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Greek-Brazilian Trade Relations: Interview with Flavio Goldman, Embassy of Brazil in Greece

June 15, 2015 editor’s note: From 2-5 June, the First Vice-Chairman of the the Brazil-Greece Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism visited Athens. The visit, meant to further develop the bilateral trade initiatives between the two countries, provides fitting context for director Chris Deliso’s exclusive interview with Flavio Goldman, head of the Trade Promotion Sector of the Brazilian Embassy in Athens. In this discussion of a rarely-analyzed trade relationship, we cover tourism trends, key exports, and possibilities for the future.

Chris Deliso: First of all, thank you very much for speaking with us today. There are a number of issues of interest to our readers, particularly in Greece. We might start with the question of the ‘human factor.’ As I understand, there is a well established Greek community in Sao Paulo, including major businessmen. At the same time, some Greeks complain that these descendents of émigrés have never invested in Greece.

Interview with Flavio Goldman Brazil Balkanalysis

According to Mr. Goldman, “in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece.”

So, is there any attempt from either the Brazilian or Greek side to engage this community in improving trade and human capital, as a sort of bridge between both countries?

Flavio Goldman: Currently, as far as we know, there are no institutional initiatives to engage the Greek community in Brazil specifically in trade. We do see, however, that at the Brazil-Greek Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, created in 2011 and based in Rio de Janeiro, there are directors of Greek origin. We notice that the focus of the Greek community institutions in Brazil has been mostly in preserving their cultural heritage and also on raising awareness about the current situation of Greece.

Origins of the Greek Community in Brazil, and Trade Possibilities

CD: Interesting. Is this a matter for Brazil to get involved, or is it a Greek responsibility to entice these businessmen?

FG: We notice there are voices in Greece that advocate the strengthening of the links between Greece and its important diaspora. For instance, the newspaper Kathimerini has recently published an article calling on the government to increase connections with diaspora in general, proposing a creation of Deputy Minister for diaspora.

CD: By the way, how many Greeks or people of Greek ancestry live in Brazil anyway? Is it a significant community?

FG: We estimate there are 30,000 Brazilians of Greek origin. And they are very much integrated, as are all other communities of foreign origin in Brazil. Our country is a true melting pot. When people immigrate to Brazil, and when their children are born in Brazil, we usually don’t say that they are ‘Greek-Brazilians’ or ‘Italian-Brazilians’ or whatever. Take our president, Dilma Rousseff – nobody refers to her as ‘Bulgarian-Brazilian.’

CD: When did most of the Greeks come to Brazil? Was there a historical period of immigration, as we had in the US through the early 20th century?

FV: The major wave of immigration of Greeks to Brazil was in the first half of the 20th century, with important peaks in the 20s, after the catastrophe of Asia Minor, and in the 40s, during the period of the Greek Civil War. Brazil, and other countries in Latin America, were seen as major countries of opportunity. And not only for Greeks- for example, Brazil has today around 10 million people of Syrian and Lebanese origin. Sao Paulo is also the largest Japanese city outside of Japan. In Sao Paulo, there are no less than 70 foreign communities coexisting in harmony. This contributed largely to the multicultural aspects of Brazilian society.

CD: And what about their sense of identity? As we all know, Greeks in America, Canada and Australia particularly keep a very strong national affinity and are very active in business and political lobbying for the old country.

FG: Brazilians of Greek descent keep their specific cultural identity, as all other communities, and their affinities with Greece. There are some institutions, such as the Areté Cultural Center of São Paulo, that have been very active in promoting this sense of identity among members of the Greek community in the city. The organization was founded by a Brazilian editor of Greek origin, who publishes mostly Greek culture content.

Tourism Development between Greece and Brazil

CD: That is an interesting aspect, as the Greek cultural offering opens onto tourism visibility, and tourism is of course a major industry for Greece.

FG: Sure. And, according to the official Greek statistics, the number of Brazilian tourists to Greece rose 90 percent in 2014.

CD: Wow! That is a huge increase. How do you explain this?

FG: There is a major curiosity about Greece among Brazilians. For example, Globo, a major TV channel, has a weekly show called “Globo Reporter,” which consists of documentaries of about one hour about different issues. Last year they presented two documentaries about Greece. One was about the famous longevity of the islanders of Ikaria, the other about the Mediterranean diet. And the documentary on Ikaria was the most-watched “Globo Reporter” show of the year. This indicates how appealing Greece can be for Brazilians. There was a poll by Tripadvisor in Brazil, asking what countries people wish to visit, and the 13th place overall was Greece.

CD: Really! That is fascinating. And a stroke of good luck, for the Greek side. But who was behind the decision to make these films? Did the Greek government get involved, or it was an independent effort?

FG: Incidentally, the producer of the show was a Brazilian of Greek origin, but I understand this was not a key issue in the TV channel decision, since there is a solid interest about Greece in Brazil, about its cultural heritage and natural landscape, as proved by the success of the shows. I should add that the Greek government was very helpful in assisting the production in their different needs, especially in granting access to film at archeological sites.

Also, we should note that in Brazil there is a very strong image of Greek hospitality. Brazilians know they will be welcome when they come to Greece. Bear in mind, though, that, in spite of the important increase, the absolute numbers of visitors are still small: they rose from 27,000 to 52,000 in 2014. We account for 0.2% of Greek tourism overall. So there is still a lot of opportunity for growth.

CD: I am wondering what other factors might account for this low rate, considering how populous of a country Brazil is. What about connections between the two countries? Are there direct flights, otherwise how do people get between the two continents mot easily? Obviously, this is a major factor when it comes to tourism development.

FG: There are no direct flights between the two countries at the moment. Travelers come via other European capitals and Istanbul.

CD: What about the other way around? How many Greek tourists visit Brazil?

FG: The number of Greek tourists in Brazil currently visiting Brazil is relatively small- only 5,000 last year. We expect an increase that in 2016, as we will have the major incentive of the Olympics in Rio. We see the Games as an excellent opportunity to foster our connections with Greece. We will organize an event in Athens to promote tourism to Rio connected with the Olympics next year.

Sporting Events and Cultural Perceptions

CD: Ah yes, the Olympics. I imagine Brazil has learned from some of the mistakes Greece made and losses suffered due to hosting the Games in 2004. What do Brazilians think about the Greek connection with the Olympics?

FG: Brazil, and Rio in particular, have studied how all recent Olympic hosts handled their Games, and I’m sure learned a lot from this. But regarding the 2004 Athens Olympics, there is a nice story connecting Brazil and Greece. In the marathon run, we had a Brazilian runner who was leading the competition, until an Irish fan suddenly grabbed him! And then a Greek guy saw the Irish fan and interceded spontaneously, to help the runner. So this Greek guy became like a national hero in Brazil. This added to the existing Brazilian perception of Greek hospitality, and the image of Greek help to a person in distress… This man was invited to go to Brazil, as an expression of our gratitude, and was very well received there.

CD: That is really interesting. It seems to me a unique aspect that most people have never heard of, or at least no longer remember. The fact that an image like that could have a lasting opinion on cultural and social identifications is very interesting.

FG: And recently the UN rapporteur on racism, who is a Kenyan, visited Greece. He said that he met immigrants, and was impressed to see that on the islands that are affected by illegal migration, how local people go out of way to help, even though they are affected by the economic crisis.

In general in Brazil, Greeks have a very popular image, and I think the same is true vice-versa. There are many positive associations to Brazil in Greece, like our popular music and our history in soccer.

CD: Yeah, I’m sorry about the World Cup. We were pulling for you. Damn Germans.

FG: We even received messages of solidarity in the embassy here after the defeat. So, I suppose there were many Greeks supporting us too! We hope there will be a number of Greeks curious to see the Olympics in Brazil, and we hope that they will enjoy their experience there.

Other Trade Sectors

CD: So, to return to the economic and trade issues, can you tell me what were the major issues of interest for Mr Pereira on his visit to Greece?

FG: Mr Pereira’s visit had a major focus on tourism and maritime transport, which are two important sectors of our bilateral exchange. He also saw local importers of soya, sugar and coffee.

CD: Indeed. Speaking of coffee, we know that Greece is a major consumer of coffee, and Brazil has been a major export partner here. Since this is such an important export, it would be nice to know more about the specifics of the trade, how important Greece is to the general Brazilian coffee export market, whether you project the trade to increase or decrease, and so on.

FG: It is an important export, yes. We should note that Greece imports today green coffee from Brazil, not processed or roasted coffee. Brazil accounts for 60 percent of green Greek coffee imports, we are by far their main partner. Vietnam comes second, but with a much smaller percent. And Brazil is, as you know, the world leader in green coffee export.

Greece is a very important market for us: it ranks among the 20 top markets for this kind of coffee for Brazil. Usually, its position in the ranking varies between 14 and 19. We see our position in the Greek market as very stable, but, of course, there is always room to expand it, as well as to explore the possibility of exporting roasted coffee too.

CD: Has Brazil identified what are other products, in addition to coffee, that will be most important in future to traders? And what about the market for Greek producers in Brazil, is there anything they should be working on?

FG: We believe there is room to increase our exports of sugar to Greece. We have received positive signs of a few key players in Greece, highlighting their interest in importing more sugar from Brazil. And regarding Greece, I would say that the exports of Greek wines, honey and olive oil could be expanded, in view of their quality. If you go to Brazil, you will see the major imports of olive oil are from Portugal, Spain and Italy.

CD: Yeah, we make the same mistake in America. Very unfortunate.

FG: Because of our long cultural relations, obviously Portugal has a strong foothold in the Brazilian olive oil market. But we begin to notice an increasing interest in Greek olive oil, which is viewed as a very high quality product among experts in gastronomy. Yet the current volume is still very low considering the size of the Brazilian market.

The promotion of olive oil, dairy products and other Greek products was indeed part of a recent mission to Brazil organized by SEV and the Hellenic-Latin American Chamber of Commerce based in Athens. They went to Sao Paulo and then to Argentina and Mexico.

CD: Another possible issue is of Greek shipping companies, which transfer a lot of Brazil’s iron ore exports. Are there any estimates for the quantitative importance of Greek-owned shipping for total Brazilian export activities?

FG: It is a very important presence. We can say that shipping services account for the vast majority of our exchange in services. According to our most recent data, 70% of that exchange refers to shipping support services, and 24% corresponds to the services of oil transportation. We also noted a significant increase in the demand for Greek shipping personnel. The bulk of work visa requests we receive here at the Athens embassy are from our oil company Petrobras, requesting Greek personnel for temporary missions. There are also Greek ships performing services to Petrobras, for a number of years now.

I believe the acknowledged expertise of Greece in shipping services and the increasing needs of Petrobras, related to the sustainable exploration of our pre-salt layer, offer very good perspectives for our bilateral change in this field.

CD: Thank you very much then, I really appreciate you taking the time to share these fascinating insights. Best of luck with the work.

FG: Thank you also.


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