BRASILIA — Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Dec. 11 kicks off her first official visit to France, where a decision on whether she will choose Mirage fighter jets or opt for another aircraft is keenly awaited.
During the two-day trip Rousseff will have talks with French counterpart Francois Hollande on the eurozone crisis — on which she has criticized EU austerity measures — bilateral trade and wider matters of global concern.
The crisis in Syria and the Middle East will be under discussion, said a French foreign ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity in Paris.
Although the official schedule makes no mention of Brazil’s bid to buy 36 multi-purpose jets to modernize its air force — a multi-billion dollar deal — the issue has been at the center of bilateral talks in recent years.
The Rafale fighter, built by French firm Dassault Aviation, is up against the U.S. aviation giant Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet and Swedish manufacturer Saab’s Gripen for a contract valued at between $4 billion and $7 billion.
In addition to technology transfer, Brazil, the world’s sixth largest economy, wants some of the jet fighters to be assembled in this country, which according to some analysts might favor the Rafale.
But Boeing is said to be offering a better price.
Bilateral trade has shot up 40 percent over the past five years and totaled $8.3 billion for the first 10 months of this year, according to Brazilian officials, a figure that a fighter jet deal would boost substantially.
On Dec. 10, Philippe Lalliot, the French Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in Paris that the jet contract was “a sovereign decision by Brazil”.
“President Dilma Rousseff knows the quality of our partnership, particularly with respect to technology transfer” and “knows, because we have demonstrated it in previous contracts, the quality and reality of France’s commitments in this area,” he added.
In late September, a senior Brazilian government official told AFP on condition of anonymity there would be no decision on the contract before next year. He dismissed suggestions that Brazil, which is currently experiencing sluggish economic growth, already favored a particular plane.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Rousseff’s predecessor and mentor, had publicly expressed a preference for the Rafale. But since coming to power early last year, Rousseff has repeatedly put off her decision.
Analysts say Hollande was unlikely to be able to sway her during talks on Dec. 11.
“I don’t think Rousseff’s visit can influence the Brazilian decision, which depends on the technology transfer promised by both France and the United States and on medium and long-term costs for aircraft maintenance,” said Antonio Ramalho, a Brasilia University professor and expert on Brazil-European Union relations.
During her visit, Rousseff is also to meet with the heads of French Senate and National Assembly as well as with Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe.
She and Hollande will attend an economic forum to which Lula has also been invited.
Brazil’s first female president is expected to use the occasion to renew her criticism of Europe’s tough austerity response to the global economic slowdown and to showcase her country’s growth incentives.
After her Paris visit, Rousseff on Dec. 12 will head for Russia, one of its partners in the BRICS bloc of emerging powers along with China, India and South Africa. There was no official word on the agenda for Rousseff’s talks there.
In June, the powerful BRICS bloc brought some $95.5 billion in new money to the table for the International Monetary Fund during the G20 summit in Mexico, pushing it beyond its $430 billion target.
But in return it demanded a greater voice at the IMF, long dominated by the now troubled economic powers of Europe and the United States.