U.K. in the race to sell Brazil warships

Oct. 13, 2010 at 1:14 PM
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct. 13 (UPI) -- Britain is in the race to sell Brazil naval vessels, including warships, but is having to compete against EU partners France and Italy.

Brazil, awash with cash from booming exports, is pushing its military regeneration to a new level to keep up to speed with increased coastal defense requirements because of offshore hydrocarbon exploration and production.

Brazil expects to spend more than $200 billion on developing its newly found hydrocarbon resources, several them in deep water well away from the shore, and the government has concluded that such investment warrants commensurate defense spending.

Plans for new military acquisitions were initiated by outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and are awaiting the final outcome of presidential elections. Lula's protege and presidential office chief of staff Dilma Rousseff is poised to become Brazil's first woman president after the runoff vote Oct. 31. The Oct. 3 election gave her a narrow plurality.

Although Lula finalized most of the negotiations for new military purchases, the decision on future arms buying now rests with the incoming president. There is no guarantee that Rousseff will toe Lula's line, analysts said.

"Women are ready to govern Brazil and more importantly Brazil is ready to be governed by a woman," Rousseff, 62, a member of Lula's Workers Party, said in a broadcast interview, pointing out that women as "sensible, practical and sensitive" half of the society were well placed to run the country.

"I represent a project to transform Brazil," she told Brazilians. "Yes, it is possible for a woman to be the president of the republic and I know you will support this project."

While Lula made clear his plan to give the country military and political clout in Latin America, Rousseff's ideas on achieving that goal remain to be outlined. As a result, the outcome of talks so far on Brazil's military purchases remains unclear.

Britain has indicated it wants to sell at least 11 new naval vessels, including frigates, to the Brazilian navy.

Brazil has indicated it wants to purchase five new offshore patrol vessels, one logistics vessel and five frigates as part of its overall plan to modernize its fleet and retire obsolete or older vessels and equipment.

Both France and Italy went on a marketing drive this year to secure a sizable chunk of that market.

British Defense Minister Gerald Howarth, who signed a deal on defense cooperation, pitched for London's participation in any new defense acquisitions by Brazil at the same time as the British navy's biggest ship, helicopter carrier HMS Ocean, visited Brazil.

During negotiations Britain appeared to have changed strategy and instead of seeking a share of the market began promoting the idea of a package deal that could see Brazil buying up to 11 vessels, all from Britain.

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