Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

BRAZIL: Ambitious Development Plan to Cut Inequality

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Mar 8 2010 (IPS) - Brazil will be “radically less unequal” and less vulnerable to shocks from the outside when it celebrates 200 years of independence from Portugal, if the Strategic Affairs Secretariat’s (SAE) plans for the next 12 years are put into practice, according to a high-ranking official.

The Plan for 2022 (Plan 2022) should be ready in a few months’ time, “ahead of the World Football Cup” to be played in South Africa in June and July, Minister Samuel Pinheiro Guimarães, head of the SAE, a department of the presidency in charge of long term development planning, told foreign correspondents Friday.

The programme will have “viable and ambitious goals,” which will be debated with society in a wide consultation process including all sectors, said Guimarães, without giving precise details about the number of people to be involved or any specific sectoral inclusion plans for the process.

The broad aims include “integration of the (national) productive system” to increase efficiency, and a political regime that is “more democratic and participative,” as well as greater equality and security from outside threats, said the minister, who served as deputy foreign minister between 2003 and 2009.

Over the last few years, this South American country of 192 million people has significantly reduced its enormous economic, gender, ethnic, regional and urban inequalities, primarily through cash transfer programmes like Bolsa Familia, which provides a monthly stipend that benefits 55 million poor people, the minister emphasised.

But much remains to be done, he admitted.

No doubt such social programmes, currently aimed at people with the lowest incomes, will be expanded. Measures of relative poverty, which may vary in different areas of the country, can be used to extend the subsidies to more families, he said.

“Eliminating vulnerabilities” was the issue that Guimarães discussed in the greatest depth.

On the economic front, Brazil’s achievements were confirmed by how fast it overcame the effects of the global financial crisis, “which are ongoing in many developed countries,” he said.

Brazil’s economic performance was boosted by over 200 billion dollars in hard currency reserves accumulated in the past few years, and the diversification of its export products and markets. It was also strengthened by an expanding domestic market which grew as a result of social policies as well as new forms of credit.

Brazil’s export trade represents only 14 percent of GDP, “a small proportion, thank God,” because this meant that the 2008 recession in foreign markets had a limited impact on the country, Guimarães said with evident satisfaction.

Plan 2022 also pays attention to risks from abroad in the political, military and technological spheres. To neutralise political vulnerability, Brazil aspires to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council – essential for “global governance” – and a stronger position in other international bodies as well, Guimarães said.

Brazil’s armed forces “are not commensurate with the size of its territory,” he added. The military budget is too low, and is proportionally less than the defence budgets of neighbouring Latin American countries, said the minister, who advocates expansion of military forces and the “recovery of the defence industry.”

No country can have sovereignty without credible defence, he said.

As for technology, Brazil is also backward in some areas, since it “does not generate patents” in proportion to the size of its economy, he stated.

Another perceived gap in Brazil’s production system, one of the top 10 worldwide, is the lack of “integration,” he said, which requires improved transport infrastructure, more railroads and better ports and airports.

The country needs to produce more fertilisers, most of which are imported at present. And the pharmaceutical industry is in much the same position, he said.

Guimarães recognised that there is no guarantee that Plan 2022 will be implemented by future governments, for instance if the opposition wins this year’s October presidential elections. But reducing inequality and vulnerability and improving productivity are goals that any administration will adopt, in his view.

Brazil is extremely well-placed in terms of enhancing its development and security, because it is one of the three countries that are among the world’s top 10 for size, population and GDP simultaneously, the minister said. The other two are China and the United States.

Furthermore, Brazil possesses unparalleled natural resources, and could produce even more minerals in future, as only one-quarter of its territory has been rigorously studied by geologists, he added.

Added to that is its human potential, still to be developed through education and social programmes.

Asked whether Brazil is vulnerable because it does not have nuclear weapons, Guimarães answered that such weapons are “very unlikely to ever be used” anyway.

Brazil’s constitution restricts its use of nuclear energy to peaceful purposes only, but it has “the know-how and technology” to produce nuclear fuel. It also has the sixth largest uranium reserves in the world, and is building a nuclear-powered submarine.

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