US-BRAZILIAN SHOWDOWN NEARS

Sept. 7 is a special day for Brazil. It's the anniversary date of the nation's independence.

It is also the day, nearly a year ago, that the U.S. government announced that it would seek to open up Brazil's informatics market - computers and other electronics products including digital equipment to the United States and other foreign companies. Some interested observers have since disapproved of the coincidence - the United States' challenging a nation's economic independence on the day the nation was celebrating political independence. The fallout, however, has not been all that negative. More U.S. officials are aware of the timing of Brazil's day of independence.The U.S. decision last September to get tough with Brazil - a decision still without substantive results - may be about to have ramifications unforeseen at that time.

It could affect U.S.-Brazilian relations at the highest level, to wit, whether Brazilian President Jose Sarney visits President Reagan early next month. Mr. Sarney is due to arrive here Sept. 9, two days after independence day. He also is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress, which hardly every foreign leader gets to do.

A successful Washington visit for Mr. Sarney could reap long-term benefits not only for Brazil but for the United States. It could improve his political party's prospects in Brazil's parliamentary elections in November. It is a party of moderate, centrist tendencies. Moreover, the parliamentarians to be elected in November are those who will frame Brazil's new constitution.

But speculation is that Mr. Sarney is considering canceling his Washington visit. The informatics issue - comprehended by a privileged few here but a big political item in Brazil - threatens to turn the visit into a fiasco.

President Reagan, under U.S. law, must make a decision by Sept. 15 on whether to retaliate against Brazil for what the United States regards as unreasonable restrictions on U.S. trade and investment in informatics.

Unless the two governments reach an informatics compromise early next month, the U.S. decision will overhang the Sarney visit. If Mr. Reagan opts to retaliate, U.S.-Brazilian relations - and quite possibly, Mr. Sarney's prestige in Brazil - will suffer badly.

As of now, the outlook for a quick informatics settlement is less than promising. Two weeks ago, Clayton Yeutter, the U.S trade representative, and Paulo Tarso Flecha de Lima, Brazil's secretary general of foreign relations, made little if any progress in their latest round of in formatics talks.

And so far, no new talks are set.

The informatics embroglio involves a Brazilian policy to try to develop its own industry in a nationally strategic sector. In 1984, Brazil adopted a law reserving computer and allied goods production and sales to Brazilian-owned firms. It reaffirmed the government's authority to restrict imports of those products.

U.S. firms still have a large share of Brazil's informatics market, but the share is diminishing as the market expands.

Last September, the Reagan administration, hoping to persuade a protectionist Congress that it is aggressively protecting U.S. trade interests, pinpointed Brazil, among others, for investigation under Section 301 of the U.S. trade law. The section authorizes the president to act against foreign unfair trade practices. It was a move that some U.S. business executives, even those in the computer business, privately say was too confrontational. With continuing protectionist urgings in Congress, the administration is stuck with it.

Informatics hardly is the only divisive U.S.-Brazilian economics issue.

Last fall, as part of its review of worldwide trade barriers, the U.S. trade representative's office outlined 17 pages of questionable Brazilian practices, from unusually high tariffs and restrictive import licensing to

copyright piracy and local insurance monopolies.

Despite periodic talks, U.S. officials have made little apparent headway in lowering those barriers, except in Brazil's more liberal import rules for civil aircraft.

Of immediate concern here is that proposals to reserve the Brazilian pharmaceutical and specialty chemical markets for Brazilian producers are reportedly on Mr. Sarney's desk.

Other market reserve sectors under study include minerals, aerospace, biotechnology and - hold on - fast food and tooth paste.

Even on a multilateral scale, the United States and Brazil are sparring. Brazil, apparently eager to establish itself as a Third World leader, is resisting U.S. efforts to launch a new international trade negotiation in Geneva to include services trade and trade-related investment policies.

Mr. Sarney's visit here is scheduled just before a showdown meeting on these issues by the 92-nation General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in Uruguay.

The two countries are feuding, too, over Brazil's export credit practices - so much so that the U.S. Export-Import Bank has suspended new medium or long-term financing of U.S. exports to Brazil.

Despite over $11 billion in hard-currency reserves, Brazil is more than $300 million in arrears on repayments to Ex-Im Bank and, U.S. officials indicate, Brazil is making no real effort to get current.

Venting anger, the Treasury Department recently approved two extraordinary Ex-Im Bank loans to lure U.S. buyers away from purchases of Brazilian-made turbine generators.

Brazil has complaints about the United States, despite its piling up $4 billion to $5 billion annual trade surpluses with this country. It objects to a 60 cents a gallon duty on ethanol, sugar import quotas and U.S. steel import policies. It worries that next year the United States will pare its duty-free preferences on Brazilian goods.

Despite its $100-billion-plus foreign debt, Brazil - for the moment - is doing unusually well, economic growth in the 5 percent range, inflation averaging about 1.5 percent a month, with trade surpluses of $11 billion or more a year.

With a recent return to democracy, there is yet more to celebrate.

It is up to the two governments, with the help of two countries' business communities, as represented by the Brazil-U.S. Business Council, to overcome mean differences, and, as the council recently suggested, forge an economic and political alliance...that transcends the cliches and platitudes of the 'North-South Dialogue.'

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