BOGOTA, COLOMBIA — France signed multibillion-dollar arms deals Tuesday to sell Brazil 50 military helicopters and five submarines, including one nuclear-powered vessel.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy joined his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, at a news conference at a hotel fronting Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach to announce the deals, whose value could exceed $11 billion.
"France believes that a powerful Brazil is an element of stability in the world," Sarkozy said, adding that the helicopter project would allow French companies to "act throughout Latin America."
Standing alongside Sarkozy, Lula said the French offer of transferring "technological know-how" to Brazil was a key element in the deal.
Under the terms, France will build five submarines at a new shipyard to be built in Itaguai, an industrial zone near Rio that is also the site of a ThyssenKrupp steel factory under construction.
The deal comes a week after Lula unveiled a comprehensive new defense strategy that would restructure Brazil's military and launch an arms buildup over the next 20 years. The purpose, he said, was to defend the country's expanding offshore oil fields and its mineral deposits in the Amazon.
"A country which has the dimensions Brazil has, a country which has just discovered immense oil reserves in deep waters, a country which has the Amazon to defend, must have a defense strategy," Lula said Monday during his regular "Breakfast With the President" radio show.
Lula is also eyeing the growing military strength of Venezuela and wants to maintain parity, according to a defense consultant who advises the Brazilian government and who spoke to The Times recently on condition of anonymity.
Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim told reporters that French companies had agreed to transfer technology to Brazilian firms to build the 50 military helicopters.
The project is to create 400 jobs and begin delivering choppers in 2010. The helicopters are to be assembled in Itajuba in Minas Gerais state.
By next summer, Brazil is expected to announce the winner of a lucrative contract to build 36 aircraft, the first phase of a new generation of jet fighters. French and Swedish firms are competing with Boeing to win the contract.
"Brazil is not thinking of going to war, but really thinking of defending itself, in ensuring its patrimony," Lula said during his radio program.
In November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited Brazil and signed several deals with Lula, including a memorandum of understanding that Brazil would buy 12 Mi-35M attack helicopters.
Brazil is only beginning to develop a New Jersey-size oil field off its southeastern coast that could be one of the world's richest and contain more than 100 billion barrels of oil. Security for the field, called Pre-salt, was a factor in Brazil drafting the new defense plan.
French and Brazilian companies also signed an agreement to explore ways of cooperating on new hydroelectric projects in the Amazon region.
Special correspondent Marcelo Soares in Porto Alegre, Brazil, contributed to this report.