BRASILIA Dec 12 French President François
Hollande sought to take advantage of a chill in U.S.-Brazilian
relations to push France's business interests during a visit
here on Thursday, including its bid for a multibillion-dollar
contract to sell fighter jets to Brazil.
The Rafale fighter, built by France's Dassault Aviation
, is competing against U.S.-based Boeing Co's
F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Gripen, made by Sweden's Saab
, to win a contract worth at least $4 billion, with
probable follow-up orders that would greatly increase its value.
Although Brazilian officials say budget constraints now make
a decision unlikely before 2015, Hollande's visit highlights
French efforts to clinch one of the most coveted defense
contracts in the emerging world, which comes at a time when
developed nations are slashing military budgets.
"We must increase our trade and economic ties. Despite the
crisis, our trade exchange never stopped growing," Hollande said
after officials signed several bilateral agreements.
Rousseff thanked Hollande for his support of Brazil's
efforts to strengthen global Internet governance after
allegations that the United States spied on both countries, and
on Rousseff's personal communications.
The diplomatic row between Brazil and the United States over
the allegations could help Dassault's chances to win the
jet-fighter contract, with some Brazilian officials saying it is
difficult to ink a deal with a country that can't be trusted.
Asked about the defense contract, French Trade Minister
Nicole Bricq said: "It's a sovereign decision from Brazil, and
we know we face competition." Bricq declined to say if Hollande
and Rousseff discussed the jet deal.
Before the spying scandal, which prompted Rousseff to cancel
a state visit to Washington in October, Boeing was widely seen
as the frontrunner in the race.
In what some considered a sign of the frostier relations
with the United States, Brazil chose a consortium led by
France's Thales to build and launch a satellite to help protect
the South American country's communications. The contract is
worth about $600 million and the satellite is expected to be
launched in 2016.
Hollande is accompanied by Dassault Aviation Chief Executive
and Chairman Eric Trappier on his two-day trip to Brazil, which
includes stops in Brasilia and Sao Paulo.
A Brazilian government official said on condition of
anonymity that offers of partnerships with France to build
submarines and helicopters, and promises to share technology,
have given Dassault an edge in the contest to renew Brazil's
aging fleet of fighter jets, but that price remains a sticking
MERCOSUR-EU TRADE TALKS
Another key talking point at the meeting included efforts
to relaunch free trade negotiations between the European Union
and the Mercosur trade bloc, which is made up of Brazil,
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.
The trade groups are getting ready to exchange offers for
opening markets in a pact that would encompass 750 million
people and $130 billion in annual trade. The Europeans have
asked the South American trade bloc to push the date for
exchanging offers back to January after setting a deadline for
Brazilian officials point to France's refusal to reduce
subsidies to its farmers as one of the reasons negotiations on a
trade deal collapsed a decade ago.
"We are consolidating our proposal. We hope that the
European Union can present its offer as soon as possible, even
it is not able to do so this year," Trade Minister Fernando
Pimentel told French business representatives in Brasilia.
France is the sixth-largest foreign investor in Brazil with
businesses in the oil, auto, electricity and retail sectors.