Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘BRICs’

Is Brazil Going to Make It!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 26th August, 2015

imageThere’s a popular saying here in Brazil that Brazil is the country of the future — and always will be. A few years ago I gave a lecture at the Federal University of Ceara arguing that “Brazilianism” — this collective sardonic attitude to the country’s potential — had to be overcome if it was going to make the grade. Since then, Brazil has hosted the World Cup and is preparing for the Olympic Games, both symbolic indications that the country has joined the top rank of countries. Moreover, in an economic forecast circulating on twitter yesterday, Brazil’s economy is set to overtake Britain’s by 2030. Well, so it should, when you consider how big the country is, geographically and in population, as well as how rich it is in resources (including oil). Yet all is not rosy in Brazil’s garden. Corruption is still rampant at every level, which is acting as a serious brake on advancement and the gap between rich and poor continues to be huge. Indeed, the situation of the poorest has got worse, thanks to rising prices and few new employment opportunities.

imageOf course, Brazilians are famous for enjoying life, even if they have little materially, but their patience is running out. Regular demonstrations against President Dilma Rousseff have been taking place around the country, but so too have counter-demonstrations by the left-wing parties that support her. At least there seems no possibility these days of a military coup. When I first came to Brazil, over 30 years ago, the military dictatorship that had taken over in 1964 was still in power and although its excesses were not usually quite as appalling as those of its counterparts in Argentina and Chile nonetheless its human rights record was very poor. These days people are more worried by the high level of violent crime than by what the military might get up to. Despite the problems, however, I believe that Brazil is getting over Brazilianism and even it is developing at a pace that seems pathetic when compared with China or India this particular BRIC is somewhere to watch and to engage with economically and diplomatically, far more so than my home country, Britain, is doing at the moment.


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Astana, Out of the Blue

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 25th April, 2015

imageWhen I first came to Kazakhstan in the spring of 1994, the newly independent country was in a pretty sorry state. Travelling from Nanjing in China, by train, I’d had to shift from a comfortable Chinese train, with bizarre but usually palatable food to a Russian (i.e. ex-Soviet) alternative, on the opposite side of the platform at the border. The delay involved took hours, and I had been warned by the Chinese that the Kazakh “customs” were extortionate, thieves — so I hid everything if any value deep in my luggage and instead left a BBC-branded pen lying on the table. The ruse worked. The Kazakh officials entered my single compartment and with glee seized on the BBC pen, grinning broadly, their mouths all white and gold, and they then made sure I got another single cabin on the post-Soviet replacement train (which had a wider gauge), to the fury of a down-graded British couple nearby who had not been quite so savvy. Of course, speaking fluent Chinese (then) and rusty Russian (learnt at school) helped. As the train then shuddered across Kazakhstan westwards to Uzbekistan (with a long layover in Almaty, for refuelling) I got the opportunity to experience not only warm, generous Kazakh hospitality but also the reality of their economic desperation. Babushkas, both ethnic Russian and Kazakh, lined the railway track, insistingly trying to sell sweet Soviet “champagne” at $1 a bottle or anything else they had to hand. It was exhilarating, but also tragic. I have been back since, but returning now, 21 years later, to Kazakhstan, the difference is stunning. It’s not just that the per capita GDP has shy-rocketed over the intervening period; Kazakhstan with its oil and gas and mineral riches not unrealistically is aiming to become one if the workd’s top 30 developed nation by 2050 — an extraordinary ambition for a nation of just 17 million people, yet living in a territory bigger than Western Europe. This is a member of the nest generation of BRICS — which is why so many Western countries are investing heavily here. Astutely, the Kazakhs have lifted visa requirements for nationals of potential FDI countries such as the UK. The capital, Astana, developed out of almost nothing since 1997, is thrusting with globally significant buildings by Norman Foster and others. I shan’t say this is paradise, which no country is, least of all in Cental Asia, cann be, but goodness me, it is a place to watch!

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Why the EU Needs to Integrate More

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 3rd January, 2013

José Manuel BarrosoIt’s 40 years since Britain joined the EU and siren voices among UKIP and the Tory right are arguing that it’s time to turn the clock back and pull out. They couldn’t be more wrong. On the contrary, this is the time for the EU to integrate more — as the eurozone now seems destined to do — and Britain should be an enthusiastic participant. In the 1950s it was clear to the Founding Fathers (sorry, ladies, they were all men) of what developed into the EU that a degree of economic integration, notably between France and Germany, was necessary to make wars between western European states impossible. That goal was so smoothly achieved that European peace is taken for granted, especially by the young. A second huge victory since 1989 has been the absorption of formerly Communist states of central and eastern Europe ino the EU. This year, Croatia will be the next. But there is an urgent reason why EU integration should move ahead, namely the way that the global economy is developing, with the rise of new heavyweights including Brazil, Russia, India and China — the BRICs. As EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso has rightly pointed out, by 2050 not a single individual European country will be among the world’s top 10 economies* — not even Germany. So in order to compete — indeed, to survive as an economic force — Europe must unite further and start operating more as not just a single market but also a single economic force. It would be madness for Britain to stay out of that, condemning itself to a form of offshore irrelevance. It is not the Europhiles in Britain who are unpatriotic, as some of our critics allege, but rather UKIP and the Europhobic Tory right who want to consign us to the role of an historical theme park. 

*A new entry at number 10, however, could well be Turkey, which makes it all the more important that Turkey be embraced into the European family.

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Lynne Featherstone’s African Remit

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th November, 2012

During her two years at the Home Office, Lynne Featherstone did great things to promote the equalities agenda, even if she and Theresa May did not always see eye to eye. The Equal Marriage consultation was a real win for the LibDems within the Coalition, and to his credit David Cameron “got” the issue, even if some of his backbench headbangers didn’t. So there was initially some disquiet among LibDems when Lynne was moved in the ministerial reshuffle earier this year to the Department for International Development (DfID). However, as Lynne made clear at an informal briefing to the International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Liberal Democrat Party in Westminster this evening, she has taken equality issues along with her (with the PM’s blessing), and it is especially important that she is able to champion the central role of women in development. She has just returned from a mission to South Sudan, which was rather jumping in at the deep end, though other states she has visited this year include Kenya and Uganda, and Africa is now central to her remit. DfID has of course been directed to phase down its involvement in India (now one of the BRICs) but Africa remains a main area of concern, not only for the traditional problems of famine and disease (including HIV/AIDS) but also for the way that women are excluded and often oppressed within many African societies, including through the persistence of female genital mutilation (FGM). It was interesting that FGM was a major topic in the discussion after Lynne’s presentation at the IRC, but then it is a quintissentially Liberal issue, relating to human rights and gender matters as well as to health. Lynne was a shadow International Development Minister some years ago, so she is not entirely fresh to the field. But it is clear that Africa is offering her a steep learning curve, from which both she and Africa’s development should ultimately benefit.


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Michael Palin on Brazil

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th October, 2012

Those of us who are members or supporters of the Heath Library in Hampstead were treated to a preview of Michael Palin’s new BBC TV travel series (and associated book) on Brazil when he came to give a talk at the library this evening. Most of Michaell’s previous travelogues have involved crossing many, often difficult borders; his series on New Europe took him to no fewer than 22 countries, albeit briefly in some cases. But for his latest venture he stayed just in Brazil, never having been to that part of Latin America before. He chose four different regions: the North East, the Amazon, Rio and nearby mining areas, and the far south, thus getting four very different flavours of landscape, people and food. When asked by a young audience member which he would like to return to if he could Michael opted for the Amazon, as it was the least noisy and he had especially valued his time with indigenous communities in inaccessible parts of the rainforest, with their harmonious lifestyle that depends on their knowledge of and respect for their environment. Brazil — which I have been visiting quite regularly for over 30 years now — has gone through extraordinary transformations, from military dictatorship to a functioning democracy, from hyper-inflation to a steady, strong currency, and from a sense of resigned hopelessness about the future to the vibrancy of a get-up-and-go society that is proudly asserting its membership of the BRICs groups of emerging economies as well as its place as an increasingly influential global political player. Being Michael Palin, of course, he had various Palinesque, even Pythoesque, adventures, including being immersed in a rubber tutu in the middle of a river in the Amazon basin while pink river dolphins playfully headbutted him.

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Russia in the New World Order

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th April, 2009

stephen-dalziel-21This evening, Liberal International British Group (LIBG) held the first in a planned series of four Forums on the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) in the New World Order, being steered through the choppy waters of Russia, past, present and future, at Pushkin House in London by Stephen Dalziel, Executive Director of the Russo-British Chamber of Commerce and former Russian Affairs analyst at the BBC. For me (in the Chair), his most interesting observation was that Vladimir Putin, now Russian Prime Minister, is not trying to usurp the power of the position of President Dmitry Medvedev (his sucessor in that post), in contrast to what one often reads in the Western media. Putin accepts Medvedev’s primacy in foreign affairs (as the constitution stipulates); besides, he has enough on his plate to deal with in relation to Russia’s shrinking economy, which has been hard hit by falling energy prices.

Stephen’s assertion that the Russians must have known in advance about the Georgian attack on South Ossetia last summer as they moved into Georgia the following day brought on a heated reposte from a Russian lady in the audience. But there was general agreement that Georgia had won the propaganda war in that sad affair, and that the Russians are rubbish at PR. I agreed strongly with Stephen’s point that the real trigger for instability and renewed East-West tensions would be if Ukraine is encouraged towards EU and NATO membership. Not only would the ethnic Russian population of eastern Ukraine protest, but Moscow would go ballistic (figuratively speaking).

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A Seismic Shift in Global Politics?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th November, 2008

Yesterday’s G20 Summit in Washington may have been short on conclusions, but I think President Luis Inacio ‘Lula’ da Silva of Brazil was probably right when he said that the balance of power in the world has changed irrevocably. Lula told reporters that the G8 — the world’s seven leading industrial economies plus Russia — was now unviable and irrelevant. ‘There is no logic to making any political and economic decisions without the G20 members,’ he said. ‘Developing countries must be part of the solution to the global financial crisis.’

So who are the G20? There are the old Big Seven — the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada — plus Russia, but they now joined by the three other ‘BRICs’: Brazil, China and India. That in itself has tilted the emphasis away from the North to the South. But that tilt has been underlined by the further addition of Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and South Korea. Australia is the only new truly ‘Western’ state, though for the first time the European Union (represented by the President of the European Commission) comes in in its own right, rather than just sitting in as an invited guest as in the past.

The fact that George W Bush is in the lame-duck final period of his eight-year presidency only served to exacerbate the decline in US hegemony, despite the summit’s being held in Washington. The unipolar world that came into being with the collapse of the old Soviet Union is now clearly well on its way to being a multipolar one. This won’t be a second American century. When Barack Obama joins the second G20 Summit — scheduled to be held in London some time before the end of April — the world will be a different place. So it is well that the president-elect is someone more attuned to multilateralism than the incumbent.

One striking thing about the G20 meeting itself was that it was no longer just a collection of men in suits (and their female equalivalents). With King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in his flowing robes and the Indian Prime Minister Mammohan Singh in his turban, the gathering began to look a little more like the world it is meant to be leading. Still only two women, though: Germany’s Angela Merkel and Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

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Brazil’s National Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 9th September, 2008

I celebrated Brazilian National Day today by finishing a long feature article on the country for Diplomat magazine, before repairing to the Ambassador’s residence for what is always one of the great lunchtime diplomatic parties of the year. At a time when much of the world is sullen because of the economic downturn, Brazil is buoyant and savouring the prospects offered by huge new discoveries of offshore oil and gas. I spent a month there earlier this year, already picking up the new sense of optimism. Brazil may not have received as much publicity as the other BRICs (Russia, India and China), but it is definitely a country to watch, for all its ongoing environmental and social problems.

Rio de Janeiro is putting in a strong pitch to host the 2016 Olympic Games, in the hope that they can emulate China’s success last month in showcasing their achievements. As the Carnival shows each February, cariocas (inhabitants of Rio) certainly know how to throw a party. If Rio succeeds in its bid, we can be sure that both the federal and state governments will take the thing hugely seriously. And of course, the Brazilians — an estimated 300,000 of whom currently live in Britain, mainly in London and the South East — are eagerly watching how London will prepare for its hosting of the Games in 2012.

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Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th April, 2008

The Palestinian-American literary theorist, Edward Said, wrote extensively on the subject of Orientalism — the way that the British and the French, in particular, interpreted North Africa and the Middle East in a way which made them appear both exotic and backward. This was useful to the European Orientalists in order to justify colonial occupation, and the export of European ideas and practices to the region, on the grounds that these were necessary for the Arab world to achieve development and progress. The Americans are up to something similar at this very moment, in Iraq.

As the theme of my guest lecture at the Ceará Federal University in Fortaleza, I chose ‘Brazilianism’, arguing that the image of Brazil put across by the mainstream media in Europe similarly often distorts and devalues the Brazilian reality. Four stereotypes that frequently recur are samba, violence, poverty and environmental irresponsiblity. The last-mentioned has taken on a new dimension with the great row that has broken out about Brazil’s promotion of biofuels, which some people argue are pushing up world food prices and thereby causing hunger.

However, in my lecture I pointed out that the picture is not entirely gloomy. The European institutions and media are starting to recognise that Brazil is a strongly emerging economy, rightly included with Russia, India and China amongst the BRICs. Brazil is beginning to make its voice heard more forcefully on the world stage, and if the rumours of the latest offshore oil discovery in the Bay of Santos prove true, then it will soon become an oil-rich economy too.

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