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ANGOLA-BRAZIL: Portuguese – the Common Language of Trade

Mario de Queiroz

LISBON, Nov 13 2007 (IPS) - Although separated by the Atlantic ocean, Angola and Brazil are united by language and their centuries-long history as Portuguese colonies, and trade between the two countries is booming as never before.

Brazil, Latin America’s giant, whose 188 million people and 8.5 million square kilometres represent more than half the area and population of South America, appears determined to take over from Portugal as chief investor in the group of African Countries of Portuguese Official Language (PALOP).

In his less than five years in government, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has visited Africa seven times, easily outstripping his predecessors José Sarney (1985-1990), Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-1992), Itamar Franco (1992-1995) and Fernando Henrique Cardoso (1995-2003).

South Africa and Nigeria are also important trading partners of Brazil’s in Africa, but the PALOP group of countries, made up of Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tomé and Príncipe, has become one of the top priorities in Brazil’s political and economic diplomacy.

Angola, with an area of 1.25 million square kilometres and over 15 million people, is Africa’s second biggest oil-producer after Nigeria. The destruction of almost all of its towns and cities, during the 1961-1974 struggle for independence from Portugal and the 1975-2002 civil war, turned it into a vast field of business opportunities.

Trade relations between this West African country and Brazil started to grow in 2000, during the Cardoso administration, but since Lula took office in January 2003, Brazilian investment has skyrocketed.

The Association of Brazilian Companies in Angola (AEBRAN) says that trade between the two countries has risen six-fold since 2002 and is still growing fast.

At present, according to information from AEBRAN which was confirmed by the Banco do Brasil, Angola is the country receiving the greatest amount of export financing from Brazil.

At a seminar in Luanda in September, on the occasion of celebrations marking 185 years of Brazilian independence from Portugal, Angolan Finance Minister José Pedro de Morais said that the volume of financing from Brazil received by Angola was 475 million dollars in 2005, and had grown to 750 million dollars in 2006.

In an interview with the Portuguese-African weekly Africa 21, Brazilian journalist Raimundo Lima, a spokesman for AEBRAN, said that “Angola is the country that receives the most financing from Brazil, as over half the funds of the Programme for Export Financing (PROEX) administered by Banco do Brasil last year went into the Angolan economy.”

Brazilian exports to Angola increased from 520 million dollars in 2005 to 836 million dollars in 2006, and in the first nine months of 2007 they were 14 percent up from the same period last year.

Angola is Brazil’s fourth largest market in Africa, following South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt, according to Foreign Ministry statistics.

Brazil sells Angola mainly machinery, home appliances, car parts, tractors, equipment for telecommunications and the oil industry, and even gasoline, due to the lack of fuel refineries in the southwestern African nation.

In exchange, Angola’s exports to Brazil – basically crude oil – were worth 460 million dollars in 2006.

The presence of Brazilian companies in Angola has expanded on a par with the increase in trade – a trend that according to AEBRAN points to a promising future.

The number of Brazilian companies in Angola has increased by 70 percent over the last five years. The firms are mainly involved in public works, sales of construction materials, project design, real estate and food.

Brazilians are thus beginning to flock to a country which, in spite of the historical and linguistic links, was virtually an unknown quantity until just over a decade ago.

The 5,000 Brazilians registered in Angola work mainly for construction, mining and agribusiness companies, in the provinces of Cabinda, Lunda Norte and Malanje as well as in the capital, Luanda.

For years there have been very few Brazilian professionals and technical experts in the PALOP countries, where Portuguese expatriates have predominated. But rather than displacing the former colonisers, the South Americans are reinforcing their numbers, “a very welcome development,” according to Portuguese Deputy Foreign Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho.

“Portugal is delighted by Brazil’s enthusiasm for Africa, repeatedly shown by Lula, who a few weeks ago made his seventh visit to this continent as head of state,” Gomes, who is also secretary of state for cooperation, told IPS.

The Brazilian president’s attitude “is extraordinary, especially as he has only been in office five years,” he said.

For Portugal, Lula’s attitude towards Africa, a continent that is frequently ignored and neglected by the international community, “is a source of great satisfaction, because Brazil, which is particularly near and dear to us, is getting closer to a continent that is at the centre of our concerns in terms of foreign policy,” he said.

Gomes also emphasised “the great enthusiasm of Brazilian foreign policy towards the CPLP (Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries).”

The CPLP, formed by the late José Aparecido de Oliveira, a former Brazilian culture minister, comprises the PALOP countries, Brazil, East Timor and Portugal, with Equatorial Guinea holding observer status.

Does Portugal not feel that its interests and influence in Africa are threatened by Brazil? IPS asked.

“We have no sense of competing with Brazil, quite the contrary. What we see is just the opposite: opportunities that are emerging in Portuguese-speaking countries, and we particularly think that these opportunities need to be explored through the CPLP,” Gomes said.

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