Ricardo Guerra: Bulgaria Should Increase Added Value of Its Exports
Novinite.com has interviewed Ricardo Guerra de Ar?ujo, Charg? d’Affaires at the Brazilian Embassy in Sofia.
Ricardo Guerra de Ara?jo is a senior diplomat at the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations. During his more than twenty-year-long career as a diplomat he has worked for and represented Brazil in a number of Embassies and institutions, having been Minister-Counsellor at the Embassy in Paris prior to being appointed to Sofia.
The first part of the interview, held on the occasion of the re-election of Dilma Rousseff as President of Brazil, will focus on bilateral relations during the President’s first term in office.
Your Excellency, readers might wonder: why is there no Ambassador here, with a charg? d’affaires to temporarily run the embassy?
This might happen with Brazilian embassies abroad. I was the Deputy Ambassador in Paris when I was appointed to come to Sofia. At that time Brazil’s foreign office decided I would be the charg? d'affaires in Sofia until a full ambassador would be appointed to come. Meanwhile the ambassador that was supposed to come a few months ago to Sofia had health problems. She couldn't come to Sofia as scheduled before. For the moment I will remain the head of the post here in Sofia until they find someone to come as a full Ambassador. Believe me, there is no political or anything behind the scenes, for me being charge d'?ffaires. It is really a matter of health problems that prevented this ambassador to taking office.
Your President, Ms Dilma Rousseff, is widely commented here for having Bulgarian roots, but do you think relations between Bulgaria and Brazil have changed anyhow over the past few years?
I believe so. That fact that President Dilma Rousseff has a father from [the Bulgarian town of] Gabrovo put Bulgaria on the map of Brazil. Four years ago, when she was first elected for her first term as Brazil’s President, everybody in Brazil commented on the fact that her father was Bulgarian. I may remind you one of the first visits abroad she made on the EU continent was to Bulgaria, where she came with several ministers. She spent some time here in Sofia and she of course went to Gabrovo to visit some of her relatives. And the fact she is a descendant of a Bulgarian of course gives another impetus to relations between the two countries. Now, if you ask me on a concrete basis, on the trade and financial or any other fields of cooperation, if that changed a lot – my answer would be not much. We are still trying to develop what I believe is a significant trade potential and cooperation potential between the two countries. But what we have been striving to do since my arrival in Sofia a few months ago is to exploit fields of possible cooperation. I will cite some areas where I believe there is a strong potential to strengthen the bilateral ties. Education, for instance. We are now negotiating with the Ministry of Education a bilateral cooperation program. In brief the idea is to encourage the exchange of students and professors in both ways to study the other country’s language and culture. As you know, at the University of Sofia and at the University of Veliko Tarnovo, Portuguese is taught. I have been to Veliko Tarnovo a couple of times and met the professors of this foreign language department. The students told me that they wished to go to Brazil in order to study Brazilian language and culture. But to make this happen, you need to have a formal bilateral institutional framework. This is exactly what we are trying to negotiate today with Bulgaria’s Ministry of Education, just to give you an example.
Are there any specific areas in economics and trade where the two countries hold big but untapped potential on a bilateral basis?
One of the fields that we have been underlining for some time already is iron ore. Brazil is a big producer and exporter of iron ore. And we believe there is also a great potential to develop joint ventures between Brazilian iron ore exporters and Bulgarian specialized transport sector. Of course there are other fields we could possibly improve bilateral trade such as textiles, footwear and oil. I am also very convinced that there is a huge potential in trade in services between the two countries. Bulgaria has a huge potential in services and in the tourist sector in general, where I believe it can grow very quickly and attract Brazilian tourists, even with SPA and wellness centers, eco-tourism and so on– all this is fashionable nowadays. Also, you have mountains and ski resorts and are much less expensive compared to other Western European countries. It is much cheaper to go skiing in Bulgaria than in Austria, Germany or France. The problem is these activities should be more promoted in countries like Brazil. Maybe more communication and more advertisement should be made with regarding tourism in Bulgaria.
A couple of years ago, in 2012, bilateral trade made a surge because we managed to sell some Embraer jets to Bulgaria Air . But this was one-shot export. The bilateral trade balance afterwards (2013 and 2014) came back to its historical levels of about USD 250-260 M a year, which is very low if you take into account the size of the Brazilian economy and the potential that exists in the Bulgarian market.
Is the distance between the two countries the biggest challenge?
Of course. Brazil is not known in Bulgaria either except for football, carnival and the fact that the President has Bulgarian roots. But it’s not the only reason. Japan is very far from Brazil and in spite of that bilateral trade and cooperation ties are very strong. Japan of course is a much bigger economy than Bulgaria. But still, there is this huge trade potential in Bulgaria to be developed. I am not to saying the trade bilateral level with Bulgaria could attain the same level that it has with Japan, but that it could be increased to a much higher level compared to the present one. It should be underlined that the problem is not only the low volume of bilateral trade but also its profile. If you look at the list of goods traded we see that Brazil exports to Bulgaria is mainly composed of commodities: copper, tobacco, sugar and coffee. At the same time Bulgarian exports to Brazil are composed of some industrial products with very low added value. We should try to raise the total volume and also strive to diversify the list of goods to include higher added-value products. Both countries should work hard to integrate better their economies in the global value chains by making more investments in key areas such as education, innovation and infrastructure. This is crucial to remain competitive on the international level.
It is worth mentioning that after Bulgaria joined the EU back in 2007, trade between Bulgaria and Brazil went down. Brazil used to export to the Bulgarian market goods such as meat and pork. Bulgaria had then to adapt itself to Brussels' regulations, especially in the field of phito-sanitary measures. Unfortunately the Brazilian exporters lost market share since then The result is that since the country became EU member, it has turned more difficult for non-member countries like Brazil to access Bulgaria’s market because of these non-trade barriers.
You mentioned Ms Rousseff's visit to Bulgaria at the beginning of her first term. Last week, while receiving the credentials of Bulgaria's new ambassador, she said there should soon be a visit of her Bulgarian counterpart to Brazil. Do you know anything more specific about a potential visit?
We have been trying to organize this visit since the beginning of this year. But since there were elections in Bulgaria and in Brazil, we decided to wait until the result of the elections were published to talk again about organizing an official visit. An invitation to President Rosen Plevneliev to make an official visit to Brazil might happen sometime in 2015. I guess this could even happen in the first semester of next year. As the charg? d'affaires of Brazil in Sofia I will do my best to make this happen.
You might remember the affair with weightlifting champion Galabin Boevski who surprisingly left Brazil in October 2013. A year on from the event, could you comment on the reasons for his release?
What happens in Brazil is that every foreigner (and it applies not only to Bulgarians) which is sentenced to X years in prison, is normally released after a quarter of the sentence is accomplished and sent back to the country of origin. Brazil’s prisons are full and we need to make space.. He [Boevski] had accomplished nearly a quarter of his sentence and the court decided to send him back to Bulgaria. We sent a note to the Bulgarian embassy in Brazil stating this that he was being sent back. I don’t know what happened; I guess there was lack of communication between the Bulgarian Embassy in Brazil and the Foreign Ministry here in Sofia. I don't know the reasons why the Bulgarian Embassy did not report the release of Mr Boevski to the Foreign Ministry. It was very strange because when Boevski was released he was obliged to go to the Bulgarian embassy to apply for a passport and a visa to come back to Bulgaria so the Embassy was supposed to know he was coming back. But one thing I want to make clear is that there was no political intervention from the President in the release of Mr Boevski. It was a decision taken by the criminal court
Last year Bulgaria marked a quarter of a century from the beginning of its democratic transition. But Brazil is also to mark an anniversary next year: three decades of military rule. Do you think Bulgaria and Brazil's transitions are somehow comparable?
Yes, I think so. Bulgaria is now a democratic and free country and has elections like any other western country even if they tend to take place a little too often in my view. I suppose this is typical in a parliamentary system, where you have a high degree of fragmentation of the political party representation making difficult to one single party to hold the majority of the seats in the Parliament. Maybe a political reform would be necessary in the future in order to correct this or to make it less problematic: in every election the dominant political party, more recently GERB, fails to attain the majority in the Parliament and is forced to make political alliances with other parties, which can generate instability. In Brazil we have a presidential system, but we also have a very fragmented Congress with 28 different political parties represented which does not make life easy for the President since the Executive Power is also forced to make political alliance to get the bills approved.
I guess both Bulgaria and Brazil made huge steps towards representative democracy based on freedom of action and political party representation compared to what it was 25 years ago when both countries were still under authoritarian regimes Brazil managed to consolidate its political institutions in the last two decades The main difference between the two countries is probably on the economic side. Brazil never ceased to be a capitalist country, unlike Bulgaria. . Bulgaria had to adapt itself to the capitalism system after the Glasnost and Perestroika, which is not a trivial task to do and where effective economic regulation by independent agencies is crucial. In Brazil we have a well established regulatory framework but we also have a lot of things to improve in this area.
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