.

Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Lula agreed last year to double bilateral trade to $20 billion within five years. Korea’s Prime Minister Kim Hwang-sik recommitted the goal when he attended the inauguration of Rousseff earlier this month.

Momentum is already building. Korea, Mercusor (a four-member South American economic bloc including Brazil) and six other countries signed a multilateral preferential trade pact last month in Brazil. The pact, called the Global System of Trade Preferences among Developing Countries, or GSTP, had been negotiated for as long as 22 years.

Covering a market with a 2 billion population and $5 trillion GDP, the GSTP is the second biggest non-FTA trade pact Korea has signed after the World Trade Organization agreement.

The GSTP, if ratified, will cut 20 percent in tariffs on 6,983 items, and Korea forecasts it to increase its Gross Domestic Product by 0.03 percent. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it expects the pact to be ratified this year.

Fujita said the signing of the GSTP, although being overshadowed by the signing of the Korea-U.S. FTA and the Korea-EU FTA last year, is a meaningful milestone in the Korea-Brazil partnership.

Seoul considers the GSTP a middle point to reach an FTA with Mercusor, which also includes Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

The official feasibility study is yet to be launched, but Korea and Mercusor have studied a bilateral FTA, adopted the report of a joint study in 2007 and signed an MOU to create a joint consultative group to discuss follow-up measures in 2009.

According to local diplomatic observers, Brazil is somewhat passive compared with Korea on the issue in fear that its trade deficit with China in manufacturing sectors could be deepened by an FTA with Korea. Brazil’s preference for a multilateral trade system over a bilateral FTA may be a factor, they said.

“We have to see how the Korea-U.S. FTA and the Korea-EU FTA will work,” Fujita said. “And second, we have to see how much the Korean economy will open. We will negotiate only once we are convinced that both sides have advantages.”

But, Fujita added, “If conditions are right, if an FTA (with Korea) and balanced trade signify the same thing,” the Mercusor will look more positively at it.

The FTA may be a long shot, but a decision on the high speed train is coming soon.

Korea is vying with Japan, China and other countries to win the $19.3 billion, 511-kilometer (318-mile) high-speed train project in Brazil. The winner will be decided in April.

“Lots of people (in Brazil) are in favor of the Korean project,” Fujita said, adding some other competitors are trying to readjust their proposals to catch up with Korea’s.

The ambassador said aside from the train project, the development of recently discovered deep-water oil fields off the southeastern Brazilian coast could be another field to create Korea-Brazil synergy, and already some Korean companies are going to Brazil with business proposals.

Fujita said Korea has a unique appeal to his country for its willingness to share its development know-how, something that the BRICs countries, which will convene a summit in April, may not be able to offer.

“Korea is more interested in sharing and participating,” Fujita said. “That’s why Korea seems to be more attractive.”

By Moon Gwang-lip []
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