King's Brazil Visit Opens Up New Trade Horizon: King Mohammed VI's First Ever Visit to Brazil at the Tail End of Last Year Is Already Yielding Positive Economic Results. A Free-Trade Agreement between Latin-American and Arab Trading Blocks Is Also on the Cards. Faycal Belhassan Reports
Belhassan, Faycal, African Business
The first-ever visit by a Moroccan king to Brazil finally took place in November last, after years of work done by Lauro Moreira, director of the Brazilian Agency of Cooperation and former ambassador in Rabat.
Moreira took over his new position at the end of 2003 but did not stop working on his agenda. When he first arrived in the kingdom in 2000, relationships between the two countries were very limited.
But King Mohammed VI's trip to Brazil, following a visit to Mexico and a tour that led him to Argentina, Chile and Peru, is creating a new economic opportunity for this North African country. During his visit, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and the Moroccan king signed various bilateral protocols. Also on the cards is a free trade agreement between Mercosur countries (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay) and Morocco. Brazil is heading Mercosur for the next three months. Uruguay will then take over and hopes to be active during negotiations to create a free trade zone.
"Mercosur is already talking with some Arab countries, including Morocco and Egypt, to create a free trade zone," said Luiz Fernando Furlan, the Brazilian minister of development, industry and international commerce during the king's visit. "This will have huge impact not only on politics, but also on trade and investments. Arab countries have enormous financial reserves because of oil. But the Iraqi war could only help South American countries to be more attractive to those nations as the whole continent is a peace-loving continent."
The other important discussion between the two heads of states was over a conference involving leaders from all Arab countries and scheduled for May in Brasilia. The Brazilian president wants to reinforce relations between the 21 nations of the Arab League and the 12 South American countries. To prepare for this important meeting, King Mohammed VI will host a ministry level conference in March in Marrakech. This decision was taken during the king's visit to Brazil.
One of the first results of the royal trip is a cooperation agreement signed between diplomatic institutes of the two countries and another one in tourism. Moroccan diplomats will be trained in Brazil and, according to official press releases, this should start shortly. As for tourism, king Mohammed VI and President Da Silva discussed the reopening of an air connection between Brazil and Morocco. In the late 1980s Royal Air Maroc had a weekly flight to Rio de Janeiro from Casablanca but this ceased.
"If we want real relationships in all sectors between Brazil and Morocco, it is important to reopen the air connection," stated Moreira. "I am working on that too and each time I can, I am talking with Moroccan authorities and my own authorities about this subject."
Last October, Elias Hadi, commercial director of Way Brasil, a young Brazilian airline company that connects various cities in the country, came to Morocco to start talks with Royal Air Maroc. At the time, Air Maroc did not seem interested but Hadi said his company intended to pursue the idea of creating an air connection between the two nations.
BRAZIL-MOROCCO TRADE AT LOW LEVEL
Currently, trade between Brazil and Morocco is very low, at around only $400m annually. However, experts have already noted an increase--from January to September 2004, trade reached $450m, with a trade deficit of $68m for Morocco.
Traditionally, Morocco's exports to Brazil include phosphate-enriched fertilisers and by-products, transistors, fisheries products, lubricating oil, integrated circuits and olive oil. Brazil exports to the kingdom include sugar, wheat, soya, cars and spare parts, wood, textiles, cotton and tractors.
Moreira thinks the countries are very similar in various aspects. "But don't forget that President Lula's policies, since his election to the presidency, is to start or reinforce our relationships with Africa and Arab nations," he said. …