Brazil’s emergence is by design
Brazil has edged steadily onto the world stage in recent years, becoming a key political and economic leader in Latin America and, increasingly, internationally. As one of the so-called BRIC grouping of the largest and fastest-growing emerging markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China), Brazil is expected to emerge as a dominant economy over the next three decades. Moreover, as host to two colossal world sporting events, FIFA’s 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, the country will command unprecedented attention for the next several years.
To the casual U.S. observer, Brazil’s rise to global prominence may seem sudden and dramatic. But for those of us who for years have been intrigued by Brazil, its economic diversity and vast potential, we have long anticipated this moment.
Over the course of my career in the high tech industry, I have had occasion to work in Brazil and to initiate and be involved in various projects there. Through these engagements, I have had a window into the country’s evolution into an internationally oriented, market-driven and technologically sophisticated economy.
Strong leadership, strengthened democracy, sound policies, political will, fiscal and structural reforms, global demand and a host of other factors — probably even luck — have contributed to Brazil’s success. But from my unique vantage point, I’ve seen the important role that technology and the country’s development of its technological capabilities have played in Brazil’s transformation.
The Brazilian government has long given priority to building technological capabilities in the public and private sectors. Dating back several decades, research institutes were established in association with stateowned enterprises in selected sectors, including telecommunications, electricity, oil and aerospace, among others. With strong government backing and a sustained commitment to research and development, the institutes worked to boost competitiveness of the state enterprises, develop engineering talent and to build on and develop comparative advantages in technologically dynamic sectors.
One of the most well-known of these institutes is the Institute for Research and Development (IPD) that is attached to the Aeronautics Technology Center, set up to undertake research on basic aerospace technologies, including aircraft design, engines and materials. During its initial years, the IPD, like other state-directed technological initiatives, focused on the accumulation of basic capabilities. This led to the launch, toward the end of the 1960s, of Embraer, which has developed and adapted successful aircraft platforms for specific, high-growth market segments. Today, as a private corporation, Embraer is the world leader in the mid-size jet sector and one of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers.
Brazil has achieved remarkable success in other areas as well. Petrobrás, Latin America’s largest company (by market capitalization and revenue), is one of the world’s top oil companies and is widely recognized for its expertise relevant to technologies for deep-water and ultra deep-water oil production. The country has astutely capitalized on its ability to efficiently produce sugarcane to develop leading edge alternative fuel (ethanol) and bioplastics industries. And there are similar stories of economic strength and market leadership in agribusiness, construction and mining, among others.
It seems clear that Brazil’s growing success in these industries is owed in part to the federal government’s commitment to creating and funding centers for research and development and pursuing public-private partnerships that can capitalize on areas of technological expertise and springboard industries into the competitive international market.
In Brazil, there also has been an ability to use available technologies to create market niches and platforms for continued growth. Brazilian banks have long invested in technology; as a result, online banking took off early in the country and customers have benefited from innovative product offerings. Likewise, the Brazilian government’s investment in technology has contributed to the country’s status as a global leader in the development of e-government applications, such as e-procurement, online tax applications and national elections.
Now Brazil is working to develop demand for domestically manufactured semiconductors by tagging every cow in the country with a tracking chip that will also assist the government’s efforts to maintain and enhance the safety of its beef supply.
Brazil has taken a unique approach to developing its technological capabilities and to using available technologies to advance its economic goals and international competitiveness. Along with the country’s rising economic fortunes and dynamic development, there seems to be a new sense of confidence among Brazilian business and political leaders — a growing realization that Brazil’s time might, at last, be now.