Well over a year after plowing the field, Japan and Brazil have finally begun to sow the seed in hopes of reaping their first crop as early as autumn.

It’s not about real farming, of course; it’s about a joint diplomatic aid initiative between the world’s largest-single aid donor and by far Latin America’s biggest economic power.

Amid a lot of fanfare, top government aid officials of the two countries signed the Japan-Brazil Partnership Program in March 2000 to promote bilateral cooperation in providing technical assistance to other developing countries.

But until recently the two countries could not agree on even a single joint project under the Japan-Brazil Partnership Program, raising strong doubts about whether the program would develop as smoothly as initially expected.

As their first specific project, the two countries have finally agreed, in principle, to launch a joint assistance program for Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony that became independent in 1975, in the area of health care, according to government sources.

The sources said that a Japanese mission of government officials and aid experts from the government-affiliated Japan International Cooperation Agency will visit the Southeast African country later this month.

The mission members will discuss details of the health-care project with both officials of the Mozambican government and staff members of the Brazilian Embassy there, the sources said.

The mission members may also visit Angola, a Southwest African country that won independence from Portugal in 1975, to explore similar joint aid projects with Brazil, the sources said.

“If everything goes smoothly, the joint health-care project in Mozambique will be inaugurated as early as this autumn,” one government aid official closely involved in the matter said, requesting anonymity.

The Japan-Brazil Partnership Program will target other Portuguese-speaking developing countries, including East Timor, a former Portuguese colony that is to become fully independent from Indonesia as early as the end of this year following a United Nations-run independence referendum in August 1999. Most Portuguese-speaking developing countries are located in Africa.

The partnership program is aimed at boosting “triangular” cooperation among Japan, Brazil and the poorer developing countries, with Japan providing financial support for “South-South” cooperation between Brazil and the poorer developing countries.

For example, if Brazil accepts trainees from the Portuguese-speaking African countries and East Timor or sends experts to them to help their development efforts, Japan will finance the Brazilian technical assistance from its official development assistance budget.

In recent years, Japan has made promotion of triangular cooperation among it and developing countries a major pillar of its official aid policy.

Technical assistance from relatively rich developing countries to poorer developing countries with similar cultural backgrounds are widely believed to be more effective and less expensive than technical assistance directly offered by industrialized countries to the poorest among the third world.

Although Japan has continued to retain the status as the world’s largest aid donor for the past decade, the growth in its official development assistance budget has been heavily curbed in recent years due to the country’s ongoing economic slide.

The Japanese ODA budget for fiscal 2001, in fact, was slashed 3 percent.

Japan has so far concluded partnership programs for triangular cooperation with several countries, including Singapore, Thailand and Egypt.

Japan’s partnership programs with Singapore and Thailand will be carried out mainly for the development of the two Southeast Asian countries’ poorer neighbors, like Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Brazil became the third Latin American country to conclude an aid partnership with Japan, after Mexico and Chile. Earlier this month, Japan and Argentina also concluded a similar agreement.

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