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Brazzil - Technology - August 2004

Embraer, a Brazilian Shining Example

Government administrations in Brazil need to get rid of the habit
of destroying what their predecessors started, changing names
and ideas of projects every time power changes hands. They need
to learn that only through decades of continuity successful
projects, which will make the nation proud, can be carried out.

Cristovam Buarque


Picture Nothing exemplifies the Brazilian potential better than the aviation industry, the production and exports of airplanes. Embraer, an example of success of the nation's economy, is proof that our potential rests in investing in education.

It symbolizes a modern Brazil, one which is successful in international biddings in the most sophisticated field of industrial production. Above all, Embraer is the product of investment in education, science, and technology, and not in the economy.

Embraer grew from investments of successive government administrations in the Aeronautics Technological Institute (ITA) and the Aeronautics Technology Center (CTA).

Way before investing in the production plant itself, Brazil began preparing the engineers and technicians that the industry would require. Embraer would be a mere assembly line without an aviation engineering school and an aviation technology research center.

But the company also would not exist had other five conditions not been fulfilled.

First, if project ITA and CTA suffered any interruption during the changing of guards at the government level. It took decades of careful consolidation, carried forward by the nation's aviation industry, with the backing from one government administration after another, an unwritten pact among all parties in power since the 1950s.

Second, research and education probably wouldn't have turned into industrial achievements had they been modeled after what takes place on most of the country's university training and research grounds: a frightened and biased attitude towards the industrial production process. Thanks to the aviation industry's pragmatic foresight, the development in engineering opened the door to technology.

Third, this same technology, despite its practicality, would have been forgotten on drawing boards and academic publications, or made available to foreign companies, had the government not created Embraer.

The private sector wouldn't have had means or interest, financial resources or entrepreneurial motivation, to transform research and education into an aviation industry. The power and resources of—again—successive government administrations were essential for Embraer to thrive in Brazil.

Fourth, the state company Embraer would have remained a local business had it not been privatized. It's a logic matter, not a paradox—Embraer wouldn't have existed had it not been a state company, and it wouldn't have reached such heights had it remained state run.

Privatization became crucial to provide the necessary dynamics for efficiency in production, to seek partnerships, and compete in the bidding world.

Fifth, even as a private entity, Embraer would not have attained its current position in the world market had the Brazilian government, via BNDES (National Bank for Development), not maintained the course of support, just as European, Canadian, Russian, and American companies receive help from their governments, by way of access to financing at subsidized interest rates or incentives for equipment acquisition.

These five prerequisites are an example for Brazil to overcome several misconceptions: that education is a social expense, and not an investment in the future of the nation, including the economy; that the country's universities should fear partnering with the industrial sector; that state companies are a backward move to be avoided; and that privatizations mean giving away the nation's assets.

Embraer is an industrial example, but it can represent more than that: it can be a conceptual model of a new project for Brazil, without mistaken beliefs and with principles—most importantly, prioritizing education, valuing what is Brazilian, and the combined role of State and private sector.

But, ultimately, government administrations need to get rid of the habit of destroying what their predecessors started, changing names and ideas of projects every time power changes hands.

They need to learn that only through decades of continuity, in the hands of different administrations, can successful projects—that will make the nation proud—be carried out.

Cristovam Buarque - cristovam@senador.gov.br - has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PT Senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04).
Translated from the Portuguese by Eduardo Assumpção de Queiroz. He is a freelance translator, with a degree in Business and almost 20 years of experience working in the fields of economics, communications, social and political sciences, and sports. He lives in Boca Raton, Florida. His email: eaqus@adelphia.net.

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