WASHINGTON — EAGER to shed its old image as one of the world's biggest debtors led by a corrupt regime, Brazil is promoting itself as a vibrant country undergoing rapid democratization and economic reforms.
Chief among its goals is improved relations with the United States, according to Brazil's Minister of External Relations Celso Amorim. During his first Washington visit as foreign minister, he spoke about Brazil's role as the hemisphere's second-largest nation. its trade position, and its emergence as a nonnuclear power.
Mr. Amorim, who met this month with National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, United States Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, showed frustration that Brazil's greatest achievement - ``the consolidation of democracy'' - has been largely ignored by Washington.
``We have come through a process of change at no cost to the US taxpayer,'' he says. While Brazil has made strides toward the good governance long supported by US administrations, he claims: ``We have been penalized by our virtue. Since we were not communist before, or drug exporters, we get no attention for our progress in democracy.''
Testimony to Brazil's success, he says, are corruption charges filed against former President Fernando Collor. Amorim proudly calls Collor's removal from office ``the first impeachment process that went to the end, ever.'' The Brazilian supreme court's decision to ``deny Collor's political rights and prevent him from running for office for another eight years'' is a reflection of ``our political morality and political culture,'' Amorim declares. ``It was a test of our institutions - everything that happens in Brazil is happening within a transparent framework.''
Ranked among the world's biggest economies, Brazil is well-poised to figure prominently in trade pacts. ``Because of our participation in the [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade] Uruguay Round, all of our foreign trade is bound by the GATT,'' Amorim says, adding that his nation's commercial deals are well-distributed. Twenty-five percent of Brazil's trade is with Europe; 25 percent, Latin America; 20 percent, its largest trading partner, the US; and 17 percent, Asia-Pacific countries.
``US exports to Brazil grew significantly'' in recent years, the minister says, largely due to trade liberalization initiated by Brazil. He hails the ``twin movements of globalization - GATT - and regionalization - the North American Free Trade Agreement'' and underscores the importance of Mercosul, a grouping of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay in a subregional trade pact that represents 13 percent of Brazil's trade. ``We are prepared at any moment to join NAFTA'' as a Mercosul bloc, he says.
NAFTA raises serious concerns in Brasilia, however. Amorim says Brazilian trade negotiators are concerned that Mexican products like textiles and agricultural goods will become fierce competition for Brazil. Also troubling, he says, is that the ``foreign investment in Mexican production that is headed for Latin America'' could put Brazilian products at a disadvantage.
Brazil ``has no territorial dispute with any of our  neighbors,'' Amorim says. And while his country's nonproliferation policy ``may have been ambiguous'' in the past, ``in recent years, Brazil has undertaken agreements in nuclear and chemical weapons, and export controls.'' A signatory to a regional chemical-weapons convention, Brazil is ``giving assurances to the international community that our intentions are peaceful,'' the minister says. ``We are one of the few countries that [has written] into its constitution that we cannot have any nuclear weapons.''