Diplomacy made more relevant by Covid-19 crisis

Speakers in a webinar hosted by the Arab Chamber this Wednesday (24) said that diplomatic relations have grown more important during the pandemic. A Brazilian Foreign Ministry official discussed ongoing talks with Arab countries.

Isaura Daniel

São Paulo – Diplomacy and collaboration between countries have been made even more relevant by the Covid-19 pandemic. The way diplomatic relations helped sustain close ties between Brazil and the Arab countries was in discussion in a webinar hosted by the Arab Brazilian Chamber of Commerce this Wednesday (24) and featuring diplomats from Brazil and the Arab countries. The webinar had some 800 viewers in Brazil and the world over.

“These relations are even more necessary and important right now,” said Arab Chamber president Rubens Hannun during the webinar. An official from the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that talks with Arab governments are continuing in the virtual realm. Hannun said international collaboration has been particularly important amid the pandemic, despite the shutting down of borders and of trade in some staples.

Rubens Hannun: it’s time to collaborate

The Brazilian Foreign Ministry’s undersecretary for Bilateral Negotiations for the Middle East, Europe and Africa, Kenneth da Nóbrega, said that as soon as the pandemic broke out, the Ministry turned its attention to citizen repatriations – over 25,500 people have been repatriated so far –, but work on diplomatic agendas with different countries soon resumed.

“This resumption was especially strong when it comes to the Arab world. So far, this has involved phone or video calls at a ministerial level with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar and Kuwait,” he said. Prior to the pandemic, Brazilian foreign minister Ernesto Araújo had trips scheduled to those countries in April.

Nóbrega said the purpose of talks with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar was to follow up on matters relating to president Jair Bolsonaro’s 2019 visit. Talks with Kuwait involved perspectives in trade and investment, cooperation in defense, and agribusiness. Bolsonaro was slated to travel to Kuwait this year, but this is uncertain now.

The undersecretary said he’ll schedule meetings shortly with his counterparts in Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon and Jordan. The agenda for these meetings includes the sharing of information and pandemic-related cooperation, economic and social measures, and other aspects of bilateral relations. The Brazilian Foreign Ministry has already had a second conference with the UAE and a meeting of the Brazil-Saudi Arabia inter-ministerial committee on trade and investments. The month of July will see a political consultation meeting with Egypt.

According to Nóbrega, agribusiness and exports will be high on the list at the meeting with Egypt. During the webinar, he remarked that agribusiness exports from Brazil kept steady and in some cases even went up amid the pandemic. “This is the result of the resilience of our agribusiness production chain, which enables Brazil to live up to its responsibility, as a major agricultural exporter, to ensure the food security of its partner countries,” said Nóbrega.

Chohfi discussed economic complementarity

Arab Chamber International Relations vice president and diplomat Osmar Chohfi, who moderated the webinar alongside secretary-general Tamer Mansour, pointed out the complementary character of foreign trade between Brazil and the Arab countries. Brazil ships out food to Arab markets, while Arabs are major suppliers of fertilizers used in producing those foods.

“For the first time ever, the good performance of Brazilian agriculture caused fertilizers to become the biggest export product from Arab countries to Brazil, with USD 778 million in sales from January to May. This evidences the complementarity of Arab and Brazilian exports,” said Chohfi.

He noted that ties between Brazil and the Arab countries have advanced greatly over the past 20 years, in politics as well as economy and trade. “This parity between political rapport and economic expansion is demonstrated by the fact that trade with Arab countries amounted to 5% to 6% of Brazil’s total foreign trade over the past few years,” the Arab Chamber International Relations VP said.

The diplomat mentioned that the World Trade Organization (WTO) expects global trade in goods to be down 13% to 32% in 2020, depending on how long the pandemic will last and on how effective the policies to address it will be. “In light of that, the work of governments will be crucial to the resumption of economies, trade and investment, and that includes the international realm too,” said Chohfi. Thus being, embassies will play a key role, he argued.

Ambassador Alzeben expressed solidarity towards Brazil

Council of Arab Ambassadors in Brazil dean and Palestine ambassador Ibrahim Alzeben said during the webinar that economy and politics exist in a continuum. According to him, Arab ambassadors are committed to making their countries’ partnerships with Brazil strategic. “We are working tirelessly to maintain excellent relations and to overcome difficulties,” he said. Ibrahim Alzeben expressed solidarity towards Brazil regarding the Covid-19 situation. “Brazil will come out stronger on the other end of this pandemic and this crisis that is plaguing this beloved country,” he said.

Speakers in the webinar also included Brazil’s ambassadors to Egypt, Antonio Patriota; to Morocco, Julio Bitelli; to Jordan, Ruy Amaral; to the UAE, Fernando Igreja; and the ambassadors to Brazil from Lebanon, Joseph Sayah; Mauritania, Wagne Abdoulaye; Morocco, Nabil Adghoghi; Kuwait, Nasser Almotairi; Egypt, Wael Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd; the Arab League, Qais Shqair; Bahrain’s chargé d’affaires to Brazil, Bader Alhelaibi, and the UAE consul general to São Paulo, Ibrahim Salem Alalawi.

More on the webinar:

Brazil-Arab relations moving forward despite the pandemic

The full webinar is available on the Arab Chamber YouTube channel.

Translated by Gabriel Pomerancblum

Press Release

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