There is a deep-rooted history between Brazil and the Middle East. The relationship is not only built on family connections and cultural links, but increasingly trade as well. The strong ties between Brazil and the Arab world are reflected in the volume of trade, which has now reached its highest level for 33 years. Despite the challenges that international trade faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, and more recently the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine, the amount of trade between Brazil and Arab countries is unprecedented.
The Arab-Brazil Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) reported last month that exports from Brazil to the 22 countries of the Arab League generated a record revenue of $17.7 billion in 2022, the highest since 1989. Arab countries sold approximately $15.03bn worth of goods to Brazil. The Arab world is now Brazil's third largest commercial partner behind China and the United States.
According to figures compiled by the Market Intelligence Department of the ABCC, Brazil is the largest producer of halal beef for Arab markets, despite having a tiny Muslim population, estimated at only 35,000 people. The leading export to the region in 2022 was sugar valued at $3.44bn, followed by poultry products, iron ore, maize, soybean and beef products. One of the fifteen best-selling items, coffee, has posted the highest growth.
The top destination of Brazilian exports was the UAE with $3.26bn worth of goods in 2022, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, Bahrain, Morocco, Oman and Qatar. The Arab states, meanwhile, are major exporters of hydrocarbons, oil derivatives and fertilisers to Brazil. No less than 24 per cent of fertilisers imported by Brazil came from Arab countries.
Tamer Mansour, the secretary-general of the ABCC, told me that Brazil has always had an excellent commercial relationship with the Arab League countries. "Aside from the important milestone in 2022 when bilateral trade reached its highest historical volume since 1989, the Arab states count on Brazil to get high quality, cheap and halal food. Brazil's import of Arab products makes Brazilian agribusiness extremely competitive. The trade ties are based on a relationship that is mutually beneficial for both regions."
According to Mansour, exports from Brazil to Arab countries have increased significantly in recent years for a number of reasons. Arab countries, especially those in the Gulf, were among the first states to acquire Covid vaccines, for example. As a result, their economic recovery was faster than other parts of the world, which allowed economic activities to resume and food demand to increase.
Mansour also believes that the FIFA World Cup in Qatar helped to boost demand for Brazilian food products, particularly beef and poultry.
The war in Ukraine has meant that the Arab states have had to find alternative supplies of some food products, especially cereals. They turned to Brazil for wheat and maize in particular.
The Arab-Brazil Chamber of Commerce works alongside other Brazilian institutions to boost collaboration with the Arab world for food exports and imports. "The Arab countries will remain major buyers of Brazilian foodstuffs," added Mansour. "We believe that food exports from Brazil to Arab countries will grow in the first few months of 2023 due to preparations for Ramadan. However, it's noteworthy that they've invested heavily to reduce their dependence on foreign food products. Our mission is to find space for Brazil in value-added categories as well."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.