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Why Brazil seeks a $6 billion bailout

President Reagan's visit to Brazil is seen as evidence that the United States is going to assist this South American giant in every way possible to get it over a financial crunch.

''Even if Reagan does not mention the subject,'' the Brazilian weekly Manchete writes, ''his visit sounds like an endorsement (for Brazil) before the global financial community. He will be turning on a light that says no difficulty should be created for Brazil'' - a message which, even though silent, is easy for US bankers and investors to understand.

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The President's three-day visit coincided with Brazil's request for a $6 billion, three-year loan in standby and extended credits from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Delayed for weeks, the decision to ask the IMF for a bailout was not a popular move. Brasilia worried that it would become a political football during the electoral campaign before its Nov. 15 nationwide vote.

Actually, Brazil, under President Joao Baptista de Oliveira Figueiredo, has met many of the requirements that the IMF imposes prior to granting loans and other assistance. An austerity program, worked out by Planning Minister Antonio Delfim Netto, has been in place for almost two years. Budget hold-downs in Brasilia have become commonplace during this period and will continue.

And Brazil could easily accept IMF financing to help it over the current period with much less strain than Mexico, Argentina, Chile, and Costa Rica face.

There was never any doubt that Brazil would eventually resort to IMF assistance to meet its current financial crunch. But when Finance Minister Ernane Galveas announced this week that Brazil would go to the IMF, it was almost anticlimactic.

Brazil has been talking with the IMF for several weeks about the nature of an IMF package. Everyone here knew it, but no one would say so. The focus of talks between the US and Brazilian leaders is expected to center largely on economic issues.

Brazilians recognize their economic difficulties. This week's issue of Senhor magazine, for example, commenting on the Reagan vist, said flatly: ''Today Brazil is an economically vulnerable nation. It desperately needs US aid in order not to go bankrupt.'' Not all Brazilians would share that view, but it is clear they are deeply concerned about their economy.

Brazil is in a unique position economically. In some ways still part of the third world, it is nonetheless the eighth-largest economy in the free world. Brazil is much more equal economically and culturally to the US than any other nation in Latin America.

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But it has numerous - even staggering - problems. Its foreign debt, now approaching $85 billion, according to figures released here recently, is only one of the problems.

While a part of the economy has surged dramatically forward in recent years, carrying about half of Brazil's 125 million people with it, that other half of Brazilians are either outside the mainstream economy or living just inside its margins. This alone presents a tremendous weight that holds Brazil back from realizing its potential.

Week by week, Brazilian government officers regularly release new statistics that show how frightful the situation is - and how much of a mortgage it is on Brazil's future.

For example, one agency here reported last week that 10 million children in Brazil are undernourished. Infant mortality, according to another report, is high, particularly in the northeast where 36 out of every 100 deaths are children under one year of age.

Such statistics may not figure directly in the US-Brazilian talks, but they are part of the reason behind Brazil's uneven economic performance.

President Reagan, for his part, is telling President Figueiredo that the US supports Brazil's request for an IMF bailout.

Washington knows by its own experience that no nation likes to admit its financial difficulties, much less adopt the necessary austerity measures needed to resolve the problem.

Yet as US banker David Rockefeller said in Rio de Janeiro two weeks ago, Brazil need not feel ashamed to turn to the IMF, for the international agency was set up precisely to deal with situations such as that now facing Brazil.

Mr. Rockefeller also noted that Brazil was one of the original signatories of the IMF charter that provided the formula for financial assistance to nations needing it.

The IMF package being considered includes:

* An immediate $300 million in Special Drawing Rights (SDR) which will be added to $400 million in SDR's withdrawn earlier this year.

* A compensatory credit loan of $500 million before the end of the year to make up for lost export revenue, which was caused by sharp drops in international commodity prices for coffee, soybeans, and cocoa.

* A $60 million to $70 million loan this year to help stabilize sugar prices, which have plunged on the international market this year.

* Standby and extended credit totaling 450 percent of the country's contribution to the IMF. These loans would be spread out over three years: $1.5 billion in 1983, $1.3 billion in '84, and $1.3 billion in 85.

* A second compensatory loan of $500 million sometime in 1983 to make up for lost export revenue due to a decline in international commodity prices.

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