Ambassador of Brazil talks to Centreline and DNA
Ambassador of Brazil Mr. Alfredo Leoni has completed his tenure in Pakistan and is leaving for his new assignment in Poland. Ambassador Leoni spent quite an eventful tenure in Pakistan during which he gave new meaning to Pakistan, Brazil relations. This is his last interview to any Pakistan media house. Here are excerpts from his interview.
Ansar Mahmood Bhatti
Now you have completed your tenure in Pakistan. Please give us a brief overview of your achievements / initiatives during your stay here?
Brazil and Pakistan have been together for quite a long time. We established diplomatic relations in 1948 soon after the creation of Pakistan. Few years later in 1951 Pakistan opened an embassy in Pakistan at that time in Rio, which was first embassy of Pakistan in any Latin American country while Brazil opened an embassy in 1952 in Karachi, which then used to be Pakistan’s capital. Brazil was first Latin American country that opened an embassy in Pakistan. Let me tell you that we have no negative issues in our bilateral relations which, means we have maintained very friendly relations. Both countries have been supporting each other at various forums. For instance Pakistan supported re-election of the Director General of FAO who was from Brazil. I am pleased to inform you that Pakistan’s support has always been forthcoming and vice versa.
I was extremely glad when I was appointed to serve in Pakistan keeping in view the strong friendly ties between the two countries. In fact the trusted friendship bonds between Brazil and Pakistan helped me a lot in furthering the agenda of promotion of bilateral relations. Let me give a brief synopsis of our achievements in the trade and economy. Brazil and Pakistan are free economies. How to facilitate business activities between the two counties was a key question that I had to address soon after taking charge of the embassy. I think there are three major factors that ultimately lead to strengthening of business relations. First, to make a country better known to other country that is what I have been striving during my stay in Pakistan. During my interactions with business people here in Pakistan I conveyed only single message that Brazil has a lot to offer so go there and explore business opportunities.
How important a flexible visa policy is essential for promotion of bilateral relations?
Flexible visa system also contributes greatly to achieve this end. Brazil has introduced a very generous visa policy for Pakistani businessmen i.e five year multiple visa for Pakistani businessmen. After this visa regime, number of visits of Pakistani businessmen to Brazil has increased considerably. Thirdly, lowering of tariffs also helps improve trade relations. This is however a complex issue as Brazil is the part of Mercsur union comprising six members including Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Uruguay and Paraguay. This is complex in the sense that for an agreement approval of all member countries is required. But good thing is that once this agreement is reached, Pakistan will have then access to markets of all these six countries. Brazil will wholeheartedly support Pakistan in reaching an agreement with these countries (Mercsur union). Whenever Brazil takes over the rotating presidency of Mercsur, we push forward the agenda of an agreement with Pakistan and I hope finally we shall be able to have a breakthrough in this regard.
Brazil, five years ago, was a less known country in Pakistan but now situation is altogether different. Then a few countries have flexible visa policy and Pakistan is bracketed with those countries that can get five years multiple visas. The idea is to have a free trade agreement with Pakistan but as you know Brazil especially has a booming textile sector so it may not be possible to lower tariffs in this particular area so that the Brazilian textile sector is not affected. However there are many other sectors where tariffs can be lowered and brought to zero such as granite, marbles, surgical instruments etc.
Please tell us something about bilateral cooperation in the education and cultural fields?
Education is very important area. Three years ago Pakistan became a recipient of program of scholarship from Brazil and it is because of this scholarship program that now there are more than 100 Pakistani students studying in Brazil. Four years ago there was no student. This number hopefully will increase with the passage of time. Language barrier, in the beginning, appeared to be a handicap for Pakistani students because medium of instruction in Brazil is Portuguese. Nevertheless, Brazil embassy started Portuguese classes at its premises in order to facilitate Pakistani students and I am pleased to inform you that a large number of Pakistani students are applying for admissions. Since we have limited space available for such classes therefore it is not possible for us to accommodate all requests. For the moment 82 students are undertaking Portuguese classes at the embassy, which are absolutely free of charge.
In cultural field both countries made significant strides. I realized that Pakistani people are fond of popular music that is why I brought Samba music on the occasion of our national day. It was very well received by Pakistani people. Then in 2012 Patubatay Music Band performed in Pakistan. Patubatê uses raw and recyclable materials to build their musical instruments. Patubate musicians also performed in PNCA, which was jam-packed show. We also arranged Patubate musicians meetings with garbage pickers because we wanted to boost morale of garbage picker children. It was a very nice interaction with Patubate people. To begin with these children were shy however after some time they got mixed with the Patubate people and had a very friendly interaction afterwards.
Mr. Bernardo Carvalho Brazilian Writer delivered lecture in Islamabad and visited Karachi Literature Festival in 2014. This particular visit also contributed towards cementing of literary ties between the two countries.
Then we had some photo exhibitions also by Mr. Zulifiqar Ali in 2012 “Rio Carnival”, Almier Ries 2012 “50 years of Brasil, Mr. Jorge Rodrigues 2014 “Football”. In 2010 the embassy held the first photo exhibition about football.
Then of course we had photos of Islamic culture also. We wanted to tell Pakistani people that Muslims enjoy full liberties in Brazil. They are absolutely free to practice their religion, which is protected by Brazilian law. Some mosques also exist in Brazil that are very well protected and looked after by the Brazilian government. Then we also facilitated a visit of Pakistani fashion designer to Brazil and when he came back he introduced ideas that he got from Brazil.
Mohsin Hamid a renowned Pakistani writer went to Brazil to take part in FLIP literacy festival. Mohsin’s visit was part of Brazil embassy in Islamabad’s initiatives to promote literacy and cultural activities between the two countries. Mohsin had an opportunity to speak as a key speaker at the Round Table “8” of FLIP 2014, together with Brazilian writers Antonio Parata and Tete Ribeiro. After FLIP Mohsin Hamid took part in some activities held in Rio de Janeiro.
Agriculture is yet another field where both countries have increased cooperation. Can you tell some more details?
Both countries have promoted cooperation in the agriculture sector. And in agriculture, sugar is the area where both countries have intense cooperation. Brazil is the largest producer of sugar so we have rich experience in sugarcane production and I think this experience can be useful for Pakistan that how it can enhance its sugar production. We also invited Pakistani experts to see the sugar production in Brazil. Then ethanol is very important bio fuel in Brazil and we take ethanol from sugarcane. Ethanol could be used in Pakistan to replace oil.
Another very important activity that we promoted was the social program that how to give food which is enough for the population. Brazil has done quite well in poverty alleviation also. We have decreased the level of poverty and let me tell you that now there is zero per cent hunger in Brazil. Such programs are essential for the development of countries therefore we want to share our experiences with Pakistan in order to overcome poverty related issues.
We also tried to promote Brazilian cuisines in Pakistan for which we brought different Brazilian chefs to Pakistan on different occasions. At the Brazilian national day we introduced a special Brazilian lime juice which was appreciated by Pakistanis.
We also tried to promote sports ties between the two countries. Last year was an important year for Brazil because we hosted for the second time football world cup. The event was quite successful, though Brazilians were not happy because of the result of the world cup. Our team unfortunately could not live up to the expectations however apart from that the world cup contributed greatly towards improving and strengthening Brazil image both at home and abroad.
Capoeira is yet another sport which we introduced in Pakistan. It is basically an African sport which was taken to Brazil by African slaves in the end of 16th century. During this time Capoeira disappeared in Africa but on the other hand it flourished in Brazil and now it has become Brazil national sport. Brazil has exported this game to a number of countries. We give free classes of Capoira in the embassy. We sent three students to Brazil for additional training of Capoeira who came back and shared their experiences with other Pakistanis.
As we can see Brazil is fast becoming a global player from a regional player and also intends to become permanent member of the Security Council. Can you tell us a bit more about it? And why you think Security Council expansion is necessary?
We cannot have a Security Council that, aside from the addition of a few non-permanent members, remains the same since 1945. The world has changed enormously since then. The number of countries has quadrupled. New agendas, such as the environment and human rights, have emerged.
A more representative, legitimate and efficient Security Council would require the expansion of both permanent and non-permanent categories, to include both developed and developing countries. Along with many like-minded countries, Brazil supports the creation of six additional permanent seats: two for Asia, two for Africa, one for Latin America and one for Western Europe; as well as four additional non-permanent seats – one each for Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Brazil has the credentials to occupy a permanent seat in the Security Council. These credentials include our long tradition in favour of peaceful solutions to conflicts, our substantial contribution to UN peacekeeping operations and our actions in promoting the interests of developing countries, which form the majority of the international community but remain under-represented in many world bodies. With the world’s 5th largest population, 5th biggest area and 7th largest economy, Brazil has all the resources necessary to assume greater responsibilities within the UN system.