Burgeoning Brazil Seeks Profits Beyond Its Borders The South American giant wants to be a world player, and its economy is growing fast -- and so is its stake abroad, in places as different from each other as Texas, Angola and all over Latin America.
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Burgeoning Brazil Seeks Profits Beyond Its Borders

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Burgeoning Brazil Seeks Profits Beyond Its Borders

Burgeoning Brazil Seeks Profits Beyond Its Borders

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

China has also been investing an enormous amount of money overseas, as it seeks oil in Africa, iron ore in Latin America. And China has been investing in all kinds of companies here in the U.S. But there's another up and coming country making big investments and that is Brazil.

Its economy is growing rapidly and so is its stake abroad, as NPR's Juan Forero reports from one remote corner of Argentina.

(Soundbite of music)

JUAN FORERO: The music of Chaco in Argentina's far north tries to be hopeful. But in the song (unintelligible), it laments this abandoned empty corner. Here, up against Paraguay, it's all scrub grass as far as the eye can see, and in summer the temperature can hit 120 degrees.

People here say jobs are scarce and about half the workforce looks for employment with the government. But one company, Santana Textiles of Fortaleza, Brazil, saw opportunity here.

(Soundbite of machinery)

Mr. CARLOS VALLEJO (Employee, Santana Textiles): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: As factory Carlos Vallejo(ph) yells above the din, giant machines spin thread from cotton grown here in Chaco. The thread is then dyed, cleaned, woven into fabric and sold to Argentina's top jean makers.

In the two years since it opened, this family-owned factory with 350 workers, has cornered nearly a quarter of the Argentine market in denim fabrics. Santana is now about to open another factory abroad, in a place that's similar to Chaco: dry, hot, sparsely populated south Texas. That factory will be even bigger, with 800 employees.

Igor Perdigao is Santanas director in Argentina.

Mr. IGOR PERDIGAO (Director, Santana Textiles, Argentina): We look for the leadership of Western countries. We know that to achieve this goal we have to go to United States of America, because it's the biggest market.

FORERO: In many ways, Santana is much like other big Brazilian companies investing abroad. Efficient, modern, well capitalized, it can tap the international credit market and also Brazil's big development bank.

The big Brazilian players that are expanding abroad include giants like the mining company Vale and the biggest company in South America, Petrobras, which is drilling for oil worldwide. Embraer, Brazil's airplane manufacturer is planning to build a plant in Florida. And Odebrecht, the construction company, has built bridges and highways in Latin America and Africa.

Fergus McCormick is senior vice president at the DBRS credit rating agency in New York. And McCormick says Brazil's foreign investments are part of a trend.

Mr. FERGUS MCCORMICK (Senior Vice President, DBRS): It's a very ambitious country with vision. And I think that the increase in private investment that we're seeing outside of Brazil is part of this overall trend.

FORERO: In the early part of the last decade, Brazil's foreign investments averaged $700 million a year. By 2008, they topped $20 billion, a figure that may be eclipsed this year.

Brazil's biggest stake is here in neighboring Argentina. Now, nearly a third of all foreign investment to Argentina comes from Brazil, says ABECEB, a consulting firm in Buenos Aires that frequently works for Brazilian investors. That surpassed the U.S., traditionally the region's biggest investor.

Argentines see it in oil and mining, but also in construction, cement and the all-important beef and agro sector.

Bernardo Kosacoff is a former U.N. economist and expert on Brazil's economy, who now heads a think tank in Buenos Aires.

Professor BERNARDO KOSACOFF (Economics Expert, ECLAC, Buenos Aires): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Kosacoff says Brazil wants to be a world player. And for a country with the world's eighth-largest economy, that means having more than just a big domestic market. It means creating international networks, he says, where Brazilian products can be bought and sold.

In a way, Santana, the textile maker here in Chaco, mirrors Brazil itself.

(Soundbite of machinery)

FORERO: For 47 years, the company was content at home. Santana started by making hammocks, then threads, finally fabrics. It expanded across Brazil, operating four factories.

Igor Perdigao, who's overseeing the Argentine operations, says Santana's board finally decided it was time to expand abroad. Only 28, well-educated and fluent in three languages, Perdigao bubbles with enthusiasm as he talks about the future.

Mr. PERDIGAO: We have five countries that are pretty close from where we are now and we thought that this factory would be a nice way to reach those markets.

FORERO: The plan, he says, is to expand output here and begin to supply jean makers to the northeast in Paraguay and to the west in Bolivia and Chile. The way he sees it, its only a matter of time.

Juan Forero, NPR News.

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