London, 6th November 2017
Business in Portuguese, Bloomberg London, Tuesday 31st October 2017
The Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in the UK organised the second edition of the Business in Portuguese conference in London on Tuesday 31st October. Each year the conference discusses different aspects of doing business in Portuguese-speaking countries, and this year it was sponsored by the international law firm Cuatrecasas, Goncalves Pereira.
Across the globe Lusophone countries cover a land mass the size of Canada and contain over 290m people – indeed Portuguese is currently the third most used language on Facebook, the sixth most spoken language in the world, and the first most spoken language in the southern hemisphere. The emerging markets of Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, in particular, offer outstanding business opportunities, but also significant challenges.
At this conference, two panels discussed financing businesses in Lusophone countries, and then the problems of sustainability and good governance in these markets.
After introductions from Jorge de Abreu, the Chairman of the Portuguese Chamber of Commerce in the UK, and Manuel Lobo Antunes, Portugal’s Ambassador to the UK, Antonio Monteiro, now the Chairman of leading Portuguese bank BCP, and formerly a career diplomat who negotiated the final peace settlements in Angola, took to the stage.
Mr Monteiro’s main message was that the Lusophone countries of Angola and Mozambique in sub-Saharan Africa are today’s frontier markets, where the cycle of development is now on the path to steady and sustainable growth. Indeed, his central point was that Europe must establish strong and enduring links with African countries in order to harness the commercial potential of their young populations and to prevent stagnation in the mature European markets.
The first panel, moderated by Bloomberg’s Beth Kostick Kemp, then discussed the upside –and the risk – of doing business in Brazil, Angola and Mozambique. João Mattamouros from Cuatrecasas commented on the risks Brazil faced during the 2008/10 had not properly assessed the risks posed by Brazil’s economy, where assets were often overpriced and the regulatory environment particularly challenging.
Meanwhile Norman Hay from Kingbird Commodities urged the audience to move away from regarding oil as the principal product of Angola, pointing out that agriculture and raw materials now offered better opportunities, given Angola’s young demographic and their urgent need for infrastructure.
Barnaby Fletcher from Control Risks summarised the current political problems in Mozambique, suggesting that investors concentrate on well-run private companies on the ground, rather than getting involved with government projects, which could be fraught with risk and the threat of regime change.
Sergio Gullo, from Brazil’s B3 Stock Exchange, was hopeful that Brazil was now emerging from the corruption crisis and that the current upswing in investments there was sustainable.
Panel two, moderated by Bloomberg’s Claudia Quinonez, discussed the need for international investors to see proof of good governance in these Lusophone markets. The panel discussion was preceded by a presentation from Francisco Machado of CDC Group, the British government’s overseas investment arm, which invests heavily in Asia and Africa.
CDC carries out rigorous due diligence on its investments, and concentrates on finding well-run companies who provide consumer products and services that do not rely on government contracts. They currently have several investments in Mozambique, and routinely request proof of good governance in these companies before investing. Nick Robinson from Aberdeen Standard Investments echoed this, saying that his company’s need to see good governance in their Brazilian targets, and their need to take a longer term view, had actively prevented them from making some investments.
James Harris of Risk Advisory Group stressed the need for in depth research on the ground before investment decisions were taken and Sheriff Alabi from the African Development Bank urged investors to engage with the local communities and to seek out local intelligence, saying that education in Lusophone Africa was the key to its future success, by ensuring that the education given in schools matched the needs of their market economies.
Questions from the audience to the panel members throughout the conference ensured a lively debate.