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The ignorance of ignoring Brazil

Until relatively recently, a person born poor in Brazil was destined to die poor. This is no longer the case: since 2003, more than 32 million people in this country of 200 million have entered the middle class, and about 20 million have risen above poverty.

Yet, while Colorado business is taking notice of profound changes in China, we have not paid the same attention when it comes to Brazil. Clichéd and conflicting images of Brazil dominant: World Cup Soccer, Amazon deforestation, stunning tropical beaches, violent cities, and dancers pulsating to the samba.

These flat, cut-out images that served us in the past are no longer sufficient. They now obscure our vision, limiting our understanding of Brazil and our ability to respond to today's opportunities with purpose. As Colorado's business leaders work to develop strategies to connect with global opportunities, connections with Brazil are vital. It's time to take notice and develop a new vision of Brazil and what its growth means to creating jobs and growing the economy in Colorado.

We need to take action now. Ten years ago, economists identified four countries that were poised to emerge as economic forces in the global economy: Brazil, Russia, India and China. At the time, these BRIC”countries were contributing 16 percent of the world’s gross domestic product growth. Since then, their aggregate importance has exploded. From 2001 to 2008, BRIC economies represented 30 percent of global growth. Since the global crisis of 2008, this figure has soared to 45 percent.

Brazil, in particular, has emerged as an economic power, a cultural leader, and a source of innovation and creativity. Today, Brazil is the world's 7th largest economy, exceeding its BRIC compatriots India and Russia by a considerable margin.

Most importantly, over the last 10 years, millions of Brazilians have moved from poverty into the middle class. This shift is improving health, education, safety and fueling economic prosperity. With a consumer market currently worth over $1 trillion a year, Brazil is already the world's third largest consumer market for mobile phones, the fifth largest for vehicles and computers, and the eighth largest for higher education. Due to this expanding middle class, Brazil is projected to become the fifth largest consumer market by 2030 when it will be worth over $2.5 trillion.

Other countries have taken note. In 2008, China became Brazil's major trading partner, surpassing the United States which had held that position since the 1930s. Between 2000 and 2009, Brazil's exports to China rose 18-fold.

For decades, any story about Brazil started with a reference to the sleeping giant. Today, it's obvious the giant is alert and on the move: the cost of ignoring Brazil will be great. As a first step in creating sustainable and productive partnerships with Brazil, Colorado's business leaders who understand the value of global connections must make Brazil a priority.

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Mary Gershwin

Fluent in Portuguese, Dr. Mary Gershwin serves as President of US-Brazil Connect where she is building public-private partnerships to strengthen education, improve skills, and expand economic opportunity in the U.S. and Brazil.  She recently facilitated a series of seven White House meetings for the Education and Training Committee of President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board. This work resulted a national action plan to create high-impact public/private partnerships for jobs in the U.S.

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