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In conversation with H.E Alfredo Leoni – Brazilian Ambassador to Pakistan

In conversation with H.E Alfredo Leoni – Brazilian Ambassador to Pakistan

Brazilian ambassador to Pakistan H.E Alfredo Leoni talks to Blue Chip about the strengthening bilateral ties between the two countries and what can be done to improve relations and further exploit investment opportunities.

You recently addressed the business community in Peshawar about how mutual investment can be enhanced between the two countries, what are your recommendations to boost trade ties between Pakistan and Brazil?

Alfredo Leoni: “In Peshawar as usual I was very specific over one point which ambassadors do not generally like to refer to, which is the question of the image of Pakistan abroad. So in order to develop a business relationship it is necessary to exchange business visits, which means businessmen from Brazil coming to Pakistan and businessmen from Pakistan going to Brazil. Where ever I go I always tell them that I do everything I can to convince Pakistani businessmen to go to Brazil because there is work to be done in order to portray Pakistan positively and to show the Brazilian business community that it is perfectly viable to do business here and that it is safe and profitable. That is why I say it’s not enough to do it by telephone or by email, it’s important to personally visit.

The embassy of Brazil is more than happy to facilitate businessmen who wish to visit Brazil and are planning business ventures there. We urge them to also convince their counterparts in Brazil to come Pakistan and find investment opportunities here as we feel that is of utmost importance.”

How have the challenges in Pakistan like the law and order situation, the energy crisis and the instability that we have been witnessing. How has that affected Pakistan as an investment destination?

AL: “This is an unfortunate reality and Pakistan is facing a tough time right now but I’m sure Pakistan will overcome this situation. I realise how much is being done in order to match the energy requirements for the industries. Nevertheless, I am a witness of the Pakistani business community that is going on and doing business even though there are constraints like the lack of sufficient energy and sufficient power and it needs to be addresses by authorities. If they follow the right track we believe that soon Pakistan will get rid of this bad situation and will be in a normal position to have regular energy resources required for business and industries.”

What sectors do you believe have the most potential for investment?

AL: “I think Brazil is by far the largest commercial partner of Pakistani in the region. The investment relationship is good, but it’s far from enough and we have to do much much more. Our investment relationship today is worth $260 million which was over $400 million when Pakistan was buying sugar from Brazil. The good news is that the exports from Pakistan to Brazil have almost doubled in the last two years. So this means that Pakistanis are considering Brazil as a real partner. What I would like is to have Brazil as one of the major partners of Pakistan in the world – not only in Latin America. Although Brazil is far away, it is a different country, has different traditions, population and history, but the good thing is that perhaps because of this we are very close in terms of friendship and we have absolutely no negative issues because our business people understand each other very well.

I think the scope of trade and business opportunities is very big and today the most important area is textile, cotton and other instruments which are traditional items of our trade but I feel there are many other areas where we can do business. To start with, Halaal poultry and meat can be one area because Brazil is the largest exporter of chicken and one very important region for Brazil is the Gulf countries, so Pakistan and Brazil in collaboration can export these products to the Gulf countries from Pakistan with technology from Brazil. The product will be much more profitable and this will have a big impact for Pakistan. This is just one of many examples of joint collaboration.

One important thing which is happening already is trilateral business. We have a Brazilian net in Pakistan who is doing business from Pakistan with China so that means there is already internal trade going on which doesn’t appear in our data, but its happening. We export fruits to Pakistan, so with this we can go a little bit further to stop the third man from making direct contact which will be much more profitable for Brazil and Pakistan. But, above all what is important is that Brazil becomes better known in Pakistan and that Pakistanis see Brazil as a real partner – I don’t like to use the word friend too much I prefer to use a business term. Pakistan needs to face Brazil in an objective way and doors will surely open. I always say this on all business platforms – please consider Brazil as a possibility. Because its something very simple but in many cases not happening because the way most people prefer is the easiest way and to go on with their traditional partners, when Brazil is in fact a new comer. We had been facing many problems within the country, but Brazil has overcome those and is now the sixth largest economy in the world. In Brazil we have  no doubt about the potential of Pakistan and how important Pakistan is today and how important Pakistan will be in the future. Pakistan has all potential to be one of the most developed countries in the world because it has resources and a strategic location so all the tools are present. These non-favourable conditions are without a doubt temporary so very soon Pakistan will overcome these difficulties and will be in a much prosperous situation.”

Brazil has also cooperated with Pakistan in the educational sector. You have visited universities and given scholarships. Can you elaborate on that?

AL: “What we have tried in the last years is to broaden our scope of relations. Because trade is of course very very important but many other fields are just as important. We cannot focus on one area only, for good relations we have to focus on all areas. That is essential for development. So this year the embassy of Brazil in Islamabad decided to focus on education and this is our main target. This started in December last year when we gave PhD scholarships to Pakistani students. And two weeks ago I launched a scholarship programme for students in Pakistan to study in Brazil. So this is the first time Pakistan has been the recipient of such scholarships. Brazil has so far offered this programme to 49 countries making Pakistan the 50th country to receive it. This will make Pakistani students more aware of the opportunities in Brazil by completing their masters or PhD programmes in the country.

One problem in this relationship is language because a lot of the courses are offered in Portuguese, but the embassy is running a regular course, absolutely free of charge so any student in Pakistan who wants to learn Portuguese can take the course. Since Pakistani students are so familiar with languages, because most Pakistani students speak at least two or three languages, learning Portuguese does not pose a big challenge. This exchange of students will surely have a good effect on bilateral realtions in the future.

These students will be ambassadors of Brazil in Pakistan upon their return because they will talk about their experience, how they lived in Brazil and how Brazilians are. Another important thing is that Brazilians have an enormous curiosity for Pakistan. So what I can assure you is that whoever from Paksitan goes to Brazil will find a very friendly environment – this is something Pakistanis can be sure of that in Brazil they will be received as friends.

Brazil offered a great deal of cooperation during Pakistan’s devastating floods and other natural disasters. Can you please elaborate on that?

AL: “We gave $1.5 million in cash for flood rehabilitation in 2010. This was for the World Food Programme through UNHCR, because the way Brazil contributes to countries in need is through UN agencies. We understand that the best way to help is through the UN system. In 2011 the contribution was a little bit less in money, $350 000, but it was very big in terms of food items. A large amount of food items weighing several tones were donated.

I will soon present a cheque to the representative of UNHCR to help the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and Iraq. Brazil was also active in the earthquake of 2005, but we have done much more in recent years. This has happened because Brazil has been more attentive to Pakistani needs in recent years. We have increased the size of the embassy, we have extended to Pakistan many programmes available in Brazil, one I just mentioned like the students programme and another programme is technical cooperation. Since we are doing very well in technical cooperation and agriculture and a delegation from Brazil visited Pakistan last year and we invited a delegation from Pakistan to visit Brazil a month ago. The reason is for them to see the techniques of Brazil in agriculture, which maybe very useful for Pakistan. Also some techniques used by Brazil in the health sector can be very useful for Pakistan, for instance how to fight dengue fever, how to be more equipped for snake bites and other threats. So we are venturing into other areas that will strengthen our bilateral relations.

What drew you to a career in diplomacy?

AL: “Well, I have been working as a diplomat for 32 years. I am very proud and consider myself privileged to have Pakistan as my first post as ambassador. I was lucky to have a position in Washington before coming to Pakistan. It is a moment of great pride for me when I see that things are going quite well between the two countries in terms of bilateral relations. One very obvious example is the huge increase in exports from Pakistan to Brazil and also we have a much more fluent dialogue so we are working now towards arranging a visit of the Foreign Minister of Pakistan, Hina Rabbani Khar, to Brazil. This means that our bilateral relations are gaining momentum.”

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