Long before the word “Amazon” was associated with Internet book sales, it was the name of a mighty South American river. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is wrapping up his weeklong Congressional trade mission to Argentina and Brazil. Grassley toured the Amazon River earlier this week and says its infrastructure puts what we have on the Mississippi River “to shame.”

The Amazon is so deep, Grassley says, that no lock and dam system is needed and agricultural products can be swiftly delivered downriver to the world market. Grassley says “They do have a major problem of a lack of roads and a lack of rail transportation getting it to the river and that’s about the only thing that makes us competitive with them. If they had good rail transportation, road transportation, they would eat us alive.”

Grassley spoke with Radio Iowa from Brazil. He says if the U.S., the Midwest in particular, is going to stay competitive, we need to make some serious improvements to our own infrastructure. Grassley says “We’ve got to do something that we can control and we can control our own investment in the lock and dam situation on the Mississippi to keep it updated and expand it so it can make us competitive with the Brazilians and that’s going to be even more so when they get a rail and road transportation system that equals ours.”

Iowa is the nation’s top ethanol producer but Brazil is the world’s top ethanol producer. Grassley says flexible fuel vehicles — which run on gas, ethanol or any combination — are much more popular in Brazil than in the U.S. Grassley says he’s on his way to a flex-fuel manufacturing plant for General Motors cars as 70-percent of the cars sold in Brazil are flex-fuel.

Grassley, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is slated to return to the U.S. on Sunday night. Iowa Congressman Steve King, of Kiron, is also among the eight U.S. elected leaders on the taxpayer-paid trade trip.