Augusto Pestana, CEO of Apex-Brasil
Augusto Pestana, CEO of Apex-Brasil Image Credit: Carolina Antunes

Brasilia: Augusto Pestana, CEO of Apex-Brasil, is a career diplomat from Sao Paulo, the buzzing Brazilian commercial hub. Having served at Brazilian missions in half a dozen nations across the globe he knows how his country is perceived all over - a fun-loving, soccer-playing, hard dancing nation - but not much of a business heavyweight despite being the biggest economy in South America.

As the head of Apex-Brasil, the Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency that is spearheading the country’s trade and business interests worldwide, he wants a change in that perception. In a freewheeling interaction in Brasilia, the capital city, Pestana talks about the Brazilian trade ambitions, its hopes in partnerships with the UAE, and the plans the country has for spreading wings in the Asian region, ahead of Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro’s visit to the Dubai Air Show and EXPO 2020 Dubai.

Excerpts from the interaction:

What is Brazil looking to gain from Expo 2020 Dubai?

The Expo 2020 Dubai is key to Brazil’s strategy for the future in the Middle East and beyond. We are already seeing the number of visitors and they are very good, especially when you think about the context of the pandemic. We have a fantastic opportunity. For those who have already known Brazil, maybe there is an idea or image associated with the country. Otherwise, they will get an opportunity to think again and update the idea and come to realize that it is an interesting country, so I want to know more about it and do business with them. So Expo is really important to us for our strategy to update our global image.

Participation in Dubai Air Show

Dubai is really big. When you think about the airports in the United Arab Emirates, when you think about the sea ports, when you think about the investments they make. They are changing everything in a completely different manner and are reinventing the country. It’s a business place; a good one, a very good one. Very centrally located for access to the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and even to Africa. It is perfect. We’ve been there for many fairs and events. Dubai’s becoming, it already is, one of the global reference points for fairs of all sorts. We want to make sure that in 2021-22, our presence at the Expo is also a way to accelerate business. We want to make sure that we are connecting with the world and all activities outsides the park of the Expo 2020 Dubai, which I will be attending soon.

President Bolsonaro is visiting the UAE and he will be there at the Dubai Air Show. You can see the connection with Embraer, the Brazilian aerospace manufacturer that produces commercial, military, executive and agricultural aircraft. We expect business to happen at the Dubai Air Show. Embraer is a big company they do not need us. We have a very good relationship Embraer but our main job is to support companies that are not as big as them. Some are suppliers for Embraer, others are just small and medium-size companies and they will be at Dubai Air Show. I am looking at some 50 or so opportunities, not only in Dubai, but also in Abu Dhabi and other places where we will have a presence, either directly or through our partners.

Brazil Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai

Brazil Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020 is a very nice example of Brazilian architecture. We want to make sure that the messages of what Brazil is and what we do are conveyed properly to the people there. We have a big pavilion. We are very happy about the pavilion because it is a success in terms of visitors it has attracted.

Brazil trade with GCC
Brazil's trade with GCC in the first nine months of 2021 amounted to $10 billion Image Credit: Source: GIM/Apex-Brasil

'Sao Paulo is part of the Arab world'

It is the first time that the Expo is being held in the Arab world. And when you talk about the Arab world, what is this Arab world? It is growing beyond conventional boundaries. Although my family comes from Southern Brazil, I was born and raised in Sao Paulo, and to be quite honest with you, Sao Paulo is part of the Arab world! Why? Because our heritage is united. For example, my brother-in-law comes from a family which has roots in Syria and Lebanon. And I am not alone. We are talking about millions of people, just in the state of Sao Paulo. In Brazil their total numbers could be around 50 million, some say. But we don’t differentiate. We don’t use this term, Arab Brazilians, they’re just Brazilians. The Arab connection is evident when you see the food and culture - and we are very proud of that.

Augusto Pestana, CEO of ApexBrasil
Augusto Pestana, CEO of ApexBrasil, with other officials

Future plans with the UAE

The future is clearly for joint ventures. Apex-Brasil’s idea is to serve as both facilitators and matchmakers. If there are companies or investment funds in the UAE, interested in the opportunities in Brazil but are hesitant because they don’t know enough about Brazilian market, we are here for them. We can find a Brazilian partner or even another international partner with experience in doing business in Brazil, for them. It is our job to make sure that this happens. Even some of the big Brazilian companies are using our services. A prime example is the food industry. We have all seen the success of Sadia which is now part of the BRF. They are big investors abroad and they have invested in the UAE.

Seeking investment in infrastructure

An area where Brazil and the United Arab Emirates could work more would be infrastructure. Port infrastructure has already set a good example. DP World is already in Brazil and is keen on expanding, so we are welcoming them to expand their activities in Brazil. I sincerely hope that new relationships are made because Expos are places designed for such breakthroughs. When you put people and people together in places such as the Al Wasl, new connections are made. So I do hope that new ideas will come from the Expo 2020 Dubai.

Exploring the Indian market

We are desperately looking for launch bases for India. We know we are already late, but for Brazil, India is still new territory. The Indian market is the future and it is growing very rapidly. Think about what happened with China. When you take the figures of Brazilian trade some 25 years ago, China was a minor player. Now they are our major trading partners. The same will happen with India. Everybody knows that. Brazil wants to be more active there. India is already an important trade and investment partner for Brazil, but we know we can do more. We need to deploy people who know the reality in India to help us develop new products for the Indian market. Dubai is probably one of the best places for that. We are reinforcing our team in Dubai so that there will be an India office inside our Dubai office with dedicated staff responsible for exploring the Indian market.