Brazil 09/10/11

Dilma meets Blatter to discuss World Cup preparations, auto giants announce huge investment in Brazil, and the country’s Catholic population hits an all-time low.

With concerns emerging about the progress of Brazil’s preparations for the 2014, Dilma Rousseff met with FIFA officials in Brussels on Monday to discuss the General World Cup Law, which was sent to Congress in Brasília on in mid-September.

The meeting was called after it emerged that there were a number of discrepancies between the law itself and the proposals put forward by world football’s current governing body.

Before the meeting, Rousseff had made clear her intention to stand firm in the face of pressure from FIFA, particularly on the issue of half-price admission to games for those aged over 60, pointing out that this was enshrined in Brazilian law and, as such, was non-negotiable.

Other important items under discussion were the unpopular ban on the sale of alcohol around stadiums during the tournament, and the punishment to be adminstered to those convicted of piracy. FIFA has expressed a desire for the possible penalty to extend up to one year’s imprisonment, while in Brazil the usual sentence ranges from just one to three months. No conclusion has yet been reached on this latter issue but FIFA’s general secretary, Jerome Valcke, declared the outcome of the meeting to be a positive one: ‘if we work together, we both win’.

Finance Minister Guido Mantega’s decision last month to impose a sharp tax increase on imported vehicles appears to have borne immediate fruit, as both JAC Motors and Nissan announced major investments in new factories in Brazil this week.

Friday’s announcement from China’s JAC, which outlined a R$900 million (US$510 million) investment in a new plant in Bahia state, made specific mention of the tax hike. The plant will produce 100,000 affordable cars and trucks per year, and create some 3,500 jobs, and is due to open in 2014.

On Monday Carlos Ghosn, the Brazilian-born president of Franco-Japanese Renault-Nissan conglomerate, announced that his company will spend R$2.6 billion (US$1.5 billion) as it opens a new Nissan plant outside Rio de Janeiro and expands the existing Renault factory in São José dos Pinhais, Paraná. In an interview with the Globo news channel on Friday Ghosn, who has recently announced aggressive strategies in all three of Brazil’s fellow “BRIC” nations, described the Brazilian market as ‘a huge opportunity’ for his company.

Finally, research conducted by the Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo has revealed that the number of Catholics in Brazil is at its lowest level since records began. Based on 200,000 interviews from Brazil’s 2010 census, the study shows that the Catholic share of the population hit 68% of the population last year, its lowest level since census figures began monitoring religious faith in 1872.

A number of theories have been proposed for the drastic increase in the number of Brazilians turning away from the Vatican, from the rapid spread of Pentecostal churches across the country to the expansion of the middle class. Just 30 years ago, nearly 90% of Brazilians declared themselves Catholic on the census form.