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BRAZIL: From Development Aid Recipient to Donor

Fabiana Frayssinet

RIO DE JANEIRO, Apr 15 2011 (IPS) - Although Brazil’s international development funds are still small compared to those of the industrialised world, the South American giant’s foreign aid has grown considerably in the last eight years, and the country has gone from beneficiary of development assistance to donor.

Figures from the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation (ABC) of the Ministry of Foreign Relations show the rise in this country’s international development aid, 53 percent of which has gone to countries in Africa and the rest to other Latin American nations.

Official development cooperation funds doubled between 2007 and 2008 and tripled from 2009 to 2010, when they totalled 50 million dollars. “That’s not much compared to what countries of the (industrialised) North provide,” ABC director Marco Farani acknowledged in an interview with IPS.

“But it is very important,” because, unlike rich countries, whose development aid is typically managed by consultants and non-governmental organisations hired for the purpose, Brazil’s aid is “personalised,” he added.

He was referring to the adaptation in other countries of public strategies and programmes that have already been successful in Brazil, by technicians and experts in areas like agriculture, health, governance and education who are sent to beneficiary countries to work in development cooperation.

In his eight years in government, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) put a priority on strengthening solidarity-based South-South cooperation, a policy that has been continued since Jan. 1 by his successor Dilma Rousseff, who also belongs to the left-wing Workers Party (PT).

Farani explained that Lula saw “technical cooperation as an instrument of foreign policy,” and that the shift to donor country was favoured by steady economic growth in Brazil, which is now the world’s seventh largest economy.

Against that backdrop, the World Food Programme (WFP) decided to open an office in Brazil, a task that Gemmo Lodesani, interim director of the United Nations food agency, has been sent to Brazil to carry out.

The office, whose aim is to become a centre of excellence for school feeding and nutrition and food security, will be financed in the first two years by a fund set up by Brazil’s Education Ministry, and according to Lodesani “is emblematic” of this country’s new international cooperation policy.

The strategy is to build on the successful experiences of the WFP, which has school meal programmes in 50 countries, and of Brazil, which provides meals to 47 million schoolchildren, in order to expand them to other countries.

Lodesani told IPS that the “moral authority” Brazil has gained is “fundamental.” He cited this country’s positive results in linking public policies on school meals, incentives for family agriculture and food security, on top of “a very solid legal base.”

Brazil’s international cooperation status “has drastically changed,” said the head of the WFP. To illustrate, he pointed out that Brazil provided support for the WFP for the first time in 2008, when it donated one million dollars, and that the assistance totalled nearly 16 million dollars in 2009 and 13 million in 2010. This year, Brazil plans to contribute 27 million dollars.

“Not long ago, Brazil was receiving aid, but in the last few years it has become a country that gives assistance,” said Lodesani. That “visible foreign policy” is essential for a country seeking to play a leadership role in the world, he added.

Farani recognised that there is political interest in gaining “national prestige and standing,” but said it is not linked to an interest in “political meddling.”

Brazil’s assistance is provided without strings attached, through policies and programmes designed in conjunction with the governments of the recipient nations, he said.

“We ‘ignore’ political questions and work at a technical level to help strengthen states, not governments” so that they can achieve autonomy, the official said.

Marcos Azambuja, the vice president of the private Brazilian Centre for International Relations (CEBRI), said there are other motives behind “the interest in helping,” such as the “intangible feeling of doing good towards people who are suffering.”

Azambuja said cooperation is based on “an awareness reached by intermediate countries like Brazil that it is their duty to help overcome extreme inequalities.”

But he also said that offering foreign development aid “brings international influence and prestige,” because “it is an instrument of seduction and persuasion,” and beneficiary countries tend to “imitate the country that has given the aid.”

And the recipient of aid or technology later favours purchases from the donor country, he summed up.

But Farani categorically denied that the assistance offered by the ABC is based on economic or commercial interests, stressing that it has no links to the private sector, but only to government technical agencies.

Azambuja clarified that his comment referred in particular to another kind of aid, such as foreign credit granted by the state-run National Development Bank (BNDES).

Rubens Barbosa of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (FIESP) said loans to developing countries by the BNDES and by the state-run Bank of Brazil totalled over 3.5 billion dollars between 2008 and the first quarter of 2010.

However, a BNDES spokesperson told IPS that the bank does not provide loans to companies or governments of other countries, and that the credits go to Brazilian companies that export or invest abroad, or that want to establish partnerships or links with private businesses from other countries.

Barbosa also mentioned, for example, the increase in Brazil’s contribution to the Andean Development Corporation (CAF), a multilateral development bank, to 200 million dollars, and the 470 million dollar contribution to the Structural Convergence Fund of the Mercosur (Southern Common Market) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay.

In an article published in October by the daily newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo, Barbosa said that although the official justification of international aid is to strengthen solidarity, there are other reasons as well. He mentioned Lula’s “drive for prestige” and Brazil’s aspiration to a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

He also pointed to commercial interests in gaining access to markets, “especially China,” for Brazilian companies.

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