By Clara Cavour, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Brazil late Sunday for a two-day state visit with President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. The meeting, just weeks before the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh on September 24-25, is expected to seal a multi-billion-dollar purchase of French jets and consolidate French-Brazilian ties.
On Monday 7 September, Sarkozy was Lula’s guest at the country’s Independence Day parade in Brasília, returning an honor Sarkozy gave to Lula when he attended France’s Bastille Day celebrations in July of this year. This is a symbolic act to mark the close relations being built between the two countries.
In the next few weeks, Lula is to announce the winner of a fiercely-contested tender to supply Brazil with at least 36 modern war jets (the total number of jets ordered could reach 100), which will be the lynchpin of the country’s air force for the next three decades. France’s Rafale, built by Dassault, is believed to be leading the race over the US F/A-18 Super Hornet and Sweden’s Saab-built Gripen NG.
Officials involved in the purchase said the winner would most likely be declared in late October, after an extremely detailed Brazilian evaluation of the three bids has been fully digested. That may leave some space for France to develop civilian commercial deals with Brazil, reinforcing the alliance between two countries.
However, President Lula confirmed in an interview before Sarkozy’s visit that Rafale offers an “exceptional comparative advantage” because of France’s guarantee to share all military technology with Brazil as part of the deal.
Brazil’s senate also approved last week the purchase of five French submarines – including Latin America’s first nuclear-propelled submarine – and fifty military transport helicopters, at a total value of around US$8.7 Billion. Sarkozy and Lula are to sign the final confirmation of the purchase.
Brazil’s investment in military equipment is aimed at protecting its natural resources in the Amazon, and the newly discovered oil fields which have the potential to turn the country into one of the top ten global oil producers. But it is also a key part of Brazil’s strategy to become, in Lula’s words, “one of the great powers of the 21st century”.
Sarkozy suggested in an interview with O Globo last Sunday that the G-8 must include Brazil. “The relationship between Brazil and France is not one of supplier and client, but of partners,” he said in the interview. “We want to act together because we share the same values and the same vision regarding international goals.” Under Sarkozy, France has also backed efforts for Brazil to obtain a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.