Note: Editor Trevor Williams is accompanying Mayor Kasim Reed’s trade mission to Brazil, blogging as he goes.
As the Atlanta delegation to Brazil left a reception at the consul general’s residence in São Paulo Monday night, conversations in Portuguese could be heard in the back of the bus.
But they weren’t coming from Brazilians hitching a ride back to the city; a few of the Atlanta organizers chose to use the language of the land for an impromptu planning meeting.
Brazil is not an easy place to do business, even for those who live here, as we’ve heard over and over.
If foreign entrants are to have any hope, it’s through carefully crafted relationships built over time, often through informal interactions. Officials at the American Chamber of Commerce complained that many city and state delegations have walked through its doors promising better ties, never to return.
While acknowledging it would be hard work to crack Brazil, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said he thinks the “juice is worth the squeeze.” Translation: Atlanta won’t be like all those one-and-done trade missions, but will spend the next four years of his term cultivating ties.
In a culture where language can really open doors, and given that many Americans mistakenly think Brazilians speak Spanish, Atlanta seems to have an advantage over other would-be American suitors for Rio de Janiero and São Paulo.
Two out of the three members of the City of Atlanta’s international affairs department speak fluent Portuguese, having lived for extended periods in different parts of this vast country. Jorge Fernandez at the Metro Atlanta Chamber saw the trip as somewhat of a homecoming, having lived here for five years.
Of course, language isn’t everything, and Atlanta has an uphill battle against an entrenched competitor – Miami – for the affection (and investment) of Brazilians.
But given the efforts made on this trip to help them look a little farther north when considering the U.S., one more arrow in the quiver never hurts.
Note: The next blog post will discuss Atlanta’s efforts to unseat Miami as a destination for Brazilian tourism and investment.