Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s three-day visit to the UAE is expected to build on the two countries’ strong ties and present opportunities for increased investment.
It will be the former military officer’s first trip to the Middle East since he was elected in October and the second visit to the Emirates by a Brazilian prime minister since diplomatic relations were established 45 years ago.
The Brazilian embassy was one of the first to open in Abu Dhabi in 1978. It would be another 13 years before the UAE opened its first embassy in Latin America in Brasilia.
Bilateral relations evolved rapidly from the year 2000 onwards. The process was accelerated by the increase in the number of official visits between the countries.
In December 2003, Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva became the first Brazilian president to visit the UAE. In Abu Dhabi, Mr da Silva met Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, and other officials to discuss ways to enhance co-operation across various fields.
Other more recent high-level visits between the countries include one from then Brazilian Vice President Michel Temer to the UAE in 2013. In 2017, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, visited Brasilia to open the new building for the UAE consulate general and held a number of high-level meetings. That year, the Brazilian minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply visited the Emirates while the UAE Minister of Defence, Mohammed Al Bowardi, met his counterpart in Brazil. Their meeting led to the creation of an Emirati military attache post in Brasilia, and a Brazilian Defence, Navy, Army and Air Force attache post in Abu Dhabi.
The close ties have led to a robust economic relationship with the UAE as Brazil’s second largest trading partner in the Middle East for a decade.
Sugar, poultry, beef and aircraft spare parts are Brazil’s major exports to the UAE, while fertiliser is the main export from the UAE to Brazil, said Fernando Luis Lemos Igreja, the Brazilian Ambassador to the UAE.
Yesterday, Mr Igreja said bilateral trade was expected to rise this year as a result of increased business transactions.
“Bilateral trade stood at $2.6 billion [Dh9.5bn] in 2018, however, the first eight months of 2019 have already witnessed $2 billion trade transactions. This means 2019 trade volumes will surpass the 2018 figures,” he told state news agency Wam.
Many Brazilian businesses operate in the UAE; among them is BRF – one of the largest food companies in the world, with products under brands including Sadia, Banvit, Hilal, Perdix and many others.
BRF’s meat processing plant in Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi, which employs 600 people, is the biggest in the Middle East region.
Mr Igreja talked of a “close link” between the innovation communities in the countries.
The economies of Brazil and the UAE are highly complementary and show potential for co-operation in several sectors that are yet unexplored or only partially developed.
The Brazilian Trade and Investment Promotion Agency has an office in the Middle East, in Dubai. Between 2000 and 2017, bilateral trade increased by 815 per cent to $2.69bn.
In August, Eduardo Bolsonaro, member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, and son of the president, said Brazil would be keen to increase co-operation with Gulf countries, saying he would welcome a BRIC-like alliance to work towards common goals.
“We are open to new markets and new opportunities. Therefore, we would welcome such an idea,” Eduardo said.
During his visit to Abu Dhabi in July, he said the president’s visit this week was in response to Sheikh Abdullah becoming the first foreign minister from the Arab world to visit Mr Bolsonaro, in March, three months after he came into power.
Last year, the UAE-Brazil Political Consultations Committee was formed and met for the first time in Abu Dhabi. It signalled an intent to strengthen bilateral relations.
Committee members discussed their countries’ local, regional and international efforts to counter terrorism and extremism and how to find solutions to the worsening crises in the region.
About 10,000 Brazilians live in the UAE.
Mr Bolsonaro said sports such as jiu-jitsu and football are bringing the two countries even closer.
Almost 12 million Arabs live in Brazil.
More than half of them are of Lebanese descent and moved to Brazil from the 19th century onwards.
Emirates’ two daily flights from Dubai to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil are the only direct flights from the UAE to Latin America.