THE US AND BRAZIL: allies increasingly at odds
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Some businessmen in Brazil have returned the charge of protectionism.Skip to next paragraph
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Brazilian alcohol distillers claim that the more than $400 million subsidy the US pays domestic producers of ethanol represents an unfair trade barrier.
Under pressure, Brazil signed a voluntary-restraint agreement with the US on export of various categories of steel. Roberto Caiuby Vidigal, president of an industrial-machine manufacturers' association, says the agreement favoring US domestic suppliers of rolled steel ``amounts in practice to a market reserve, precisely what the Americans oppose in Brazil.''
``It seems as though there is a predisposition against us,'' says Benedito Pires de Almeida, a trade consultant at the influential Sao Paulo Federation of Industry.
As Brazil has expanded, it has intruded into a more complicated world equation. The third world's leading industrial power and heaviest debtor has emerged on the scene at the time that the West's superpower, backed to the wall by competition from Japan and elsewhere and weighted down with 12-digit deficits, has grown more vulnerable.
``Brazil is a world power that has to be taken into consideration,'' President Reagan told the news magazine Veja in October. ``Many of our problems with Brazil are similar to the ones we have with countries of Europe and with Japan.''
The US ambassador to the UN, Vernon Walters, put it more bluntly. ``I've got some bad news. Brazil is soon going to enter the ranks of the rich nations,'' he told his hosts on a recent trip to Brazil, only half in jest. Brazilians knew not to laugh. Rich-poor nation
The change is, after all, a new and troubling piece in the intricate puzzle of global relations.
Brazil has both the privilege and the misfortune to rank among the nations economists call Newly Industrialized Countries. The World Bank labels them ``middle income'' nations, and others refer to them as ``graduate'' countries. In a sense they are stretched, as though on a rack of development, between first world and third.
They straddle both worlds, yet belong entirely to neither. Their advanced industrial parks and universities make them competitors in a number of arenas of world relations. Yet their vast burden of misery, illiteracy, and debt make them beholden still to aid and foreign markets. They stand tall among the leading nations and yet they are anchored by backwardness and want.
Brazil now tops this list of rich-poor nations. Brazil and the US circle each other, eyeing one another as new-found rivals. The ``special relationship'' has given way to ``managed conflict,'' as the political scientists describe it. The vocabulary, like the planet, has become more complex.
And the stakes are higher, too. Should the two nations reach some point of serious impasse or rupture in their relations, the effects could readily be felt in the world's financial or trading system.
Brazil's weight is likely to be felt more often, as it moves from its traditional aloofness toward a more active global presence.
It is taking more of a leadership role among developing nations, and has begun to strengthen commercial ties with the Soviet Union. General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev is expected to visit this year while on a tour of key Latin American nations.
Now the powers in Washington do not have to be reminded where Brazil is. They have gotten a good fix on the giant neighbor to the south. But now that their geography has improved, it will take a mastery of diplomacy on both sides of the equator to settle the disputes that loom so large on the two nations' agendas.