Cablegate: Ceara: Getting by -- With or Without Lula, Ftaa, Et

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REFS: (A) Brasilia 102, (B) 03 Brasilia 3953, (C) 03 Brasilia

3939, (D) 03 Brasilia 3867, (E) 03 Brasilia 1533, (F) 02
Brasilia 2932

1. Ceara state had an especially bleak economic year in 2003,
but with better-than-ever trade trends: exports 40% up from
2002, a record surplus, new markets, product diversity, and
more small/medium-business activity. State revenues shrank,
but the budget evidently stayed well-run. Jobs became fewer,
and more of them shifted from the formal to the informal
sector, as in Brazil nationally. Lula's Zero Hunger initiative
is said to be solidly established in Ceara, which has enacted a
tax hike to fund its own new social-program initiatives. As on
our trips to Piaui state (Refs C, D), we got the impression
that Lula's exhortations have boosted efforts at social-relief
programs, even without new resources from the GoB. Conversely,
officials confided that PPPs (Private-Public Partnerships, the
GoB's hope for inducing private-sector investment in
infrastructure) will not be viable in their swathe of Brazil's
impoverished Northeast. As for tax reform: if Ceara's attitude
is indicative, the GoB's proposal to simplify Brazil's basic
ICMS tax into five national tiers (depriving states of the
authority to set their own ICMS rates) won't soon pass.
Exports to the U.S., Ceara's top foreign market for 60 years,
rose in absolute terms to USD 307 million (traditional cashews
and crustaceans, plus footwear, leather, "other," and even
cotton), but have dropped from a 1999 peak of 54% to just 40%
of the 2003 overall total. We found Ceara sentiment in favor
of an FTAA to be strong, but also unbelieving. The U.S. shrimp
anti-dumping petition was of great local concern.

2. Ceara shows the possibilities -- but also the hard limits -
- of what can be accomplished by local government within
Brazil's federal structure. On an all-Brazil scale, it may
seem puny (two percent of the nation's area, four percent of
population, under two percent of GDP and, even after 1991-2001
export growth, just one percent of exports.) But Ceara also
looks set to stay in Brazil's pragmatic, progressive,
enterprising, trade-oriented and U.S.-friendly avant-garde. It
merits and should reward greater long-term U.S. cultivation.

CONTENTS: Recession, Jobs, Budget (paragraphs 3-5)
Social Welfare and Programs (6-10)
Ceara to Brasilia on Tax Reform: No Dice (11-13)
Policy Imperative: Hinterland Development (14-18)
Export Spectacular (19-21)
U.S./Ceara Business (22-25)
FTAA: Enthusiasm, Disbelief (26)
Shrimp Anti-Dumping Issue (27-28)
Local Politics (29)
Other Follow-Up (30-33)


Recession, Job Losses, State Budget
3. EconCouns re-visited Ceara state (147,000 square km, 7.5
million people) in Brazil's poverty-plagued Northeast January
19-21, meeting with state-government secretaries for Finance,
Development, and Social Programs, the local Industry Chamber,
private-sector executives and others. All locals said 2003 had
been the toughest in memory for Ceara's economy. Its official
growth figure was worse (-0.5%) than Brazil's preliminary
national result (+0.3%), despite a record agricultural harvest.
Recorded joblessness was up, and behind the official employment
rate lies the pernicious growth trend of informal (now 51% in
Ceara, it was said) vs. formal labor, as in Brazil nationally.
Moreover, most informal-job growth has been in the commercial
and services sectors, which the state computes is now "close to
its saturation limit," said Development Secretary Regis Dias.

4. Finance Secretary Jose Mendes told us the state had had to
cut public investment by 127 million Reals from a total budget
of under six billion in 2003. January-September revenues were
down almost 10%, year-on-year. Asked what percentage of the
state budget was discretionary, he and his specialists did not
know, and unconvincingly guessed "20-22%". But they eagerly
reassured that, with regard to Ceara's state finances, all
prime indicators (e.g., debt-to-revenue ratio; payroll share of
the state budget) remain far below the ceilings allowed by the
GoB's May 2000 Law of Fiscal Responsibility.

5. All lauded the GoB's success in stabilizing macroeconomic
conditions in 2003, and were warily hopeful that it would
produce growth in 2004. But on the micro-level they were
dubious, based on state household surveys, that revived local
consumption could spark any economic upswing. Last year's drop
in the Central Bank's main interest rate seems to hold scant
meaning for business in Ceara.

Social Welfare and Programs
6. We asked about social needs and programs. In particular:
how has the `Zero Hunger' initiative, now subsumed into the
`Family Stipend,' of Lula's GoB impacted at state level?
Social Affairs Secretary Raimundo de Matos replied that state
social outlays burgeoned in 2003 from 28 million per month in
2002 to 47 million, recession having increased the number of
needy. `Zero Hunger' has been installed in 174 of Ceara's 184
municipalities. Payment goes smoothly via electronic cards,
realized in Caixa-Bank or post-office branches -- failing that,
in national lottery-ticket outlets. Between them, these three
outlets evidently cover every boondock in Brazil. We learned
that since last April, local-level management of `Zero Hunger'
nation-wide has been via nine-person committees, with worker,
church, mayoral and state-government representatives.

7. Secretary De Matos had ready figures for the numbers of
families registered in the specific programs now being combined
into Lula's national `Family Stipend.' In all, 1.4 million
families benefit from some aspect of the social-safety net.
Old problems with the national "Cadastro Unico" registry have
been largely resolved, he said without elaboration. Phones,
fax and other hardware are the main needs now for social-
program implementation, according to De Matos.

8. Officials freely referred to Ceara being Brazil's third-
poorest state, behind Maranhao and Piaui. Forty-five percent
of its 7.5 million population are deemed below the poverty
line, defined as less than one-third of the national minimum
wage per capita (i.e., 80 Reals/USD 27 per month.) This
poverty is disproportionately present among the 55% of Ceara's
denizens in the state's interior, away from its 100-kilometer
deep coastal fringe (which generally escapes the droughts that
curse the hinterland), Fortaleza and eleven other main cities.

9. Ceara has its own relief initiatives. At the end of 2003,
new governor Alcantara pressed through the legislature a tax
increase adding two percent to the existing ICMS tax rate on
various products, as of February 1, 2004, for the `Fund to
Combat Poverty.' This tax hike was in the teeth of business
opposition, all officials cheerfully volunteered. (NOTE:
Eloquent of the political will involved in this step is the
fact that Ceara's modern repute for being a relative model of
Brazilian progressive governance is linked to the activism of
local business circles since 1973; Ref F. END NOTE.)

10. The new revenues, projected at 90-100 million Reals (USD
35 million) yearly, are earmarked for what state officials call
"parallel social development." Namely, while `Bolsa Familia'
tides poor families through current difficulties, the `Poverty
Fund' is to shore up training, jobs and infrastructure for long-
term self-sufficiency. Each of Ceara's municipalities is to
have a "House of the Family," linked with existing offices for
promoting family agriculture. Projects are to be managed by
citizens' committees.

Ceara to Brasilia on Tax Reform: No Dice
11. We asked about views of the Lula administration's national
tax reform: in particular, its goal of removing states' power
to set their own rates for the basic ICMS tax (Ref B). Ceara
has been as aggressive as any state in using this power to
attract or poach industries from abroad or from Brazil's south
(Ref E). Under what assurances might it cease to resist the
GoB's plan to unify the ICMS rates into five national levels?

12. Finance Secretary Jose Martins' initial answer was opaque.
He drew a distinction (totally lost on EconCouns) between a
state setting a preferential ICMS level and granting "fiscal
exemptions." But he then said outright that the GoB's proposal
to form regional development funds to compensate states for the
ICMS reform was unacceptable. Disposition of such funds "would
be permanently in the hands of Sao Paulo and Brazil's
industrialized south." This would wreck Ceara's prospects to
induce foreign investment, "and without foreign investment,
whole sectors of Ceara's economy would (already) have lost
competitiveness and be extinct." Other interlocutors echoed
this sentiment. Bottom line: officials avoided confirming
that Ceara would oppose ICMS reform, but no other logical
conclusion was possible. (NOTE: Former Governor, now Senator,
Tasso Jereissati has become one of Congress's key figures in
the GoB's tax-reform campaign and was instrumental in putting
off the ICMS issue at the end of 2003. END NOTE.)

13. What about another aspect of the GoB's tax-reform debate:
the suggestion to ease constitutionally-mandated state outlays
on health and education? Secretary Mendes said that item was
now off the GoB tax-reform table. However, he expected it to
transpire inevitably in the longer term. In his words, "the
GoB Ministries of Health and Education have disappeared from
Brazil's states," their mandates being transferred to state and
municipal government. Ceara now spends 27-28% of its revenues
on health, 10-11% on education.

Policy Imperative: Hinterland Development
14. Officials' supreme theme was the need to staunch migration
from Ceara's interior to its urban littoral. Time after time,
they spoke of preempting this "irreversible" process with all
its sociopathic effects. Hence the state's core strategy of
fostering interior "poles of development." Development
Secretary Dias described the Nike factory with 1,500 workers,

300 kilometers from Fortaleza, and of the micro-businesses
("even a bicycle dealership!") that have grown up around it.
Only by being able to implant such industrial reefs can
Brazil's Northeastern states abate socio-economic migration to
urban favelas, was the ubiquitous view.

15. Planting new factories inland is a pre-condition to this
end, but the over-arching aim is to make/keep family
agriculture viable. In this regard, Ceara's huge-scale "Road
of Waters" irrigation project, a series of dams, reservoirs and
linking canals designed to end the region's being prey to fatal
droughts (Ref F, Para 7) seems a scant-told story of much
import. (COMMENT: Indeed, Northeast rural conditions
illuminate why the goal of bolstering family farming ranks so
high in current Brazilian policy formulation at all levels --
with all that may imply for GoB attitudes on FTAA negotiations.

16. What about the GoB's PPP initiative (Public-Private
Partnership, the mechanism whereby Lula's GoB wishes to induce
private investment in infrastructure projects)? Finance
Secretary Martins replied that Ceara has submitted its own

state-level bill to approve rules for PPPs. But he and others
also said flatly that PPPs "are not applicable" to Ceara. Road
or other public-transport concessions would not be commercially
viable: volumes of use are too low. Official PPP ambitions in
Ceara are for: a convention center, a family-agriculture
project in the large fan of land between Ceara's most-recently
completed mega-dam and Pecem port; and a smelter at Pecem.

17. NOTE: Ceara may be atypical in this respect. Since Tasso
Jereissati's first election as governor in 1986, it has already
benefited from World Bank, Japan ExImbank, IDB etc. financing
for new ports, roads and airport on the basis of its superior
governance record. END NOTE.

18. COMMENT: Ceara has been governed for almost two decades
by the PSDB, which at the national level opposes Lula; yet in
all our meetings there was no hint of negative assessment of
Lula's PT administration -- even of shortcomings linked with
Zero Hunger that have been raised by media throughout Brazil.
It seemed officials could not have been more positive if they
had been PT themselves. At worst, Finance Minister Mendes
volunteered his worry that Lula's national administration "may
simply not have a design or measures for projecting longer-term
growth." Media cavils aside, it seems Lula's national standing
does not yet admit of political attack. END COMMENT.

The Good News: Spectacularly Booming Trade
19. General recession notwithstanding, Ceara's decade-old
export boom actually accelerated in 2003. Exports rose 40%,
almost double Brazil's national increase of 21%, to USD 761
million. From 1991-1999, Ceara's total exports averaged Reals
340 million; the 2003 figure amounts to Reals 2.2 billion, at a
drastically devalued exchange rate, of course. With this jump,
Ceara overtook Maranhao as second largest exporter of the
Northeast's nine states, behind giant Bahia, which accounts for
half the region's six billion-dollar total. Coupled with a 15%
drop in imports, it gave Ceara a trade surplus -- first since
1993 -- of USD 220 million. The decade's previous best result
was the USD 70 million deficit/deficit of 2002. Ceara's top
sectors: leather/footwear (33.5% of the total or $255 million
in 2003, up 50% from 2002); textiles (16.5%, $125 million, up
43%); "crustaceans," i.e., shrimp and lobster (15.8%, $112
million); and traditional cashews (14.7%, $112 million), which
as late as 1998 accounted for 40% of gross exports.

20. Official and business sectors alike predicted Ceara's
record will only strengthen, for three reasons: variety of
production; steady branching into new overseas markets; and
increasing activity of small or medium enterprises. The
Industry Federation (FIEC) president noted that Ceara exports
more than 600 individual products, and attributed the 77%
increase in the "Other Products" category in 2003 mainly to
SMEs' activity. The state government's official aim is to
raise the export total a further 20% in 2004. The FIEC
president is boosting the goal of USD one billion in 2005.

21. Various contacts contrasted Ceara with Pernambuco state,
which has a larger economy and superior human capital, health
and education indices, but whose yearly exports are $350
million less, and stagnant. They ascribed their neighbors'
under-achievement to un-enterprising historical reliance on a
sugar-cane economy. Other than with recovering Argentina,
Ceara's intra-Latin-American trade is negligible. Its sights
are set elsewhere, with particular apparent interest in Africa.
The FIEC executive-director spoke of how a recent trade visit
by six businessmen from Cape Verde, seen as a gateway to trade
with West Africa ("just four hours flight from our airport," we
kept hearing) reaped a million dollars of on-the spot sales.

U.S./Ceara Business
22. The U.S. has been Ceara's biggest market for sixty years.
Through the late 1990s, cashews and crustaceans (shrimps and
lobsters) accounted for 80% of all U.S. purchases, but that
scenario has changed, footwear becoming the runner-up category
since 1999. Sales to the U.S. have kept increasing in absolute
terms, but their share of Ceara's overall exports was down from
its 1999 peak of 54% to 40.3% last year. Subtotals for 2002:
langostinos USD 38.5 million; shrimp 28.5 million; footwear USD
66.5 million; cashew nuts USD 58.6 million (73% of all Ceara's
cashew exports); leather 26.6 million (41% of all leather
exports); "others" 30.4 million. Cotton, historically the
prize crop of Ceara's interior, modestly reappeared in 2003, at
USD 7 million (80% thread, 20% fabric). Other main foreign
markets that year: Argentina (6.7%); Canada (6.3); Holland,
Spain and Italy (5.3-5.4% each). (NOTE: For many of the above
categories, official state statistics vary from the local
industry federation's. END NOTE.)

23. Conversely, U.S. sales to Ceara in 2003 dropped from
2002's $220 million to a more historically normal $90 million.
Local recession, a huge electrical-generation sale in 2002, and
the partial re-claiming by Argentina of its traditional
Mercosul monopoly of Ceara's wheat market (which it temporarily
vacated with its 2001 bankruptcy) seem the causes.

24. A February 2003 study on U.S./Ceara relations by the
Governor's office calculates that from 1991 to 2002 Ceara's
bilateral imports grew 482% (but see para 23 above), and its
exports by 193%. Other items from the study:

-- From 1995 to 2001, ten U.S. companies, incl. Johnson Wax,
Amway, and energy company ENERGISA, established operations in
Ceara, generating 30% of Ceara's flow of FDI and about 2,400

-- U.S. visitors accounted for 11% (20,000) of Ceara's foreign
tourists in 2002, but have declined since the end of direct

-- The report notes its concern that Ceara's ports, including
Pecem, "may not have capacity to equip themselves with the
machines to detect chemical and biological threats, etc,
specified by new USG regulations, and that perishable local
exports may thus suffer delays and loss";

-- It also deplores the discontinuation of direct flights
between the U.S. and Fortaleza, ascribed to the Real's
devaluation since 1999.
25. The Governor's Office report ends by noting "that the
American Embassy in Brazil has suggested that an efficient
mechanism to increase the economic interchange between the U.S.
and our State would be (for). the American Department of
Commerce to designate one of its officers assigned in Brazil to
serve as the local promoter of US business interests in a more
permanent basis. Given that the Federation of Industries of
the State of Ceara (FIEC) already hosts a NUSA office, there
are facilities where this officer could operate. The State
government is looking forward to take whatever steps, within
its scope, to make this possible."

FTAA: All In Favor, But Few Optimists
26. Utterances of enthusiasm for an FTAA were way up from our
June 2002 visit and even from Ambassador's August 2003 visit
(Refs E, F). But the common view also seemed to be that the
FTAA will be decided as if by two outside parties, i.e., the
USG and GoB, with Ceara's role just that of hopeful bystander.
Not that we heard any hint of discord with current GoB FTAA
policy. FIEC Executive Director, who recalls two years in
Arizona as the best of my life" and urged greater USDOC efforts
to present American exports to Ceara, told us "I agree with
both sides on FTAA," i.e., that he considers both the GoB and
USG to have bogged the process down via unreasonable
inflexibility on the issues of most concern to the other.

Shrimp Anti-Dumping
27. All were well-aware of the shrimp anti-dumping petition
against Brazil and five other nations, the Federal Fishing
Minister's January 15 call on Ambassador (Ref A), and the
Minister's request that Brazil be dropped from the petition on
grounds that Brazilian farmed shrimp are not subsidized, a hope
widely echoed. A subsequent January 22 item in national
business daily `Gazeta Mercantil' asserted that Ceara shrimp
prices and contracts have already declined in anticipation of
the anti-dumping case; there was no such mention during
EconCouns' visit. American investors own at least two Ceara
shrimp farms. A single local middleman apparently dominates
shrimp exports to the U.S.

28. The Governor's Office report on Ceara/U.S. economic
relations states that the U.S. bought 80-99% of Ceara's shrimp
exports from 1991-97, falling to 70% in 1999 and stabilizing at
50% since 2001. This, says the report, does not reflect a fall
in North-American imports but a market diversification sought
out by the Ceara industry. The nine-fold increase in shrimp
exports from 1999-2002 (sic) "came from the growing use of
shrimp-farming, which has allowed a dramatic expansion in
supply as a result of high productivity and investments in
technology." In 2002, `Fish and crustaceans' topped the list
of Ceara's exports to the U.S., at USD 67.6 million, deriving
almost entirely from sales of shrimp and langostinos. In
contrast to the case with shrimp, the U.S. share of Ceara's
langostino exports has risen from 71% in 1991 to an average of
95% (USD 35 million) since 1997. The report also notes the
U.S. Endangered Species Act and worries that if "one
irresponsible fisherman is caught in a wrongdoing, the entire
Ceara fishing industry ends up being unfairly punished."

A Little Local Politics
29. Ceara is famed for having been a relative model of
progressive governance under continuous PSDB administrations
since 1986. The PT came within a hair of capturing the Ceara
governorship on Lula's coattails in the 2002 elections,
however, and the tussle for primacy at city and state levels is
now acute. During our June 2002 visit, local reformers
excoriated the Fortaleza mayor (of the rightist PMDB party) and
voiced hope he would be turned out in 2004. That mayor has
since been investigated for diversion of public funds to
campaign and personal use. The PT believes it can gain city
hall; rumors are it will swing with other leftist parties
behind city councilman Inacio Arruda of the Communist Party
(PcdoB), Lula's coalition partner. Local political heavyweight
Ciro Gomes, currently Lula's Minister for National Integration,
might presumably follow suit. Ensuing question: will PSDB ex-
thrice-governor Tasso Jerreissati oppose the PT/Gomes candidate
on behalf of a PSDB or PMDB alternative? The scene is further
complicated by Tasso's enmity with fellow-PSDB eminent Jose
Serra. Ceara politics illustrate the snarl of local dynamics
that constrain Lula's efforts at national coalition-building.

Other Follow-Up (Ref E, 2002 Brasilia 2932)
30. A return call on the Jandaia fruit-juice farm/factory (a
mango, cashew and passion-fruit paradise 80 km from Fortaleza)
revealed a new, seven-million-dollar facility under
construction. It will double Jandaia's capacity. Of the
increment, Jandaia aims to export 80% to expanding markets in
Europe and the U.S. Apart from a plan to gain various
international certifications, the marketing strategy seemed
unsure. The U.S. northeast is the first prime target area.
Russia, India, China and the Middle East are not in
consideration for now, but the Jandaia marketing manager was
intrigued at the notion that Russian purchasing power might
make it a feasible, if tough, new business zone.

31. Conversely, Ceara's new Pecem seaport, 60 km up the coast
from Fortaleza, evidently remains at risk of proving an
unfinished white elephant (Ref E, Para 16). State officials
said the monthly number of vessel-sailings is over fifty (vs
the reported 15-20 in June 2002), which does not seem much.
Jandaia executives said the extra freight costs of trucking
their containers of bottled and TetraPak juices to Pecem were
too high to consider changing from the old port in downtown
Fortaleza. Oil and fuel corporations likewise all have their
existing facilities in Fortaleza. Asked if new state-highway
infrastructure could supply the missing link and boost Pecem,
Development Secretary Dias alluded to the old British-built,
long-disused railroad into Ceara's interior dating back to days
when cotton was king there -- noting that the gauge had
purposely been different from that of the rest of Brazil, built
to keep Ceara isolated. A regional transport net now would
have to start from scratch.

32. In Fortaleza itself (pop: 2.2 million), two shorefront
hotels had been boarded-up since EconCouns's visits in 2002,
and the pre-2001 hordes of Argentinian vacationers have not yet
begun to reappear, but overall tourism levels were happily
described as heavy, with Euro charter groups galore. Hotel
staff and taxi-drivers commented on the increase of domestic,
Brazilian tourists, taking for granted that the latter's
numbers are up because they have become less able to afford
foreign holidays.

33. U.S. tourists may be fewer, but Ceara's cashew scene is
gaining an American accent. Kraft Foods/Philip Morris and
other outsiders have bought up farms and processing plants,
globalizing Ceara's share of Brazil's 180,000 tons of yearly
cashew production (including 80% of its cashew-nut exports),
according to business daily `Gazeta Mercantil'. Brazil's main
cashew commercial foe: India.


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