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Brazilian President Promotes Closer Links to West Africa

  • Gabi Menezes

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva right, walks together with Abubaker Tanko, Nigerian minister of state for external affairs on arrival to Abuja airport
The president of Brazil is on a trip to West Africa, aimed at expanding trade links with developing countries.

On the second stage of his four-day tour of West African states, President da Silva, widely known as Lula, was in Nigeria to discuss closer trade links with President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Remi Oyo, the spokeswoman for the Nigerian president, said that, any talks about Nigerian trade include discussions about oil. Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil producers. Ms. Oyo said agricultural exports to Brazil were also subjects of interest.

In addition to trade, Ms. Oyo said that the Brazilian leader talked with Mr. Obasanjo about how Brazil can collaborate with African countries to help them produce anti-retroviral drugs for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

"I do know that Nigeria and Brazil have been talking, not only about increasing their trade relations, but also ways in which we can collaborate to set up here an anti-retroviral drug producing factory, to cater for our own population, and perhaps our sub-region," she said.

The Brazilian government provides free treatment to AIDS patients, and was one of the first major countries to demand that large pharmaceutical companies relax AIDS drug patent laws, so countries could produce cheaper, generic drugs.

Cooperation in health matters will also be one of the topics of Mr. da Silva's talks with political leaders in the countries he is visiting next, Ghana, Guinea Bissau and Senegal.

A West Africa political analyst, Olly Owen, says the approach the Brazilian president is using, which combines trade discussions with the offer of medical technology, has been welcomed by most West African governments.

"While it's normal for countries to offer aid packages to sweeten trade deals, the ones that Brazil is offering are not so clearly in Brazil's own interest, i.e., they're not offering to build roads or railways, which would also be work for Brazilian firms," said Mr. Owen. "They're offering to do things like technology transfer, which really add value to the whole aid process."

In Cameroon, the first stop on his visit, Mr. da Silva signed agreements on agriculture, health and education. Along with Cameroon's president, Paul Biya, Mr. da Silva said that he supported creating an association of developing countries in the World Trade Organization to defend their interests.

This is the Brazilian leader's fourth trip to Africa since he took office in 2003. Mr. da Silva wants developing nations to unite on issues that concern them, saying they cannot be passive observers of decisions that affect their future. One of his goals is reform of the United Nations Security Council that would include a permanent seat for Africa and Latin America on the council.

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