Celso Amorim, Brazil's Foreign minister, has started this Sunday, June 22, a tour of North Africa including stops in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. The objectives of the trip are to make an assessment of the relations between Brazil and those countries, and discuss new forms of bilateral cooperation in different areas.
Today Amorim will be in Algiers. In addition to attending the third meeting of the Brazil-Algeria Bilateral Mixed Commission, which will count on representatives from different sectors in the two countries, the chancellor is going to meet with the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the minister of Foreign Affairs, Mourad Medelci, other local government representatives, and Brazilian businessmen operating in the country.
"He is going to participate in the second meeting for political consultation (with the Algerian government), and also sign cooperation agreements," said the Brazilian ambassador to Algiers, Sérgio Danese.
Algeria is one of Brazil's leading trade partners in the Arab world, large supplier of oil to the South American country, and a hub that attracts Brazilian enterprises to the region. Companies such as Randon, a maker of highway implements, Neobus, for buses, and construction company Andrade Gutierrez own operations in the country.
On the 24th and 25th, the minister will be in Morocco. There, he is going to attend a meeting of the Brazil-Morocco Bilateral Mixed Commission, and should also meet with the prime minister, Abbas El Fassi, the foreign minister, Taí¯bi Fassi-Fihri, and other government officials.
According to the Brazilian ambassador to Rabat, Carlos Alberto Simas Magalhães, a highlight of the trip will be the signing of agreements in the sanitary and environmental areas. The treaty in the veterinary field paves the way for meat exports from Brazil to Morocco. Presently, the Arab country does not import any beef from Brazil, and buys very small quantities of chicken meat.
Other subjects to be discussed by the minister, according to Magalhães, include economic cooperation, trade, investment, air and sea transport, tourism, urbanism and habitation, agriculture, and professional training.
According to the ambassador, cooperation in the fields of culture and energy should also be discussed. "(The Moroccans) would like for Petrobras to provide assistance in obtaining geophysical data on the country's continental shelf," stated the diplomat.
On the 26, Amorim will be in Tunisia, where he will meet with the country's chancellor, Abdelwaheb Abdallah. According to the Brazilian ambassador to Tunis, Marília Sardenberg Zelner Gonçalves, this will be the first meeting turned to political consultation among the chancellors of the two countries ever since an agreement in the area was signed in 2002.
The Brazilian minister has already been to the Arab country in 2005, to prepare the Summit of South American and Arab Countries that was held that year.
"Such a high level visit changes the level of bilateral relations," said Marília. The representatives of the two governments are going to exchange ideas on the international scenario and issues related to their respective regions. The ambassador stated that Brazil and Tunisia are members of different multilateral regional organizations.
"They are going to analyze bilateral cooperation relations, whose full potential is not being fully tapped, and which could be further explored," stated the ambassador. On the sidelines of the ministerial meetings, diplomats from the two countries will meet in order to assess of what can be done to strengthen relations.
According to Marília, on the Brazilian side, three areas have already been chosen that may be the target of cooperation agreements: agriculture, education and energy. "We believe that these areas will be of interest to them as well," she declared.
She asserted that Tunisia has good social indicators, as only 4% of the country's population lives below the poverty line and 80% of people own their housing units. Furthermore, the country's economy has been growing steadily: 6.3% last year, and a forecast of 7% for 2008.
The country is, however, very much linked to Europe. Early this year, the tariffs provided for by the association agreement that Tunisia sustains with the European Union were eliminated. "Our challenge is to prove that Brazil is a viable alternative for partnership. Besides, Tunisia might function as a gateway for Brazil to enter Africa, especially the Maghreb," stated the diplomat.
She claimed, for example, that there are no Brazilian companies installed in Tunisia, but that the country is receiving heavy investment in its real estate sector, especially from Arabian Gulf countries, and that this represents an opportunity for companies willing to operate in the country.
Marília highlighted the fact that Brazil is very much appreciated in Tunisia, a fact that became clear, according to her, in a series of cultural events promoted by the embassy in Tunis, including presentations of various Brazilian musical genres, and fine arts exhibitions. Events were open to the general public and "enjoyed very good acceptance." In April, the Brazilian minister of Culture, Gilberto Gil, played a show in the country. He, however, did so by invitation of the Tunisians themselves.
"We have a cultural agreement with Tunisia, in effect from 2006 to 2009, and such an exchange should lay the foundations for a mutual interest that will become further diversified," said Marília. "I am very happy with the whole experience," she concluded. In July, she will leave Tunisia to assume the Brazilian embassy to the Czech Republic.
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