JUST over a week ago all eyes were on Danny Boyle's magnificently exuberant and intriguingly idiosyncratic opening ceremony to the 2012 Olympiad in London. On Sunday the torch will be handed over to Brazil for the 2016 Games, another triumph for the world's fifth largest country.
Appropriately, among the Brazilian delegation will be supermodel Allesandra Ambrosio, representing a luxury market in clothes and lifestyle accessories that grew by 20% to reach $3 billion in 2011 and was a reminder that the country is likely to see its number of millionaire households treble by 2020. São Paulo, the country's economic capital has also become the private helicopter capital of the world, with some 600 operating in the state.
It's hardly surprising, then that at a recent meeting between Brazil's President, Dilma Rousseff and the British Prime Minister, David Cameron was keen to develop further ties with a country that overtook the UK earlier this year to become the sixth largest economy in the world, with UK trade worth $8.5 billion in 2011.
Scotland has not been trailing on the elegantly-tailored coat tails of this activity. There are already some 40 Scottish-based companies there and the sheer size of the market is seeing a new spike in levels of interest, most obviously in the energy sector.
Last November Scottish Secretary Michael Moore led the country's biggest ever trade mission to Brazil, with a reported £3m of deals signed in six days of meetings and which included three universities. It highlighted a sense of urgency about tackling the challenge.
Dr Lesley Sawers, chief executive of Scottish Development Trade and Industry said that the state-owned energy company Petrobas alone will be sourcing some 70,000 welders over the next three to four years and pointed up the potential opportunities for young people in vocational training here.
Nicola Sartini, currently based with Scottish Development International in Paris, has recently returned from a two-week trade mission to Brazil and is soon going back for three months, to spearhead the establishment of an SDI office there. "We have had some 20 international missions, mostly involving companies in the oil and gas sector servicing the market in Rio de Janeiro. Now it's time to take a closer look at what can be done by Scottish companies there, including in textiles, food and drink, biosciences, creative industries and all the other areas in which we are involved and have expertise."
The country is a vast marketplace, and it is one that Sartini admits can be daunting for companies making an initial foray: not least because of Brazil's legendary bureaucratic hurdles, designed to protect its domestic industries and raise the standard of living for its citizens. A quite reasonable objective – and one which has seen some 30 million Brazilians move into the middle class in recent years – but which can prove an immense frustration for exporters more used to the European model.
"There is a Local Content Policy, which affects sectors such as oil and gas, meaning that between 60 and 70% of the product must be manufactured in Brazil so it becomes very important for an overseas company to have a presence there, whether as a subsidiary company or as part of a joint venture," says Sartini.
It's a challenge familiar to Dundee-based Safehouse Habitats, which provides solutions and services to industries that carry out hot work such as welding in classified hazardous areas, especially on oil and gas platforms.
After attending the Rio Oil and Gas Expo in 2008 following an approach by Petrobras, the company invited SDI to undertake an Overseas Market Support report with the brief to identify a suitable partner.
"SDI supplied a shortlist and I effectively interviewed six companies during the time I was there," says the company's managing director, Mike Garty, who says the company subsequently forged a partnership with Mills, a major Brazilian services contractor.
Being a small, dynamic company, it wasn't difficult to recognise the potential value of the marketplace. What was more onerous was coming to terms with red tape and local legislation.
"We have a very straightforward business approach in that we have people who want what we can supply and the relationship is all about the efficiency of delivering that. That doesn't work as well in Brazil - It takes longer to accomplish things and the single biggest obstacle is to succeeding there is bureaucracy.
In November last year Roger Cotton, a partner in the Projects Infrastructure and Energy group at Brodies LLP, was part of the SCDI trade delegation to Brazil. While the purpose was to allow companies from a wide range of Scottish sectors to showcase their services, for Cotton the visit had a more specific purpose.
"When Scottish firms are looking to export to Brazil they need good legal support to understand the rules and avoid the pitfalls." Roger visited a number of law firms in São Paulo and Rio.
"Now, when one of our clients decides it's time to export, we're in a position to make personal recommendations of lawyers we know, we've met and we trust. Working with local law firms in this way allows a joined up approach, and a smooth transition into the local market, and of course those relationships also allow Brazilian firms to quickly identify how to advise their clients thinking of investing in Scotland".
Nicola Sartini stresses the necessity for overseas companies to have a presence in the country, whether through a subsidiary, agent or distributor. The present line-up already includes companies such as Wood Group, Optimus Safety Management, Red Spider Technology and Subsea 7 but he is keen for Scottish companies to exploit more diverse opportunities, including in medical devices and in increasing the clout of the food and drink sector, one which already exports more than 40 million bottles of Scotch whisky to Brazil annually. Electronics, machinery and chemicals are also auspicious prospects in a market that has a significant aerospace sector that includes one of the world's biggest plane manufacturers, Embraer.
The business culture in Brazil says Sartini, can appear more relaxed than that of the UK or other European countries. Meetings are often delayed, though this is hardly surprising given the legendary traffic gridlocks in São Paulo, which a has population of 20 million, some six million cars and a small metro system.
Portuguese is not a commonly taught language in the UK and there are other minor frustrations, such as ATMs rejecting bank cards from overseas.
With these caveats, Brazil is, says Sartini, too big a market to ignore. "Companies doing business there must realise that it is very much based on developing relationships. You can't expect to get off an 11-hour flight from the UK and expect to be home in a couple of days having made a quick deal."
Mike Garty agrees. "The delivery of our service is in the hands of our Brazilian partner. The air links are good – I fly from Aberdeen to Paris and then to Rio every three months to increase our presence.
"The business is generating cash now but when Petrobras is using our product and accepting our technology in a bigger way that will be the game changer – and the potential in the next six or seven years is fantastic."
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