ASTANA – Thousands of kilometers, eight time zones and tens of degrees Celsius on a thermometer separate Brazil and Kazakhstan, but the newly appointed ambassador of Brazil in Astana in a recent interview noted numerous similarities between the two countries and a good number of reasons to be optimistic about the future of relations in areas ranging from trade and economy to cultural exchanges.
Ambassador Demétrio Bueno Carvalho, who also serves as his country’s top envoy to Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan, has had a long diplomatic career that has taken him to New York, Moscow, Bonn, Mexico and, most recently, London and Paris. And he has been able to master the languages of most of the places he has served, including English, Spanish and French. He is now brushing up on his Russian and is already able to handle basic conversations. His next language is going to be Kazakh, he told The Astana Times.
Kazakh-Brazilian relations were given an important boost during an October 2013 landmark visit to Brazil by Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov. That visit built on a trip to the South American country by President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 2007 and a visit to Astana by President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2009.
As a result of the foreign minister’s visit, an embassy of Kazakhstan was opened in Brasilia and the two countries agreed to a visa-free travel regime for all citizens, especially relevant in light of the upcoming World Cup and plans by football fans from Kazakhstan to travel there in the summer. According to Kazakhstan diplomats, Astana completed its domestic procedures for the visa-free agreement to enter into force, and for it to indeed enter into force, it now needs to be ratified by the Brazilian Parliament.
Among a few commonalities between the two countries, Ambassador Carvalho noted the fact that both countries’ capitals were built from scratch. Brasilia was established as the new Brazilian capital in 1960 and has grown into a city of 2.4 million today.
“The architecture may be different but the spirit is the same,” Carvalho noted as he spoke to this reporter in the ambassador’s office in the Kaskad Business Centre with a great view of Astana City Circus and the Triumph of Astana residential complex. “The experience is similar to Brasilia. Both were built from scratch, Astana in the steppe, Brasilia in the savannah. They are different but the projects were unique, the projects were to conceive a new capital, the new centre of power, and administration around that power to enlarge our horizons to increase our development geographically.”
According to the ambassador, Brasilia, despite having some industrial sectors, is mostly a service centre in its region focusing on trade and hotels.
“At the same time, the region [around Brasilia] is starting to develop now with a well-established agricultural centre and the region is quickly becoming a leading agro-business centre in Brazil,” he underscored.
“Kazakhstan should be proud to have Astana – a comfortable, safe and well organized city,” the ambassador said, adding that he has felt very comfortable during his four months in Astana. “It is not just a project on paper, but a reality that came true in a very short time, it is impressive, and congratulations for what the country and the government have achieved.”
Another common vision the two countries share is a strong commitment towards a nuclear-weapons-free world, Carvalho said, noting his country’s strong support for the objectives of the ATOM Project, an online petition campaign launched by President Nazarbayev in August 2012 in Astana during an international nuclear disarmament conference.
“Brazil has long ago self-imposed at the constitutional level a prohibition to build or possess nuclear weapons,” the ambassador said. “We are siding with what the ATOM Project is aiming at, we support fully its objectives and I think there are a lot of opportunities for both countries to consider especially on the threshold of the nuclear summit in The Hague [in March] this year.”
He further stated that both countries should work together increasingly on many issues of international agenda. We are both among the world’s largest countries by land with Brazil being the fifth and Kazakhstan the ninth.
“This is a responsibility for us as we possess vast natural resources. We have a special responsibility in managing those resources, and we are also, which is important, large providers of commodities to the world markets. So we have a keen and common interest that those markets function in a balanced and efficient way. This is something that brings us closer and makes us natural partners in the construction of global regimes such as in the field of sustainable development,” the ambassador said.
Another similarity he mentioned was that both countries have long borders with large number of countries and play a pivotal role for peace and stability in their respective regions. “That is why Kazakhstan has all the credentials to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council,” Carvalho said.
According to the ambassador, “both Kazakhstan and Brazil are developing countries, and we have the common challenge to eradicate poverty and improve the living conditions of our peoples. Brazil has some important experiences in this respect and is ready to share them with Kazakhstan to aid in any possible way, and there are many things Brazil could learn from Kazakhstan as well. Brazil is also a plural and multicultural country,” he said.
“Brazilians were very impressed by Kazakhstan during the London Olympics in 2012. People were saying, ‘Look at Kazakhstan, we didn’t manage to get so many medals!’ This was a common comment I remembered about Kazakhstan even before coming here, so we have something to learn from Kazakhstan in the field of sport as we prepare for the next Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro,” the diplomat noted, sipping a strong coffee.
“It is always important to know each other better culturally, because we are obviously different cultures, but that is what makes it more interesting to each other. There is a growing curiosity among Brazilians about the natural beauties of Kazakhstan and the interest is growing about the opportunities of eco-tourism in this country and in Central Asia at large. Brazilians really enjoy this kind of tourism,” the ambassador said.
Economically, the two countries have established a solid partnership in the air industry. Air Astana has leased several Embraer E190s from Brazilian air plane manufacturer since 2011 that have replaced propeller-driven Fokker 50s and is now flying them on domestic flights from Astana and to neighbouring countries.
“Our economies complement each other largely. During the visit of Minister Idrissov, a Kazakh-Brazilian business seminar of great importance was held in Sao Paulo under his chairmanship, and now we start harvesting the results of this initiative and will have good news coming soon,” the Brazilian ambassador said. “Both our countries take part in economic integration processes in our regions. We can envisage for the future an interaction between the Eurasian Customs Union and the MERCOSUL by means of a specific trade agreement. In addition to that, we fully support the candidacy of Kazakhstan to become a member of the WTO. So, my assessment is that our new relations are getting traction and accelerating rapidly.”
“The EXPO 2017 may also provide an excellent opportunity to Brazil to show its advances in the field of green energy. We have an extremely important experience in using the hydro power and the use of biofuels,” Carvalho added.
“The EXPO 2017 and the FIFA World Cup this year offer an opportunity in learning from each other about our difficulties and achievements in organizing such big events,” the ambassador said.
“But we are not favourites for the World Cup,” he was quick to add, smiling, “because favourites never win it.”