I am writing this at night next to the pool at the Copacabana Palace Hotel. I know, I can't quite believe it myself. I could order a Pratos Tipicos Brasilerios - I have the menu open next to me as I type this - it's a typical Brazilian dish with beef, manioc flour, peas, fried banana and fried egg. Believe me now? You couldn't make that combination up.

The waitresses here look like Gisele Bundchen and wear Diane von Furstenberg wrap dresses. Tongue back in, dude. It's a crazy place. When I went walking down the beach earlier I saw men in budgie smugglers (lots), an old lady with green hair who looked like either a troll or some fashion designer's muse, dogs wearing sunglasses, 5-year-olds with tattoos, skinny women with hot pants and shoes the size of concrete blocks, a few people who apparently forgot to get dressed before they left the house, dirty beggar children with lots of bling.

And frankly I was feeling madly glamorous and cosmopolitan sitting here glugging down my caipirinha till it was too dark to read. You know that scene from Star Wars in the bar with all the odd creatures? I was thinking of that. Fancying the people at the bar were mercenaries, mafia dons, arms dealers, diamond smugglers, showgirls called Lola. So louche. I hoped.

Then I heard a New Zealand accent at the next table. It turned out to be Peter and Tracy and Andrew and Chris from Murray's Bay. Peter and Andrew own a company which imports chilly bins into New Zealand. They weren't here working. They were on holiday as a foursome as they do every year. They are very organised people who had ticked the sights: they had "seen Christ" (wow, really?) and been up the Sugarloaf. They were lovely and friendly.

But the holidaymakers from the East Coast Bays rather killed my edgy buzz. Brazil is hustling. And how. Brazil's economy is forecast to expand 4 per cent next year while inflation will slow to 4.32 per cent by year-end, its central bank survey predicts. The Sao Paulo-based stock exchange, the Bovespa, jumped 54 per cent this year. "This is a grand time to be a Brazilian," the Economist wrote last week, saluting the country's inspirational President Luiz In cio Lula da Silva. "Brazil is now on every list of the half-dozen or so new places that matter in the 21st century," the Economist pronounced, noting no international gathering is complete these days without Lula.

Brazil's vertiginous inequalities of income are narrowing slowly but steadily: under Lula, 13 million Brazilians have been lifted out of poverty.

Of course, unlike Murray's Bay, Brazil has a reputation as a dangerous place. Also: sexy. The two perhaps connected. I am not advocating New Zealand should turn into Brazil. But perhaps we could benefit from just a little bit of its samba shimmy. Brazil, one of the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) is part of an emerging new world order in the lead forging "south-south" alliances with China, India, Russia and South Africa.

The last New Zealand Government made noises about being interested in increasing trade and cultural ties with Latin America. But we will only do $170 million of trade with Brazil. More Brazilians are coming to visit New Zealand, usually to study English. The MFAT website says there are vibrant cultural links between the two countries but the hook-ups they use as examples are several years old.

While the rest of the world is mired in depression we could do worse than looking for opportunities in Brazil. I hope next time I bump into Peter and Tracy and Andrew and Chris they will be here doing a deal rather than ticking Christ off their to-do list.

deborah@coneandco.com