Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze's visit here this week could mark the beginning of closer ties between Brazil and the Soviet Union. Mr. Shevardnadze ended a five-day visit to R'io de Janeiro and Bras'ilia yesterday, and flew on to Argentina. Here he met with President Jos'e Sarney, Foreign Minister Roberto de Abreu Sodre, Foreign Ministry officials, and congressional leaders.
In yesterday's 39-point communiqu'e, the two countries agreed to strengthen ties in both the political and economic spheres. The statement called for ``an increase in political dialogue and cooperation.''
Although Shevardnadze discussed world disarmament and his views on South African apartheid with Brazilian officials, the core result of the visit was the signing of a long-term agreement on economic, industrial, scientific, and technological cooperation.
The foreign minister's visit served as a chance for some Brazilian politicians to hold up the example of the new Soviet economic liberalization, as others debate possible constitutional restrictions on foreign investment. At the same time Shevardnadze compared Brazil's democratization to the Soviet Unions's glasnost (openness) in discussions with Brazilian congressmen.
This visit, the first by a Soviet foreign minister to Brazil, reciprocated the 1985 Moscow visit of then-foreign minister Olavo Setubal. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Sarney may follow with state visits next year.
It would take little to upgrade the two countries' relationship, which centers on commerce. Last year, bilateral trade came to only $310 million. Complaining that Brazil exports to the Soviet Union more than it imports, the Soviets had threatened to reduce their Brazilian imports - mostly cocoa, sugar, and instant coffee.
After decades of mutual indifference, it's difficult for most Brazilians to get excited about stepping up the interchange. Mr. Shevardnadze's visit paled beside a number of local strikes, the foreign debt renegotiations in Washington, and the final drafting of Brazil's new constitution.
There are some plans to increase bilateral trade. But there is little besides petroleum that Brazil wants from the Soviet Union. The Soviets view barter and joint ventures as important mechanisms to expand trade between the two nations.
A Brazilian-Soviet joint fruit-juice venture is one of the more creative schemes the two countries have discussed. Brazilian orange juice producers, together with the Brazilian susidiary of US-owned Cargill and the Swedish packaging company, Tetrapak, would set up and run an apple processing plant in the agricultural region south of Moscow. With the foreign exchange earned from the apple juice exports, the Soviets would buy Brazilian orange juice.
The volume involved - 2,000 tons of orange juice a year - is a drop in the bucket for Brazil, which exports 800,000 tons each year. But the Soviets apparently hope that the juice habit will catch on, helping to lessen their national alcohol-consumption problem. If this happens, said Carlos Viacava, international affairs adviser for the Brazilian Citric Juice Industry Association, the Soviet market could become important.
The Soviets also plan to lend $60 million for a plant to produce manganese steel alloy in Brazil's giant mining project in the Amazon region, receiving in return the chance to buy a large percentage of the output.
Shevardnadze and Mr. Abreu sodre also signed a cultural accord. Brazil's giant television network, TV Globo, recently concluded a deal to exchange programming with the Soviet Union. As a result, the Soviets are watching Brazilian top-grade soap operas, while Brazilians view the Bolshoi Ballet, the Moscow circus, and a Russian version of Mary Poppins.