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Brazil’s Growing Africa Connection

How important are Brazil and Africa to each other?

Inter-American Dialogue

During a visit ...to Africa, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff discussed partnerships including Brazilian mining giant Vale's investments to mine coal in Mozambique. On the trip, Rousseff also discussed strengthening economic ties with officials in Angola and South Africa. What were the highlights of her trip? What do Brazilian companies have to gain through cooperation with African countries and vice versa? What challenges do they face? How important are Brazil-Africa commercial ties and will they continue to increase? Which sectors are especially ripe for collaboration?

Rubens Barbosa, former ambassador of Brazil to the United States: Brazil has a longstanding interest in expanding cultural, political, economic and trade ties with Africa. Since the 1960s, every Brazilian president has visited Africa. Brazil is present through embassies in all African countries and Africa is high on the Brazilian foreign policy agenda. Technical cooperation in Africa is expanding and Brazil has become one of the most important donors in the continent, with no strings attached. Old cultural and linguistic ties play an important role in this context. Brazil was instrumental in the creation of the Commonwealth of the Portuguese Speaking Countries. One of President Rousseff's first visits abroad was to South Africa and to the two Portuguese-speaking countries: Angola and Mozambique. It was a political gesture to show interest in expanding both governmental and private sector cooperation with those countries. Brazilian service companies, such as financial institutions, mining and industrial companies, are established in nearly all African countries. Brazilian companies have much to gain in Angola and Mozambique, which are fast growing economies with stable political regimes. Trade between Brazil and Africa has increased sensibly in the last 10 years and now represents about 5 percent of total Brazilian exports and imports. Given the political priority in the Brazilian foreign policy, political and economic ties are bound to expand in the future. Brazil recently entered into agreement with the United States to cooperate with African countries, beginning in the health sector. The most significant areas of cooperation are mining, infrastructure, food, agriculture and industry.

Riordan Roett, director of the Latin American Studies program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies: President Dilma's first visit to Africa represented a continuation of a strong, longstanding interest of Brazilian foreign policymakers in the African continent. Brazil, unlike most other countries in the region, has had a strong diplomatic and economic presence since the 1970s and the beginning of the 'African Spring' with independence movements in Angola, Mozambique and South Africa. Her first stop was Pretoria for the fifth IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) summit. This is an important centerpiece of Brazilian South-South diplomacy. Brasília hosted the last summit simultaneous with the summit of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) at the end of the Lula presidency. The president then traveled to Mozambique where she participated in a memorial service for the leader of that country's independence movement, Samora Moisés Machel. Dilma then met with 10 of the Brazilian firms operating in Mozambique commenting that 'you are the image of Brazil overseas.' She also pointed out that Odebrecht, for example, has 6,000 workers in the country, 90 percent of whom are nationals. This makes Odebrecht one of the largest employers in Mozambique. The policy of hiring and training national workers contrasts with the often-controversial policy of Chinese companies that import Chinese laborers. Angola was the final and perhaps most important stop. Brazil was the first Western nation to recognize the MPLA as the legitimate government of Angola in November 1975. Once again, Odebrecht is the largest private employer in the country with 17,000 local hires. The trip allowed Dilma to showcase Brazilian private firms working to help develop infrastructure resources in the countries visited and to emphasize that Brazil's commitment to Africa is permanent and will continue to grow given the opening of a number of new embassies and frequent government visits to the region, enhanced by language, culture and history.

Jorge Heine, CIGI chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, and a former Chilean cabinet minister and ambassador: President Rousseff's visit to Southern Africa builds on President Lula's Africa policy. Lula visited Africa 10 times and opened 16 new embassies, for a total of 34. If Asia is the focus of Brazil's international trade and investment policy, Africa is the centerpiece of its efforts to become a global player. The recent election of a Brazilian, Miguel Graziano da Silva, as the first Latin American to head the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, defeating the European candidate, is one result. Rousseff's visit highlighted three key dimensions of Itamaraty's Africa strategy. In Mozambique, still one of Africa's poorest countries, and Brazil's number-one aid recipient with $70 million a year, the announcement of a Brazilian pharmaceutical plant to produce anti-retrovirals in a country with a high HIV incidence rate shows that Brazil's cooperation is not based on handouts, but on partnership. In Angola, one of Africa's most resource-rich nations, Brazilian business has a strong presence; Brazilian company Odebrecht is Angola's single-largest private employer. In South Africa, where Rousseff attended the fifth IBSA summit of the eight-year-old entity (a Brazilian initiative), the emphasis of the 6,000-word communiqué was on global governance issues like the current financial crisis, the G20 and U.N. Security Council reform. Brazilian companies, especially in the energy sector, but also in construction and engineering, have much to gain from tapping into Africa's rapidly growing economies. Total trade between Brazil and Africa increased from $4.2 billion in 2000 to $20.5 billion in 2010 and is likely to continue to increase at a fast pace.

Republished with permission from the Inter-American Dialogue's daily Latin America Advisor newsletter


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