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Brazilian Leaders Push for Greater Power in Global Affairs

A debate is under way in Brazil over the direction of the country's foreign policy. Brazil is seeking out political and trade relationships with developing nations, especially China, not among its traditional allies. Meanwhile, government critics claim the country is weakening its position with long-time friends such as the U.S. and Europe. Steve Mort reports for VOA from Brazil.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and it is known for its sizzling beaches, the sounds of its samba, and the flavor of its coffee. Brazil has experienced a boom in its export industry in recent years, and at the same time it is showing increasing confidence beyond its own shores.

In the country's capital, Brasilia, national leaders say they are working for a new world order, where power is divided more evenly.

"We want a world order that is more democratic, more balanced, in which the asymmetries are progressively done away with," Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said. He adds, the government in Brasilia has made stability in Latin America, and solidarity with other developing nations, a priority.

Brazil mediated a standoff, earlier this year, between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela and is working with Venezuela on regional energy independence. It leads the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

Leading the G-20 group adds to achievements

This year, the country is chairing the G-20 group of industrialized and emerging-market countries.

Five years ago, Brazil joined India and South Africa in pushing to expand the U.N. Security Council.

This vast nation of nearly 200 million people now is seeking a permanent seat on the Security Council. Minister Amorim says the Council's current five permanent members should share power.

"It's not a question of an aspiration of Brazil. It's a question of the legitimacy of the decisions of the Security Council," Amorim said.

But opposition leaders criticize the government's talk of solidarity with developing nations.

Rodrigo Maia heads the center-right Democratas Party.

"I think Brazil should emphasize first its development and then worry about solidarity with other countries," Maia said. "We can help the others after we become a leading country internationally ourselves."

With a stable economy and steady export growth since 2003, Brazil has clashed with powerful allies on trade.

Clash on trade issues

As the world's largest exporter of soybeans, coffee, orange juice, beef, poultry and sugar, Brazil has criticized U.S. and European Union agricultural subsidies.

Brazil now lists China as one of its largest export markets, with trade between the two countries increasing tenfold from 2000 to 2007.

"Brazil has turned from, let's say, a country with tremendous foreign debt to one that has the largest surplus in its recent history. And that really is due to Chinese demand," noted Charles Tang, who heads the Brazil-China Chamber of Commerce.

Despite growing Chinese demand, official figures show Brazil recorded its first ever trade deficit with the Asian country in 2007.

Opposition leader, Rodrigo Maia, argues Brazil is neglecting more lucrative traditional relationships.

"Brazil has not been emphasizing its relations with the U.S. and Europe," Maia said. "It has not been focusing on countries that are going to generate commercial relationships so that Brazil can grow and develop."

People here often joke that Brazil is the country of the future and always will be. But with prosperity no longer just an aspiration for a growing number of people in Brazil, the talk in the country's corridors of power is about how best to translate economic muscle into geopolitical strength.