On September 7, President Abdo invited the participants of Invest in Paraguay to his residence, along with his entire cabinet of ministers. On arrival, we were surprised by the simplicity of the reception. We went in without being searched and were greeted by very helpful and organized staff. His residence, a large colonial-style house in Asuncion, was simple with colonial decoration and historical paintings. We were taken to the central area, where a large tent was set up, where there were more than 200 people. We talked in small circles and, suddenly a minister joined us and we talked about one thing or another. At one point, President Abdo joined our circle and, he nicely delivered words of welcome, patiently listened to comments on situations, suggestions, and photo requests. And similarly, he went from one group to another. There were no speeches, presentations, or anything we expected; there was a surprising simplicity and direct contact between the investment community and the country’s highest authorities.
That was the style of the 3 days in Asuncion: simplicity, direct conversations and personalized attention to the investor. The opening words by President Abdo reflected such a style. I want to listen and talk to the investor, he said. The surprise was that, in the same style as the night before, that is, simplicity, he stayed in the plenary to listen to conferences and debates, with his entire cabinet. It was something unprecedented. What we are used to is that the country’s top authority withdraws shortly after his speech, followed by his assistants and ministers. However, he stayed at the Convention all day, answering requests for hearings and talks.
At lunch, there was a new surprise: there he was, simple, going from circle to circle, listening, talking and without great pomp and circumstance, he mingled among all of us. This surprise about how a ruler can influence an entire government in how to treat investors and civil society leaders, reflects the importance that Paraguay gives to domestic and foreign investment.
The surprise was that both foreign economists and the IDB itself say that Paraguay is very close to receiving an “investment grade” rating, which would make a big difference for the central South American country. On this occasion, very relevant investment announcements were made in the areas of telecommunications, cellulose and reforestation, the auto parts industry and services.
Relevant was the presentation of the American Mauricio Claver-Carona, on the part of the IDB presidency, who showed the immediate effect of “nearshoring” and the recognition of Paraguay’s strategic position. Second, the IDB supports the new direction of nearshoring, especially the search for sustainable alternatives in the Americas. He recalled that Paraguay, like few countries, maintains trade and investment relations with Taiwan, and has restrictions with China.
It is no coincidence that there is this US dominance in Paraguay. However, the surprise is that Paraguay is attracting investment not only from the US, but also from Europe and Latin America. The ads placed came from Spain, Sweden, the US and Brazil. Brazil is advertising investments in biofuel innovations and high quality for aircraft; in the textile area; in the area of industrial consumption as suppliers of sustainable packaging (aluminum and recycled PET).
Some additional surprises were revealed, such as a Nestlé service center in Paraguay, which is looking for young people trained in the software and services of this outstanding company along with its clients and consumers.
The process of social and governmental digitalization is moving forward and may lead to a GDP per capita increase by two digits. Brazil’s influence in agribusiness is increasing with technologies in biofuels, fibers and in the areas of animal proteins. Paraguay sees the possibility of entering global production chains as a strategic development factor. The shortest way is to look for it in its older neighbor and, therefore, to try to be present with technology and innovation.
Overcoming structural deficiencies brings about institutional, tax and exchange stability. These surprises are found in a country that is struggling to overcome its negative image of being a country linked to the smuggling and minor crimes among other; but here, the efforts shown for many years in various governments are bearing fruit in the preferences of investors, who are beginning to identify a very great opportunity for long-term projects in this country.
Its central position will be decisive if Mercosur’s joint effort achieves the integration of the Paraná-Paraguay basin, which, despite its difficulties, today represents the 3rd largest fleet of river barges. We will face the new situation related to Itaipu in 2023 when the economic situation will become very good with the completion of the payment of contracted debts and the new configuration between Brazil and Paraguay. If the negotiators understand that it is not just about tariffs but about a gigantic opportunity to promote sustainable joint development with constant and perennial resources.
In the current aspects of the world agenda, food security, energy security, and climate change (bioeconomy), Paraguay and its neighbors are part of the solution and less of the problem.
Seriousness and attitudes backing the words are what we could perceive these days in Paraguay. A forgotten nation overcomes its image as a result of the efforts of its civil society and the public sector, businessmen, leaders, and its people, to do better with perseverance. How good it is to have good surprises in these turbulent times.
Ingo Plöger is a Brazilian Entrepreneur, President of CEAL Brazilian Chapter
Photo credit: Viktor Kisman/Pixabay