Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and his Development, Industry and Foreign Trade minister Miguel Jorge announced in the Middle East that Brazil and Argentina have already agreed to negotiate a free trade agreement between the Mercosur and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA).
There should be no restrictions on the part of Uruguay and Paraguay according to the information disclosed at a seminar in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, in the second phase of the trip that president Lula is taking to the Middle East, starting in Israel.
“The conclusion of an association agreement with the Mercosur may contribute much to making South America a frontier for Palestinian products,” said Lula. “An agreement proposal has already been established between the Mercosur and Palestine. Argentina has accepted and from the information I have, Uruguay and Paraguay are about to accept,” stated Jorge.
The South American bloc has already signed a similar treaty with Israel and, in the economic point of view, confirmation that it should be enacted in April was one of the high points of the visit of the Brazilian president to the country. For some time the Palestinians have wanted to negotiate a similar agreement.
The minister of Economy of the Palestinian National Authority, Assim Abu Libere, who participated in the meeting, said to ANBA that the treaty is “an excellent manner to translate the political support [of Brazil], in direct support to the economy of Palestine. Our products compete in many markets and should compete in Brazil,” he said.
The CEO of Palestine Trade Center (Paltrade), Maher Hamdam, said that the PNA has trade treaties with the United States, Canada, the European Union, Turkey, Russia and the Arab nations. “There is space to work out a free trade agreement [with the Mercosur]”, he said.
There are not many figures available about trade between Palestine and Brazil, as the Aran country’s trade goes through Israel. Hamdam stated figures for 2007, when Brazil exported the equivalent to US$ 10 million to the Palestinian Territories. “But we do not have export figures considering Palestinian sales to Brazil,” he said.
The Palestinians want to promote business directly with Brazilian businessmen, without intermediaries. Nowadays, however, Palestine is not even included in the Siscomex, a Brazilian system that concentrates all foreign trade operations.
When asked about the matter, the Foreign Minister of Brazil, Celso Amorim, said he has no doubt that inclusion of the country in the system, which depends on a governmental decision, would be a good idea, as would the establishment of an association agreement with the Mercosur.
With or without the agreement, minister Libere pointed out that “Palestine is open for business”. The seminar in Bethlehem brought together some 120 businessmen and representatives of sector organizations, being 20 Brazilians. The sectors most represented were infrastructure, ornamental stone and information technology.
Among the Brazilian companies present were construction companies Camargo Correa, OAS, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão, the Rosset group, which owns lingerie brand Valisère, Suzano, of pulp and paper, Mineração Guidoni, in the mining sector, the Sindirochas – the stone industries union -, as well as state-owned companies Eletrobrás (electricity), the National Institute of Information Technology and Serpro, the federal data processing service, the two latter in the IT sector.
“There may be much that Palestine can export to Brazil,” said the president of the Federation of Business Associations of Palestine, Mohammad Massroji.
The prime minister of the PNA, Salam Fayyad, said that Palestine aims to expand its relations with Brazil and one of the ways to do so is through business. Lula added: “We cannot wait for the buyer or seller to walk past our door; we have to run after him.”
Among the sectors of the Palestinian economy that have an export talent are marble, textiles, agriculture, pharmaceutics, leather and shoes, industrialized food, furniture, olive oil and handicraft. All of them, however, need investment.
One area with great potential to be explored is tourism. The president at the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Salim Taufic Schahin, said that “tourism is the ideal route to bring prosperity and offer a better future to the youth of this region.” “Tourism generates jobs, requires organization, good logistics, safety and also generates riches,” he said.
“The Arab Brazilian Chamber wants to operate in the area as a catalyst for the sector, offering its structure to the private sector and the government of Palestine to serve as a link to the tourist sector in Brazil,” added Schahin. He also recommended the establishment of a bilateral, business council to identify business opportunities and provide an interface between the private sector and governments.
Brazilian businessman Fernando de Arruda Botelho, a shareholder at Camargo Correa construction company, one of the largest in Brazil, said that companies in the country could hire engineers and other professionals from Palestine.
“Four building companies are present here and we have a problem of lack of labor in Brazil,” said Botelho, during the Brazil-Palestine Business Seminar.
Apart from Camargo Correa, also present were Andrade Gutierrez, OAS and Queiroz Galvão. “Camargo is ready to do that (hiring Palestinians),” said Botelho. “The building industry is going to boom this year,” he added. The sector is living a boom in Brazil and the market is lacking specialized professionals, and companies are being obliged to import labor.
According to Botelho, the companies need people not just for works in Brazil, but also for other countries, especially Africa. One of the main problems of Palestine is unemployment, including professionals with higher education. “Good professionals can get a job,” he said.
The Minister of Economics of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), Hasan Abu Libdeh, said that it is an “excellent proposal” that “may be a great contribution of Brazilian industry to the Palestinian cause”. “It is an excellent idea to reduce unemployment,” he said. “We have many engineers here who have no jobs,” he added.
The minister pointed out that the PNA and the government of Brazil should discuss the matter to establish an agreement establishing that the workers go to Brazil and then return to Palestine. He wants the Palestinians to bring back to the country the experience acquired abroad.
Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce president Salim Taufic Schahin, who is also a businessman in the building sector and vice president at the Brazilian Association of Infrastructure and Basic Industries (Abdib), said that “engineers and technicians who want to work in Brazil will be very welcome.”
He spoke about figures in the Brazilian infrastructure sector, which is living great growth, and needs annual investment of around US$ 110 billion. Apart from exploration of new Brazilian oil frontiers, Schahin mentioned projects in the Growth Acceleration Program of the government of Brazil and works necessary for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro.