Commercial transactions between South America and the Arab countries are still quite limited. South America accounts for 3.5% of what the Arabs buy from abroad. And only 1.5% of what the 22 Arab League countries export is destined for South American markets.
A large share of this business is concentrated in the hands of Brazil and Argentina, affirms Michel Alaby, secretary-general of the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce and president of the Association of Brazilian Companies for Market Integration (Adebim).
Last year Brazil exported US$ 4.03 billion to the Arabs – 46% more than in 2003 and equivalent to 4.1% of Brazil’s total exports.
Argentina earned US$ 2.1 billion last year from its sales to the Arab world, 32% more than the US$ 1.6 billion obtained in 2003 and equivalent to 6.5% of Argentina’s total exports.
The remaining amount of Arab purchases was partitioned among the other South American countries.
“The two countries’ export portolios are nearly identical,” Alaby observes. The common list is led by products such as soybeans, corn, powdered milk, beef, steel, shoes, soy proteins, and wheat.
Brazil also exports coffee, sugar, chicken, ore, paper, and furniture. The principal markets for both countries’ products were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria.
The proportion is very different for imports. In 2004 Brazil acquired the equivalent of US$ 4.1 billion of the US$ 5.5 billion in merchandise sold by the Arab countries to South America.
Argentina spent only US$ 59 million in imports from that region (as against US$ 35 million in 2003).
The Argentinean shopping list includes petroleum by-products, phosphates, fertilizer components, and Egyptian cotton.
The leading items imported by Brazil are petroleum (75%), diesel oil, and petrochemical products.
Alaby points out that Brazil and Argentina are the only South American countries with Arab Chambers of Commerce, which have stimulated business. In the other South American countries, exchanges between the regions are brokered by the foreign offices.