IN FOCUS: An interview with Consul General of Brazil in Atlanta, Hermano Telles Ribeiro
June 6, 2013. 11:00AM by BACC-SE - Pedro Ferreira and Louis Pine
The Brazilian Chamber of Commerce Southeast proudly kicks off a new addition to our Enews, inFOCUS, which captures the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of prominent figures in American-Brazilian commerce. In this issue we are excited to feature the Consul General of Brazil, Ambassador Hermano Telles Ribeiro. Ambassador Ribeiro is the Honorary Chairman of the Brazilian Chamber of Commerce. In 2012, he joined our Atlanta consulate after serving as head of the Diplomatic Planning Unit at the Ministry of External Relations in Brazil’s capitol city, Brasilia.
The following discussion with Ambassador Ribeiro focuses on Vice President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Brazil and on the newly elected leader of the World Trade Organization, Roberto Azevedo.
Brazil has recently celebrated with the victory of Mr. Roberto Azevedo as the new head of the World Trade Organization (WTO.) What does it represent for the Brazilian government to have a Brazilian leading the WTO? And what impact do you think it has for the rest of the world?
I think it is an important step for the Brazilian government, but I think the WTO comes out as a winner in Azevedo’s election. In a way it represents more than that because it represents the recognition of Brazil as a player in the world stage. As you know, we were already able to elect director general [Jose Graziano da Silva] of FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), which is already a very important pillar of the United Nations. Brazil, of course, presented Mr. Azevedo’s candidacy, but Brazil is also active in global activities such as the G20 in the commercial and financial field. These recent events show the country’s ability to contribute to the world in a multilateral approach and to contribute to solutions to problems that are global in essence.
Do you think this will spur a reform in Brazilian trade policies?
I think that the question suggests that Brazilian trade policies require some sort of reform. All trade policies must be dynamic and forward thinking. However, it is important to note that Brazil has been in full compliance with WTO norms. Since the creation of the GATT (General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade) and WTO, Brazil has never been condemned [by either organization]. There is a very open and [professional dialogue] within the organization. He will have to in a way reflect the political ambitions of member countries.
Yes, Roberto Azevedo is Brazilian, but his duty is for the interest of 159 member countries in the WTO. The main item [on the agenda] is the DOHA development, which is the current trade round of the WTO. The DOHA round needs to be revamped and re-energized. Therefore, Mr. Azevedo will have to be the honest broker. At the end of the day, it will be the political will of the governments regarding whether they want to go through with the multilateral form. This multilateral plan is what Brazil and many countries believe should be the centerpiece of the system. The question remains whether or not they are going to opt for bi-regional relations. As we know the EU and the U.S for instance are working on mechanisms for economic integration and so forth. It is the idea of regionalism vs. multilateralism. The fact that we presented Mr. Azevedo is very much telling of how much we trust and [how we] believe the multilateral framework is the way to go for an international economy that is clearly globalized.
How does Robert Azevedo’s leadership differentiate from others? What do you think he will bring to the table and what influence will he have on the WTO?
Mr. Azevedo is a highly skilled negotiator and a man of dialogue. He has worked with the WTO for more than fifteen years at very different levels. He has proven his skills in many different agendas at the WTO. The process by which he was elected was very interesting and showed the maturity of the WTO. There were nine high-level candidates and any of them could have been selected. It was a process that went through three different rounds. In the final round of the election process, the last two candidates were Latin Americans to much of our happiness. It is important to stress that the process in itself was very robust and [represented how a democratic system should be]. We are very honored to have this very highly skilled negotiator on the job.
Moving from a global to national scale, this is an exciting time for Brazil and United States relations. A recent Reuters article published a statement by Vice President Joe Biden that "[the US is] ready for a deeper, broader relationship across the board on everything from the military to education, trade and investment.” In what ways do you foresee a stronger connection between the two countries?
When I worked for the United States desk in Brasilia during the Clinton era, I became aware of the wealth and endless possibilities of our bilateral relationship. We have common agendas in the areas of the environment and sustainability. The issues of renewables and energy are on the table. We have a robust dialogue on global issues which range from global governance [e.g. the reform of the Bretton Woods System], the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and the World Bank to reflect the new realities of emerging countries, such as BRICS. We also have a strong bilateral dialogue on political issues ranging from countries in the Americas to the Arab Spring Issue. It is a solid foundation. America is a very important trading partner and our most important investor [FDI into Brazil]. China has become our first trading partner.
How do you see the Southeastern US assisting in this partnership?
I am very optimistic about it. I think there is huge potential and I detect a huge interest. I have been here for a year and a half. During this time, businessmen, universities, and people in the field of innovation have come to me [for guidance]. We have an untapped wealth [of resources and bright students]. We already have strong bilateral relationships in terms of trade, but I think we can [take it to the next level]. Just looking at Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia, I think that this axis presents a variety of opportunities in fields from logistics to IT innovation. Visiting many universities and institutions that are related to technology, I have seen there is a lot of interest in cooperating with Brazil. For example, we have a robust scholarship program for Brazilian students called, Science Without Borders. The program is accepting an increasing number of Brazilian students here in Georgia and within the five states I cover.
During Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Brazil, it was announced that, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will make this year’s state visit to Washington on October 23rd. President Obama only offers one opportunity for a foreign head of state per year. Is it reasonable to expect a reform in visa restrictions between the two nations?
That is an issue that has been very high on the agenda. There is an enormous flow of businessmen, tourists and academics traveling from one country to the other. Note of caution: let’s not raise our expectations too high. From a business point of view, waiving visa restrictions is a business facilitation measure, but we must take into account a global perspective. There are different types of visas which include a list of legal requirements that must be waived in order to lift restrictions. However, I think that a number of steps have already been taken in order to accelerate the issuance of visas. The United States has inaugurated two new Consulate Generals in Brazil, which is a huge achievement. We also see an increasing number of Brazilians investing in the United States. Not only are they investing in tourism, but Brazil has become an investor [for companies abroad]. It is in the best interest of the United States to [approve more Brazilian visas] and vice versa. We will see a pattern of measures to help facilitate the issuance of visas. At the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta, we process visas in a very quick manner. We have seen progress in visa [processing], but I think this will happen in steps.
What else can we expect from this meeting? Any rumors?
Very big question. (laughs) Vice President Biden mentioned in his discussions with Brazilian Vice President Temer in a bilateral meeting that energy [resources are a] hot topic. There are so many opportunities there that are on the menu. I think the important thing to note is that we will see robust results for both countries out of this visit.
Do you think Mr. Azevedo will have any input at this meeting?
Not necessarily, because the meeting takes place in October and Mr. Azevedo will be already in office. He has a Bali conference to deal with at the end of year. He will also be focused in garnering support to have an initial document to re-energize the Doha Development conference. He won’t have any direct influence, because he is now the leader of an international organization.
We are aware that Mr. Azevedo is a personal friend of yours. Where did you guys first meet?
Yeah, it’s very interesting. We tend to be gypsies and move around the world. He graduated a bit after me, so we never served together on any assignments. We became friends because we met a couple of times and we developed a genuine friendship. I was there when he was negotiating an aviation agreement in Paris. He wound up in Paris en route to Geneva where he was part of the discussion for the Doha Development. During his many visits to Paris, we met a couple of times and shared a passion for soccer.
We also know you’re a great soccer player. Is he a good soccer player as well? Now, a more serious question, who played better?
We never played against each other. [laughs] We used to play together in Brasilia on a veteran soccer league. At our age we did not necessarily have to play veteran soccer [laughs], but Roberto had his team and I had mine. We basically communicated around the sport. Our mutual passion for playing soccer is very strong, but we also share an interest for the Fluminense, our Brazilian soccer team in Rio de Janeiro.
Recently, Maracanã Stadium was re-inaugurated. This event was monumental because the first goal was scored by a player from our favorite team Fluminense, just like the game from the first inauguration in 1950. It was a special reminder of our friendship and connection.
Lastly, we cannot leave without asking the Honorary Chairman of the Brazilian Chamber and personal friend of Mr. Azevedo, if there is any chance in the near future that Mr. Azevedo will come to Atlanta to speak to our members?
Well, as director general of the WTO, Mr. Azevedo will be travelling a lot and will probably have a very tight agenda. There is a possibility, Atlanta is the busiest airport in the world and serves as an international hub. If it depends on my will, he will come. Due to his very busy schedule and family commitments it is uncertain at this point, but we will keep our fingers crossed. I’ll relate this to him.
Thank you very much for your time. We enjoyed speaking with you and are looking forward to hearing you speak at our event on June 13, 2013 Opportunities in Brazil: Logistics and Infrastructure.
Excellent. We’ll see you there. Boa sorte!
Pedro Ferreira and Louis Pine are with the marketing and public relations team at the Brazilian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Southeast.