Today's Guest is Octávio Henrique Côrtes, Ambassador of Brazil to Ethiopia, since December 2015. He was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1959. He pursued his studies in Electrical Engineering at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. He graduated from the Rio Branco Diplomatic Academy Institute in 1986 and then became a member of the Brazilian Foreign Service.
Within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he was appointed as advisor to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the Secretary-General of Foreign Affairs, as well as Head of Western Europe Division. He also held advisory positions in the Brazilian Federal Senate and worked as Chief of Staff of the Minister for Strategic Affairs.
After completing his overseas assignments in the US, Paraguay, Bolivia, Japan and Iraq, he then arrived in Addis Ababa in December 2015, being accredited as Ambassador Plenipotentiary. He is in charge not only of Brazilian relations with Ethiopia, but also with Djibouti, South Sudan, the African Union and UNECA. He is married and has two daughters.
The Ethiopian Herald made a short stay with Ambassador Octávio with the intention of letting him share the bilateral relations of his nation and Ethiopia. Excerpts:
Could you explain the status of the bilateral relations between Brazil and Ethiopia?
Brazil and Ethiopia have barely started to explore the potential of our bilateral relations. Trade is not yet developed and investment opportunities are still being identified, but for now we have little to say about what has been done in those fields. We are trying to set up new structures to boost our trade and investment relations.
In terms of cooperation, we already have much more to say. We have been working with Ethiopia in fronts as diversified as agricultural and soil research, livestock genetic improvement, school feeding programs, sustainable management of forests, urban sanitation and digital technologies for population counting.
We also acknowledge Ethiopia’s increasing role on global and regional issues, such as peacekeeping, conflict prevention and common development challenges. Brazil firmly supported and campaigned for the election of former Minister Dr. Tedros Adhanom as Director General of the WHO, as well as for the election of Ethiopia as a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2017 and 2018. We hope to work closely with Ethiopia in several multilateral fora, where Brazil has a tradition of being an active player.
How do you measure the trade relations between the two nations?
We are still out of the top 20 suppliers to Ethiopia even though Brazil is one of the 10 largest economies in the world. We are the largest global exporters for products like chicken and beef, and yet our share in the Ethiopian food imports is minimal. We also excel in producing machinery and implements and the current development of Ethiopia in agriculture and industries opens an entire new field of opportunities for trade.
Brazil has a big and diversified economy, with a sophisticated industry capable of offering top quality products for competitive prices. We produce almost everything from small household items to high-tech airplanes. In many fields, we are considered as a global benchmark. Ethiopian companies should not overlook the business opportunities they can find in our country.
On the other hand, Ethiopian exports to Brazil are practically non-existent. Ethiopia is an important producer and exporter of coffee (needless to say, the land of origin of the coffee plant), but Brazil is the world’s largest producer and exporter of coffee, so we do not import that kind of product. The development of new exporting industries in Ethiopia will open up an entire new perspective for growth of our trade relations.
In accomplishing your mission as an ambassador, to what extent you would improve the relations between the two nations? Do you have a plan to invite Brazilian investment into Ethiopia?
We still do not have any major Brazilian investments in Ethiopia, but we are working to change that. We need to make Brazilian companies aware of the potential we can find in Ethiopia.
Many of our companies have been established in different countries in Africa for decades now, particularly the Portuguese speaking ones, like Angola and Mozambique, but their presence in the continent grew significantly during the last decade, as they intensified the search for new dynamic markets.
Yet, they are still finding out about the potential of Ethiopia. Last year, during a visit of our former Foreign Minister to Ethiopia, we signed a memorandum of understanding that sets foundations for a closer bilateral dialogue on trade and investment affairs.
Now we are trying to take the next step. We hope to very soon be able to sign an agreement that will encourage bilateral investments in all areas.
On the other hand, I must say that Brazil seems to be more interested in Ethiopia than the other way around. We would like Ethiopians to be more curious about Brazil, about our culture, economy and society, beyond the interest most Ethiopians already show for our football. That is why the Embassy has been implementing a set of new strategies to reach out to the Ethiopian public.
To give a few examples, we have completely redesigned our website, to make it easier to browse and with more useful and precise information on the services we provide. We have started a Facebook page, in order to be more transparent about what we are doing or hoping to do here in Ethiopia. We have also initiated cycles of Brazilian movie screenings, which are open to the general public, and have been attracting arts and media students, especially.
What are the main economic sectors Brazilian investors will be involving in Ethiopia?
Our current most important trade product is sugar. Brazil is very strong in this industry, which is a centuries-old sector in Brazil and which also accounts for part of our clean energy matrix, through the production of ethanol.
But we plan to diversify the sectors of Brazilian involvement here in Ethiopia. There are many areas to mention, but the interest of Brazilian investors coincides mostly with the priorities set by the Ethiopian government in the Second Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP-II).
We could mention infrastructure projects, like hydropower plants and dams, roads and railways, which are key to keep feeding the accelerated growth of the Ethiopian economy.
Another area is textile and garments, where our country has a strong industry with exporting experience, while Ethiopia offers abundant raw materials, low costs in many production factors (like land and energy), as well as preferential access to many of the most important consumer markets.
There is also a strong interest in the pharmaceutical industry. Brazil is a leading country in generics, which are much needed in Ethiopia and other African countries.
What do you say about the efforts Ethiopian government has been demonstrating in improving the infrastructure facilities such as energy, roads and the like to attract FDI?
Solving infrastructure bottlenecks is crucial for the economy to keep growing, we understand that. Brazil, too, has known an infrastructure gap that we are trying to close. Keeping those projects up and running is essential and some of our companies have been offering to contribute to this process in various ways.
For instance, Brazil is a global leader in hydropower and Ethiopia has a very well known potential for construction of dams, but it still lacks good studies and projects to be able to explore that potential. Brazilian civil engineers are ready to come and work together with Ethiopian consultancy firms.
What are you planning to encourage the Brazilian companies to come to Ethiopia?
For now, there are no Brazilian companies established in Ethiopia, but we hope that will change soon. This is a market still unknown for most Brazilian businessmen, so we need to make them aware of the opportunities they can find here. While doing that, we count on working with the Ethiopian government and private sector. Since it semms to have prudent policies and strategies that encourage foreign investments, Ethiopia, we hope, remains to be a long-term and reliable partner for our companies.
What would you say about the commitment of Ethiopian government in expanding industrial parks that can help to diversify the economy?
Setting up industrial parks is an excellent way to attract FDI, but it does not automatically solve all issues. Access to infrastructure and communications is key, but also having easy access to foreign currency. Investors need much facilitated access to import equipment and materials for their factories. Only then they can work and generate new exports.
How do you see Ethiopia's relentless effort in ensuring sustainable peace in the Horn?
Ethiopia is a key player in its conflict-affected surroundings, such as Somalia and South Sudan. Brazil also has a decades-long experience in helping stabilize areas and protect civilian populations around the globe, under UN mandates.
We have started an exchange program with Ethiopia to share experiences in training peacekeepers to be deployed in UN and AU missions. Under a bilateral agreement signed earlier this year, an instructor from the Brazilian Peace Operations Joint Training Center (CCOPAB) has been working at the Ethiopian Peace Support Training Center (FDRE - PSTC) since September.
Brazil just completed last month a commanding role in Haiti, under the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). We are now considering new roles that we could play in UN peacekeeping missions, much probably in the African continent. Talks are underway with the UN for a possible deployment of Brazilian peacekeepers.
What kind of lessons Ethiopia could learn from Brazil in its endeavor towards a middle income society?
We are not here to teach. We are here to exchange experiences and to reach our own conclusions.
One thing we, Brazilians, have learned from our own history is that there are no shortcuts for development. We may attract a lot of foreign investments and register consecutive decades of sustained GDP growth. But if we do not pay equal attention to fiscal, social and environmental vulnerabilities, we may end up with new and bigger challenges. Fighting poverty and social inequality and promoting human rights is a must, as well keeping the right balance in the use of natural resources.
Brazil has been an active voice, globally, in the promotion of sustainable development, especially because we have been continuously pursuing it at home. We were the hosts of both the Rio-92 and Rio+20 Conferences, which were at the origins of the international discussions on sustainable development.
South-South cooperation can help countries find innovative ways to address common development challenges. Brazil is willing to expand its cooperation, in order to share what we have been learning in our own country and try to find similarities between our context and that of Ethiopia.
What do the two nations share in common that enhances the bilateral relation? What would you comment on the future of their relations?
Not only to cite shared aspirations, I should mention something very specific. Having the possibility to fly non-stop from Bole International Airport to Sao Paulo, Brazil’s vibrant financial center, is a very important asset for our bilateral relations.
‘Ethiopian Airlines’ flights to Sao Paulo seem to be doing well with passengers lately, seat occupancy rates being consistently above 85%. Last year alone, more than 26,000 people travelled between Brazil and Ethiopia and that number will surely be surpassed in 2017.
We hope that, during the next years, many of those travelers will be Brazilian entrepreneurs that hear about the impressive figures of the Ethiopian economy and start talking with our embassy on possible investments here.
We also hope that many more Ethiopian business-people will start travelling to Brazil, because they will see us as a closer place to buy value for money machinery and consumer products, or because they will see us as a leading developing country that has developed innovative solutions for challenges one also finds in Ethiopia.
This direct flight between Brazil and Ethiopia has existed for the last four years and Ethiopia has become the transit point for more than 15% of passengers transported between Brazil and Africa. For the moment, though, it seems that the distance between our peoples remains too big.
Due to their strong historical, economical and cultural bonds, Brazil and the Western coast of Africa have once been called, by one of the most prominent diplomats of my country, the margins of ‘a river called the Atlantic’. I wish that, in the future, with much more trade, investments, cooperation and all kinds of exchanges, Ethiopia will also be seen as a part of our ‘transatlantic river’.
BY WAKUMA KUDAMA