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Observers Expect No Radical Changes to Brazil's Foreign Policy

Leftist President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is planning to redirect his country's foreign policy to put more emphasis on regional relations especially strengthening the southern cone trade area known as Mercosur. Advisors to the president-elect say Brazil will also reach out to foster ties with major powers in Asia, including China.

Mr. da Silva, a former union leader and metalworker, will be Brazil's first leftist politician to assume the presidency in almost 40 years when he is inaugurated in January.

However, Brazilian foreign policy is not expected to change radically from the direction it has taken for the past eight years under the two-term, center-right government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Former foreign minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia, who held the post for five of those years, says he expects the major tenets of Brazilian foreign policy will continue.

"I think Brazilian foreign policy has had continuity for many, many decades and it stems from the fundamental interests of Brazil," Mr. Lampreia said. "Among them is having the best possible relations with our neighbors in our region, and also the establishment of a balanced, respectful and positive relationship with the United States."

However, in some aspects, a da Silva government will shift emphasis. President-elect da Silva has said reviving and strengthening the four-nation South American trade bloc, Mercosur, will be a top priority.

Launched in 1991, intra-regional trade between the four Mercorsur nations: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, grew to more than $20 billion a year. But these trade levels declined over the past two years because of serious economic problems in the member countries, especially Argentina. Now the trade bloc, in which Chile and Bolivia are associate members, is struggling to maintain its viability.

One of Mr. da Silva's foreign policy advisors, Marco Aurelio Garcia, says the new government would like to breathe new life into Mercosur.

"The first initiative will be to strengthen Mercosur, and to establish a solid alliance with Argentina," he explained. "We want to launch a series of initiatives that will widen and deepen Mercosul, so that it is not just a customs union, or free trade zone, but an area where policies complement each other and where political structures act more consistently than the current ones."

Besides Mercosur, Brazil under Mr. da Silva is expected to negotiate hard with the United States on the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas. The U.S.-backed initiative, known by its acronym ALCA in Portuguese, aims to create a hemisphere-wide free trade zone in 2005.

But Mr. da Silva and his leftist Workers Party, or PT, have questioned whether Brazil will really benefit from joining ALCA. Mr. Garcia, who was the PT's foreign policy secretary for 10 years, says there are too many disparities between Brazil and the United States.

"ALCA brings together countries that have very different economic structures. They are assymetric countries. The North American economy is a huge economy, not only because of the size of its GDP, but also because of its sophistication of its productive system, its agriculture, and technology. As for its partner nations, they are countries which are facing major difficulties, with recession, unemployment, and dismantling of industries," he said.

Mr. Garcia adds that a da Silva government will probably seek the creation of what he called compensatory mechanisms under ALCA to alleviate the economic dislocations caused by joining the free trade bloc. He said this was done in the European Union, and should be repeated in the Americas.

Aside from trade, the incoming government is expected to take a more active role in multilateral spheres. Brazil has long been a leader among emerging nations, and Mr. da Silva's campaign platform calls for developing a foreign policy that will contribute to reducing international tensions. The platform also says Brazil will seek to create what the statement called "a world with more economic, social, and political equality".

To accomplish this, foreign policy advisor Garcia says the new government will seek to work with other major powers in the developing world, including China.

"We're going to redefine in a clearer way Brazil's relations with some countries that we consider important in the world today," he explained. "We want to do this not only in the sense of establishing better bilateral relations, but to examine in what ways we can act multilaterally with these countries. Countries such as South Africa, China, India, and Russia. We are going to press for a policy of peace and mutual understanding, a policy that will tend to reinforce multilateralism and multilateral organizations. "

On other issues like Colombia, a da Silva government will probably press for a peaceful solution to the decades-long guerrilla conflict, while at the same time reinforcing Brazil's borders to prevent a spill over effect. On Cuba, advisor Garcia said Brazil will continue the outgoing Cardoso government's policy of engagement and promoting commercial ties.

All this indicates Brazil's foreign policy under Mr. da Silva will be one mainly of continuity. However, it is also clear the left-wing Workers' Party government intends for Brazil to play a greater role on the world stage as befits the globe's ninth largest economy.