Brazil's Oldest Trading State Renews Its Mission
McCrary, Ernest S., Global Finance
Pernambuco, the heart of the easternmost bulge of the
South American continent into the Atlantic, is a state that
thrived on international commerce for 300 years after
it was first settled by the Portuguese in the 1520s.
As the vibrant center of the New World's production of sugar and eventually cotton, Pernambuco and its key port and capital city of Recife played a vital and colorful role in Brazil's early economic development. Portuguese and Brazilian forces, for example, resisted Dutch invaders who seized control of Pernambuco and its lucrative sugar trade from 1630 to 1654. Had they failed to expel the Dutch, Pernambuco and the northeastern region of Brazilperhaps even the entire country-might have been swept into the Dutch colonial empire, which lasted well into the 20th century.
The shifting of Brazil's industrial base to the south in more modern times has left Pernambuco-and most of its neighbor states in the Northeast-in the backwaters of the country's dramatic growth over the past 30-40 years.
Today, Pernambuco has embarked on an ambitious development program designed to recover lost ground, close the economic gap with the rest of industrialized Brazil, and place the state at the forefront of Brazil's burgeoning involvement in global trade and direct investment.
"We have a geographically strategic position," says Joao Recena, Pernambuco's secretary of planning. "The shipping routes of Europe, North America, and Africa converge on Recife. This was Brazil's first important port, and we're going to make this a key center of international commerce again."
To do that, the government is investing heavily in a new deep-water port at Suape, 30 miles south of the aging and congested docks at Recife. "Suape has a spectacular location," says Luiz de Morais Guerra Filho, president of the state-owned Suape Industrial Port Complex. "We're 3,600 miles from New York, 4,300 miles from Rotterdam and Cape Town, and 2,200 miles from Buenos Aires and the Mercosul market. …