Tamer Mansour and the need for expanding business opportunities to Arab countries

Tamer Mansour, an Egyptian who’s living in Brazil for 20 years, has been dedicated to making Brazilian entrepreneurs aware of the current opportunities in Arab-African countries. Since April, he has been responsible as the general secretary and CEO of the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce (CCAB).

Arab countries make up the third most important bloc of Brazilian agribusiness, moreover animal protein cargos, just behind Asia (not including the Middle East) and the European Union. For this reason, it is necessary to not only strengthen the existing business deals but to open up new markets – including in Arab-African countries. “We have looked for other ways to make the Brazilian entrepreneurs aware of the existing opportunities in that Region,” he explains.

He originally graduated in veterinarian medicine and, later on, he specialized in business and foreign trade. Mansour started his career working in trade entities connected to Arab countries. “I began working at the Arab Chamber of Commerce as a special advisor, due to my previous experience in bilateral trade with Arab countries,” he remembers.

To ATLANTICO, Tamer Mansour speaks about signing the Free Trade Agreements, for Egypt as well as Mercosul, on his work in drafting a strategic plan of the Arab Chamber of Commerce and existing business opportunities.

ATLANTICO – What are your main challenges regarding CCAB?

Tamer Mansour – In my role as secretary general and CEO, I can answer for the institution itself, as I am subordinate to the president. I participate in institutional and executive decisions on a domestic and foreign scope for the entity. Right now, I am specifically involved in challenges involving the strategic drafting planning for CCAB. We are preparing the internal plan with the consultancy of Ernst & Young, including a broad-based restructuring related to positions, jobs, and processes so that everything runs better. The Chamber perceives this as a challenging moment for internationalization in the foreign plan. This moment has already begun this year through the inauguration of its first international office in Dubai. It is the first point of contact among a great number of others in the Arab world that is going to help us achieve a closer approach to our counterparts and resolve more quickly issues on bilateral commerce in which the solution requires institutional presence. I can cite the case where Saudi Arabia revoked the permission for the importation of poultry from Brazilian coldstores and the moving of the Brazilian embassy in Israel, a very touchy subject for many Arab countries.

ATLANTICO – How big is Arab Africa for Brazilian business deals?

Tamer Mansour – Last year, the 22 countries in the Arab League purchased US$ 11.48 billion from Brazil in such products as sugar, poultry, iron ore, bovine meat, grains, and others. And US$ 4.29 billion (37%) was traded from Arab countries on the African continent.

ATLANTICO – What are the main potential business deals for Brazil?

Tamer Mansour – There is excellent potential in these countries, especially in Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Libia. They are large and populous countries and have got the resources making large-scale complementary trade flows possible with Brazil so that it is profitable for everyone. Egypt has had an active trade agreement with Mercosul since 2017, as one of the reasons making it even more relevant for the country to have become a significant commerce partner. There is a project for a similar business agreement with Morocco, whereas divergences need to be overcome to benefit both parties. It is necessary to make trade agreements with other countries to expand business opportunities and provide free circulation of investments without any double taxation. There has been a large community of Brazilian growers established in Sudan for years now, and it is responsible for a large portion of rural economic activity in the country. It is a genuine success case, making the country one of the leading destinations for agricultural machinery in Africa. These examples should stimulate Brazilian business people to invest in Arab Africa. But also we can make progress institutionally, through entities in our government, by signing Free Trade Agreements.

ATLANTICO – How has The Arab-Brazilian Chamber acted to foster more business deals with Arab Africa?

Tamer Mansour – If there is truly no doubt on one side regarding the potential of these countries, then it is still necessary to provide more visibility to the already existing opportunities on the other side. For that reason, the Arab Chamber of Commerce has intensified, its delegations focused on Africa in the last few years. Last year, we brought construction companies to Algeria, as it is making large-scale governmental investments in popular housing projects, in a project similar to our “Minha Casa Minha Vida” (My House, My Life) program. Last year, we helped to organize a partnership with the Brazilian Embassy in Egypt by setting up an enterprising delegation in Cairo. And we are looking for other ways to export Brazilian entrepreneurship know-how to existing opportunities in Arab Africa. Those initiatives have already been put into effect. Nowadays, there is a large number of coldstore installations involved in routine bovine meat trade with Egypt. It is a result of an institutional action by the Arab Chamber of Commerce and other entities as well. The country abolished the mandatory complementary veterinarian inspection.  That process is performed by Egyptian veterinarians in Brazil. We believe through that action in trading with Egypt beginning in 2018; it will make Brazil a major trade partner in the Arab world, and our trading will increase even more.

“We are looking for other ways to export Brazilian entrepreneurship know-how to existing opportunities in Arab Africa”

ATLANTICO – The new Brazilian government has a different political focus than the previous years. Overall, how do you evaluate the beginning of the Bolsonaro government?

Tamer Mansour – We have the same concerns as having been manifested by the productive sector. The moving of the Brazilian Embassy from Tel Aviv, in Israel, to Jerusalem has lit a warning light in trade between Brazil and Arab Countries. This subject is hugely touchy not only for the Arab governments but also for the consumers from those countries, who have considered Brazil as a friendly nation and Halal food producers. If the vast majority of consumers see Brazil as a hostile nation, then, in fact, there is a great risk of commercial retaliation. It already happened with North American and Danish companies. We hope that the Brazilian government actions continue to be based on avoiding interference so that bilateral trade with Arabs will continue to evolve.

ATLANTICO – How has the Chamber accompanied this change in the Brazilian government approximation to Israel?

Tamer Mansour – At the moment, essential sectors in the Brazilian government are conscious of the need for Brazil to maintain its role in non-conflicting policy in its diplomacy with Arab countries. In the last twenty years, Brazilian exports to Arab countries have increased by seven-fold, and that amount can reach 20 billion dollars in the next four years if we continue to foster good trade relations and improve the promotion of Brazilian products to the Arab bloc. Besides that, there is great interest from the Arab side to build win-win partnerships with Brazil. That is due to the Brazilian expertise in producing foodstuffs and the extensive resources of US$ 2.3 trillion from Arab countries allocating in their sovereign funds. These resources are being used for making the transition of Arab economies to adjust to the post-petroleum era. It includes, for example, food production projects in Arab countries and initiatives of mixed capital in Brazil and also other countries.

ATLANTICO – After Bolsonaro’s visit to Israel, there was a dinner organized by the National Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil (CNA) and  Tereza Cristina, the Agricultural minister, with representatives from Arab countries and large-scale Islamic representation. How do you evaluate that action?

Tamer Mansour – It was an important step, as, on account of that dinner, discussions were able to begin. As previously, there was no interaction. Thus, we could understand that it was necessary to arrive at a consensus on the importance of the Arab countries and a diplomatic stance making our country continue furthering that relationship.

At the moment, essential sectors in the Brazilian government are conscious of the need for Brazil to maintain its role in non-conflicting policy in its diplomacy with Arab countries

ATLANTICO – As you previously mentioned, Mercosul and Egypt have had a free trade agreement since 2017. What has changed since then? What results have already been reaped?

Tamer Mansour – The fact that Egypt has already become the largest market for Brazilian products in the Arab world is a consequence of the free trade agreement and emphasizes the importance of signing more similar trade agreements. There has been significant progress also achieved by Egypt, as it considers Brazil a favorable market for its products, especially in the textile field, a specialty of that country. So, we have made great progress towards building up a good bilateral trade relation where everyone gains, and no one loses.  There is excellent potential for Brazilian products in Egypt, not only foodstuffs but also Halal cosmetics and medications too. This country is the most populous country in the Arab League of countries; its population is 97 million, and its population rate increases similar to the Chinese rate. It will have a growing consumer market for Brazilian products, and this is modernizing its infrastructure, such as the new Suez Canal, intelligent cities are being built in the territory, as incentivized production zones – similar to the Manaus Free Trade Zone, which are capable of accessing many other markets through the free trade agreement Egypt as already signed.

ATLANTICO – You also remembered similar negotiations with Morocco, is there any progress already?

Tamer Mansour – The Mercosul-Morocco agreement is at a standstill now due to the sensitive situation in the Moroccan agribusiness, that fears an unfair competition between Brazil and Argentina, especially in the tannery segment. That is a relevant agreement, whereas their divergences need to be overcome. In[other] Arab-African countries, unfortunately, there are no additional ongoing agreements. It is necessary also to make progress on this.

The League of Arab States, also known as the Arab League, is an organization currently made up by 22 countries, to narrow relations on the political, economic, and cultural scope among mostly Arab countries, as well as to create a cooperative environment among the same. The headquarters is in Cairo, the Egyptian capital city. The League is made up by Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bahrain, Qatar, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Palestine, Syria (currently suspended), Oman, Somalia, Sudan, and Tunisia.