INTERVIEW: Egypt and Brazil coming closer

Dina Ezzat , Friday 8 Oct 2021

The visit by the vice president of Brazil to Cairo aimed at giving bilateral relations a push, Egyptian Ambassador in Brasilia, Wael Abul-Magd, tells Al-Ahram Weekly.

Wael Abul-Magd

In the first high-level visit between the two countries since 2017, Antonio Hamilton Mourao, the vice president of Brazil, made a visit to Cairo last week. 

He was received by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and held talks with top Egyptian officials including Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli to discuss ways of giving bilateral relations a boost over the coming years.

“This visit and the talks that Vice President Mourao of Brazil held in Cairo and the fact that he was received by President Al-Sisi will certainly provide momentum to the bilateral relations on all fronts,” said Wael Abul-Magd, Egypt’s ambassador to Brazil. 

Despite the geographical distance separating the two countries, both Egypt and Brazil are keen to engage with one another, and to further advance their bilateral relations, Abul-Magd added.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly by telephone from Brasilia, Abul-Magd noted that economic, trade, and cultural cooperation are among the top objectives for the expansion of bilateral relations between the two countries.

According to figures shared by Abul-Magd, Egypt is one of the top destinations for Brazilian exports among the Arab countries. During the first half of this year Brazilian exports to Egypt came to around $768 million. During the same period, Brazilian imports from Egypt came in at around $315 million. 

Brazilian exports to Egypt for the first six months of the year dropped by 14 per cent, but Brazilian imports from Egypt saw a 215 per cent rise.

However, according to Abul-Magd, these figures do not reflect the actual potential for trade relations between two economies the size of Egypt and Brazil, who are not only two main emerging economies but also each can serve the other as a gateway to their respective regions and markets.

Egypt has a free-trade agreement with MERCOSUR, the South American trade bloc, that was signed in 2017. Since this agreement went into effect, Egyptian exports to the four member states of the group, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, have increased by around 115 per cent.

“The potential to expand trade with MERCOSUR is very high. We held the bilateral joint Egypt-MERCOSUR trade talks earlier this month to assess progress and address any potential impediments to fully benefiting from this important agreement,” Egypt’s ambassador in Brasilia said.

Abul-Magd added that the despite our satisfaction with the gradual growth in trade between our two countries, we are working hard to expand our economic relations beyond just the import and export of goods and products to the broader realms of mutual investments, joint ventures, exchange of expertise, and cooperation in broader areas such as information technology, pharmaceuticals, and much more, commensurate with the capabilities of both countries. 

“We also need to do more to familiarise businesses on both sides of the opportunities available in both countries for mutual investments, particularly in the free-trade zones and the industrial zones,” he said.

He added that direct flights between Cairo and Brasilia once launched would be a game changer in the bilateral relations, facilitating more frequent high-level interaction, easier contacts between business communities on both sides, as well as more people-to-people interaction through increased tourism and cultural exchange. The details for launching these flights, he added, were currently being discussed between the competent bodies in the two capitals. 

“I am hopeful things will move forward with the direct flights sooner rather than later,” he said. But he declined to offer any specific dates.

Abul-Magd said that the opening of a regional office of the “Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce” on the sidelines of the visit of Mourao to Cairo last week “will surely help to move things forward”.

The chamber is constituted of world-class Brazilian businesses who have interests and investments in several Arab countries, he said, and hence they appreciate the potential gains incurred from having a presence in Egypt. “I am confident that they will play a central role in building bridges and connecting businesses from both sides as well as providing relevant information and data with regard to potential trade and investment opportunities both in Brazil and in Egypt,” Abul-Magd said.

He added that the two countries, “with their two very rich cultures”, have a lot more work to do to expand their cultural cooperation. “I am really inspired and impressed by the interest that Brazilians have in Ancient Egyptian culture and civilization and I am sure they will be equally fascinated by other aspects of our civilisational heritage be it the Coptic Christian, Graeco-Roman, or Islamic, and I am confident that once direct flights are operating the volume of tourism between the two countries will jump dramatically,” he said.

Government statistics indicate that the average number of tourists coming from Brazil to Egypt on an annual basis during the past five years has not gone far beyond half a million. In 2017, upon the signing of the free-trade agreement with MERCOSUR, the Ministry of Tourism targeted a doubling of this figure. However, things have not picked up.

Abul-Magd partially attributes this to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the global travel and tourism industry as well as the consequent economic slowdown worldwide which have taken their toll on the overall volume of international tourism. He said that as “we gradually recover from the effects of the pandemic and when direct flights start operating, the situation would improve.”

On the political front, he said that the visit of the vice president to Egypt was also an opportunity to update him of the most recent developments regarding regional issues particularly as Brazil is about to assume a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council starting 2022.

“We are in constant consultation with officials in Brasilia. We keep them fully updated, and we trust that Brazil will continue to uphold its traditional positions based on the respect of International law and the peaceful settlement of disputes,” Abul-Magd said. 

In New York, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings a couple of weeks ago, foreign minister SamehShoukri met with his Brazilian counterpart Carlos Franca. The talks took place shortly before the visit of the vice-president of Brazil to Egypt "we hope these high-level engagements will usher in expanded cooperation on all fronts,” the Ambassador added.

Mourao visited Cairo on his way to take part in the Expo2020 in Dubai. His trip will also see him visit Athens, Greece.  

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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