When I first traveled to Brazil less than five years ago, I had a vastly different image of the country than I have today. I had been warned that Brazil was an extremely dangerous place where poverty and lawlessness ruled the day. And although many of these warnings came from people who had never even been to Brazil, I was nevertheless apprehensive when I first got off the plane in Vitória.

This trepidation quickly faded as I went about my business. I discovered that Brazil is not only a land of beauty, but it is also one with a very modern stoneworking industry. Walking through the fabrication plants, I saw the names of familiar Italian equipment manufacturers and workers using the latest processing techniques. In a sense, I felt “at home,” even though I was 5,000 miles away in a country where I had never set foot in my life.

The people of Brazil were also quite impressive -- both personally and professionally. They were passionate and eager about the stone industry, and they viewed the trade on an international level.

Since that first trip in the summer of 2000, I have returned to Brazil every year, attending the International Marble & Granite Fair in Vitória, the capital city of Espirito Santo, one of the country's top stone-producing states. And when I travel to this fair, I also make sure I take the opportunity to visit with some stone producers, who continue to discover new materials and process them with state-of-the-art technology from Europe. In this issue of Stone World, we are featuring a preview of the Vitória Fair (page 44) as well as articles on two very different stone suppliers from Brazil -- a producer of slate and quartzite from Belo Horizonte (page 48) and a granite producer from Espírito Santo (page 66). These companies show the diversity of products available from Brazil and the wide scope of the country's stone industry. It is interesting to note that in addition to Brazilian-owned companies, a number of leading European firms have established operations in Brazil. I have reported on some of these facilities in the past, and I expect to see even more when I travel to Brazil later this month.

Of course, I am certainly not the only American who will be present in Brazil. The Vitória Fair has seen an increasing number of U.S. importers, distributors and fabricators, who travel to Brazil to source new stones and visit the stone processing plants in the region.

Given the increased worldwide interest in Brazilian stone, it is not surprising that the marble and granite sector in Brazil registered a record export rate in 2004. From January through October of last year alone, Brazilian marble and granite exports totaled $475 million, a figure $50 million higher than the export total for all of 2003. According to projection specialists, Brazilian exports for 2004 will close at $580 million when the totals are registered, marking 34% growth over 2003.

Upon my return from Brazil, I will be writing an even more in-depth report on the nation's stone industry. In the meantime, enjoy this issue's Report from Latin America, which also reports on an innovative stone producer from Colombia (page 56). And if you are one of the many Americans coming to Vitória later this month, be sure to stop by the Stone World booth and share your Brazilian experiences with our magazine.