The UAE and Brazil might be oceans apart but the ties that link the two countries go back decades. In fact, Brazil was one of the first countries to establish an embassy in Abu Dhabi in 1978. Given this history, it comes as no surprise that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s first official visit to the Middle East started with a three-day trip to Abu Dhabi this week.
The UAE and Brazil share a host of strategic and economic interests. The Arab nation has been one of Brazil’s biggest trading partners in the Middle East for more than a decade. Most importantly, the two countries share a unique human and cultural bond.
The UAE is home to 10,000 Brazilian residents, of whom 1,600 – an astonishing 16 per cent - are jiu-jitsu instructors living in the UAE with their families, whose passion and dedication for the sport mirror that of the numerous competitors who have taken up the sport here. Aside from jiu-jitsu, disciplines such as football and capoeira – an integral part of the Brazilian way of life – have found an audience in the UAE and brought the two countries closer together. Football in particular is often cited as the glue that joins Emiratis and Brazilians, with both nationalities playing alongside one another in the Arabian Gulf League. In the footballing World Cup season, it is not unusual to find Brazilian flags planted on balconies of homes across the Middle East.
The earliest Arab migrants moved to Chile, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil more than a century ago. Brazil now has the largest Arab community outside the Middle East, with more than five million citizens of Arab origin. The prominent Arab diaspora in Latin America dates back to the late 19th century and to socioeconomic factors tied in with the decline of the Ottoman empire. Middle Eastern migration to Latin America also saw surges during the Palestinian Nakba in 1948 and the 15-year Lebanese civil war, ending in 1990.
Trade gas solidified these ties. Last year, bilateral trade between the two nations amounted to $2.7 billion. Food imports play a significant role in this trade and as well as corporate business, this comes right down to the individual; if you are planning a roast chicken or beef dinner, followed by dessert, there is a good chance you will be supporting Brazilian farmers and producers as chicken, sugar and beef account for 77 per cent of all Brazilian exports to the Emirates. But the agreements signed over Mr Bolsonaro’s three-day visit covered a much broader scope, from agribusiness to global security, artificial intelligence, energy, environment, defence, tourism and customs co-operation.
The visit to the UAE was part of a grand tour by the leader of the ninth-largest economy, who has already visited Japan and China and plans to go on to Saudi Arabia as part of Brazil’s mission to deepen ties with key trade partners around the world.
For the UAE, Brazil is a crucial gateway to Latin America, with direct flights running twice a day. The UAE receives more than 60,000 visits from Brazilians each year. That reciprocal welcome can be summarised in no better way than Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, tweeting a welcome to Mr Bolsonaro in Portuguese and writing: "We hope that this visit will enhance friendship, co-operation and joint action between our two friendly nations".
As Mr Bolsonaro said, the two countries are moving towards “prosperity and closer ties”. Indeed, the Brazilian president said, the thriving Arab community in his homeland meant it should be “considered an Arab country”.
This meeting between the two leaders will go a long way to cementing the friendship between two nations, whose solidarity and cultural ties transcend geographical boundaries.