Prime minister arrives in São Paulo, hoping British companies can benefit as Brazil develops new defence strategy
David Cameron is leading a push to increase sales of British military equipment to Brazil after taking executives from six defence contractors to Latin America’s largest economy.
As the prime minister pledged to ensure Britain was “tied up” with the world’s fastest growing economic regions, officials confirmed that UK companies were on course to help Brazil build up its armed forces.
Brazil, which recently launched a new defence strategy, is aiming to procure a new aircraft carrier, surface ships and frigates. BAE Systems, one of six defence contractors to accompany the prime minister on his visit, recently sold three offshore patrol vessels to Brazil.
The company’s managing director for Europe and the Americas, Martin Bennett, is among 58 business leaders accompanying the prime minister. Other companies represented by executives on the trip include Babcock, Thales, General Dynamic, MBDA and Serco.
Cameron arrived in São Paulo, the largest city in Latin America, on Thursday in the first visit by a British prime minister to Brazil since 2009. He later travelled to Rio de Janeiro which will host the 2016 Olympics. He will conclude his visit on Friday when he meets President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia on Friday.
The prime minister began his visit by opening a new £60m 350,000 sq ft factory for the British company JCB which is run by the Conservative party donor Sir Anthony Bamford. The factory should lead to £100m in orders for components from the main JCB plant in Britain.
Cameron said: “This visit is about British jobs, British growth and the British economy, because I want Britain to be tied up to the fastest growing economies on the planet. Brazil is now a top six economy and this visit is about safeguarding and creating 3,000 jobs back at home.”
Britain is hoping its historic connections with Brazil – a fifth of UK exports used to go to Latin America’s largest country in 1921 – will put it in a strong position as the $2tn economy grows at about 7% a year. Officials are hoping Britain’s military connections – the first head of the Brazillian navy was British – will help Britain as Brazil increases its defence capability.
One British diplomatic source said that Brazil’s development of its armed forces would not stoke tensions in the region.
“Like any country, this is about how they take care of their own national defence,” the source said. “They don’t perceive any threat from any neighbouring country or in the region. There hasn’t been an interstate war between countries here for well over a century so nobody is thinking about that.
“It is more about what we did in the UK. When we started up North Sea oil, we were thinking, what do we need to do in terms of defence? So they are thinking about the Amazon, they are thinking about their offshore oil finds. They are equipping themselves for that.
“We do have a close relationship, military to military. We have had some army staff talks recently in London. The first sea lord visited here in July and we have very good talks navy to navy. We do the same with the RAF. That is growing, the links between the two armed forces.”
Diplomats said increasing defence sales to Brazil would not jeopardise the security of the Falklands. Brazil supports Argentina’s claim to the islands. But diplomats said the Falklands were not a source of tension between London and Brasilia because each country understands their respective positions.