- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 19, 2003

Brazil’s leftist rags-to-riches leader, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is to meet with President Bush today, becoming the first leader who opposed the war in Iraq to be officially received in Washington.

The White House meeting has been billed as a feel-good summit between the two heads of state, who first met in December 2002 and, despite their considerable political differences, appear to have hit it off.

“The idea is to build on what we have and discuss a framework for the future,” said Brazil’s ambassador to the United States, Rubens Antonio Barbosa. “They will discuss new priority areas like technology, energy, health, education and build a positive agenda.”

Although Mr. Lula da Silva, a former trade union leader who made his mark defying Brazil’s former military dictatorship, opposed the U.S.-led action in Iraq, Brazil does not sit on the U.N. Security Council and its criticism of the war was muted.

“No one expects Lula to share Bush’s view of the world,” said John Williamson, senior fellow with the Institute for International Economics. “As far as I can see, this is really a case of maintaining the good relationship they struck up.”

Thornier issues between the two countries, such as discussions on agricultural subsidies and anti-dumping rules within the context of a future Free Trade Area of the Americas, will be touched upon only briefly.

“The idea is not to discuss this in the meetings. We know what the differences are,” said Mr. Barbosa, adding that he expected “important discussions” on energy, but declined to provide any details.

According to World Bank figures, Brazil is the world’s 11th largest economy, and a regional powerhouse in Latin America.

Until recently, international investors were wary of Mr. Lula da Silva’s economic policies, wondering if he would succumb to the more radical elements of his leftist Workers Party or forge ahead with promises of curbing inflation and keeping spending under control.

But Mr. Lula da Silva has largely adhered to economic policies in line with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

IMF Director Horst Kohler has praised Mr. Lula da Silva’s vision for Brazil: to speed up growth with improving social equity, while maintaining strong macroeconomic fundamentals.

“The present IMF-supported program is on track, and there is every reason for optimism that a basis for sustained economic growth and social progress is being established in Brazil,” Mr. Kohler said recently.

Despite fears to the contrary, inflation in Brazil is falling, and Brazil instituted its first — albeit modest — cut in interest rates this week.

“The state of the Brazilian economy is vastly better” than the markets had expected, Mr. Williamson said.

“The international investment community is looking at him much more optimistically than a few months ago. They’ve come to the conclusion that he is trying to run a modern economy and not going to try and put the clock back,” Mr. Williamson said.

Mr. Lula da Silva triumphed in last year’s presidential elections — his fourth attempt to win the presidency — by appealing to a population fed up with crime and poverty, while vowing to stick to sound economic program.

Mr. Lula da Silva is to meet with Mr. Bush in the Oval Office this morning. The two leaders will have lunch together. He is also scheduled to meet Mr. Kohler, World Bank President James Wolfensohn, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and Inter-American Development Bank President Enrique Iglesias.

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