Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro stands for the national anthem during a session of the Brazil-United Arab Emirates Business Forum on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. (AFP via Getty Images)

Bolsonaro Looks to Boost Economic Ties in Visit to Gulf Countries

Brazilian president’s trip includes stops in UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro signed a series of trade deals and other agreements with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, during a visit on Sunday to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Bolsonaro was in Qatar on Monday and is due in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, where he will speak at the Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh.

The Brazilian leader’s three-day trip is designed to promote the South American country as an economic partner, encouraging Gulf nations to invest in Brazil and ease the way for Brazilian businesses to operate in the Gulf.

Riad Kahwaji, director of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, told The Media Line that the Gulf “is a prime market for Brazil’s aviation industry, particularly for smaller, more luxurious private and business jets. It is also a market for Brazil’s military aircraft.”

Arie Kacowicz, a professor of international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that Saudi Arabia is “crucial” to Brazil’s economic success in the region.

“Historically, the two countries have had close ties,” he said. “Saudi Arabia was an oil supplier to Brazil [before that country discovered its own oil] and is Brazil’s main trading partner in the Middle East.”

Kahwaji said the UAE was important to Brazil because it serves as a “gateway” to international markets.

“The UAE is very interested in joint ventures that would help industries in the UAE partner with developing countries, and which would result in international companies opening industries or transferring technologies for industries in the UAE,” he said.

This phenomenon is attractive to Brazil, Kahwaji added, because of its “geographic distance from the Asian market, where it hopes to do business to boost its fledgling economy.”

The problem for Brazil, he continued, is that the distance to Asia “lowers the profit margin on exports” because of the high cost of delivering goods.

“If Brazil can have good relations with the UAE, it would give it an entry point into the Asian market,” he said. “If Brazil’s businesses open shop in the UAE, the price of delivery to Asia would go down.”

In an interview with The Media Line, Brazil’s ambassador to the UAE, Fernando Luís Lemos Igreja, said the most important agreement signed during Bolsonaro’s visit established “a strategic partnership” between the two countries.

“With this strategic partnership, we are looking forward to a deeper relationship, especially in science and technology,” he said, noting that two of the agreements involve artificial intelligence and biodiversity.

“The visit has established a new level in the relationship between the two countries,” Igreja went on. “We have passed the first phase of the relationship, and now we are going on to further agreements, further cooperation.”

Bolsonaro’s close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, has caused some friction in Brazil’s relations with the Arab world. Evangelical Christians, who make up a key element of Bolsonaro’s political base, have pushed him to bolster support for the Jewish state, and he has raised the possibility of moving the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem.

Yet Kacowicz said this relationship will not harm Rio’s ties to Arab countries.

“In a sense, Israel, Brazil and Saudi Arabia are on the same side,” he said. “I don’t think that for the UAE and Saudi Arabia, it’s a problem that Bolsonaro has close relations with Israel, provided he does not move the embassy to Jerusalem.”

Igreja said Brazil’s ties with Israel and the Gulf countries were two separate parts of its foreign policy.

“The relationship between Brazil and the Gulf countries has always been very good. The current visit of the president is an example of this good relationship,” he said.

“The president… said that Brazil could even be called an Arab country, in the sense that we have a very big Arab community,” he continued. “But we also have an important Jewish community, so our ties with the Middle East are in a good place.”

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