Last spring, for the first time, China displaced the United States to become Brazil's biggest trading partner. Yet, many experts are puzzled by the absence of a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two. Such agreements have proven beneficial for Peru and Chile, so what is inhibiting South America’s largest economy from deepening its trade relations with China?
Hoping to uncover some of the answers is Dawn Powell, a senior in USC College. Powell, who hails from San Diego, Calif., has been awarded a 2010–11 Fulbright Fellowship to Brazil where she will probe Sino-Brazilian economic relations and their implications for Brazil’s development.
Powell will examine how domestic factors have shaped Brazil’s trade policies with China and will also look at the protection-dependent sectors of Brazil’s economy, such as the textile industry, and whether their political clout may be hindering the establishment of closer ties.
“Brazil is benefiting overall from its relationship with China, but there are other issues at stake that we need to investigate,” said Powell, an international relations major and Spanish minor. “How do we ensure more winning than losing sectors of Brazil’s economy and how do we compensate for the losers? I think this is going to be the No. 1 development challenge in Brazil for the next few years.”
Powell will conduct her research in Rio de Janeiro with the support of her Fulbright institutional affiliate, the China-Brazil Business Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting dialogue among Brazilian and Chinese companies. There she plans to analyze China’s impact on Brazil’s economy by evaluating data on such areas as unemployment, foreign direct investment and competition in other markets. Powell will also collect firsthand interviews with Brazilian academic and trade experts to help identify the main arguments both for and against a FTA.
In addition, her base in Rio de Janeiro positions her near potential field research sites including São João da Barra, a community known as “Little Shanghai” that is furthering its development by capitalizing on increased Chinese investment in its ports.
To complement her independent research, Powell will enroll in international relations courses at the Universidade Estácio de Sá. These studies will build upon the coursework she completed while spending her junior year abroad at the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil.
While USC College courses such as “The Political Economy of Latin American Development” provided the “perfect preparation,” Powell credits her study abroad experience along with earlier trips to Latin America and volunteer work with fostering her passion for international development.
Prior to spending her Spring 2009 semester in Brazil, she traveled to Costa Rica with USC Volunteer Latin America and Ecuador with the USC International Development Club. Powell now serves as co-director of the USC International Development Association and as an intern in the USC Marshall School of Business’ Society and Business Lab. She has worked for Adventures Ahead, an after-school tutoring program for K-6 students in Los Angeles, and was president of the Invisible Children club, an organization that works to create awareness of the civil conflict in northern Uganda.
Powell also received a USC Provost’s Undergraduate Research Fellowship to work with Associate Professor of International Relations Carol Wise on a project examining the growing trade and investment ties between China and Latin America.
“During the summer of 2009 she produced a case study of the Brazil-China relationship and her findings were so compelling that this became the basis for her Fulbright proposal,” Wise said. “It was an honor to work with Dawn, who is truly gifted as a researcher and writer. She helped to advance my own work considerably.”
While assisting Wise with her research, Powell began to make the connection between the issues of poverty and inequality that she observed while in Brazil and the economic policies being shaped.
“The bigger picture of macroeconomic policy can actually change issues of poverty because you can take increased revenues from trade and pump them into social programs such as Bolsa Familia, which gives small subsidies to millions of poor Brazilians to buy food and other essentials,” she said.
“And it’s working. Poverty is going down in Brazil and I want to see that trend continue. I don’t want the economic relations with China to go in the wrong direction. Brazil needs to capitalize on this opportunity.”
For Powell, her Fulbright Fellowship not only provides the opportunity to conduct important research, but also the chance to explore the best methods for affecting positive change.
She ultimately plans to attend business school and work in the emerging field of social entrepreneurship.
“My passion is really international development and using business models to alleviate poverty,” Powell said. “How can we conduct business in a socially responsible way — doing well and doing good at the same time.”