In recent years, Europe-Africa relations have evolved significantly and at different levels, from the institutional and corporate sector to the private sector. The sophistication of economic, financial, and legal relations, greatly enhanced by the globalization of markets, has given rise to the creation of new skills and tools for the promotion and modernization of the internationalization of companies and businesses.
The new generations and the use of increasingly advanced and dynamic information technologies, amplified by the digitization of economies and national agencies supporting internationalization have shaped the global “mindset”, giving rise to new ways of generating value and influencing markets. The influence of economic diplomacy and highly qualified diasporas focused on contributing to their countries of origin has also contributed greatly to this. Today, there is a consolidated awareness of the importance and role that diplomatic and corporate “actors” play in the dynamics and policies of internationalization and in the national lobby that countries exercise.
Mr. Terenas, The experience you’ve accumulated in West Africa markets and mainly in the Europe – Africa binomial, where Portugal – Senegal bilateral relations stand out as an unrivaled track record. Having said that, we would like to understand how the “first mile” of this journey linked to corporatism and economic diplomacy began. How did it out happen?
Gonçalo Terenas: I would like to start by thanking you for inviting me to this conversation and congratulating your platform for the excellent service it provides to anyone interested in the African continent. To answer your question, we need to go back to 2014, when at the hands of the then Portuguese ambassador to Senegal, Dr. Rui Tereno, I had the opportunity to take the first steps in such an interesting and increasingly relevant sector in the affirmation of companies in international markets. It all started with a joint mission of the AEP (Exponor) to Dakar and the invitation of the Ambassador to assist and collaborate in the preparation of what would be my first operation to support internationalization.
Since then, and until today, I have collaborated in practically all bilateral initiatives, whether private or institutional. I had the privilege of entering this segment through the big door and with one of the best “teachers” in the Portuguese diplomatic career. The experience, competence, and charisma of Ambassador Dr. Rui Tereno were essential for the rest of the journey. I cannot fail to mention another corporate leader, who unfortunately has already left us, a man to whom I owe tribute for all that he has allowed me to learn in these internationalization tasks, Dr. Paulo Nunes de Almeida, at the time, President of the AEP, and who in that capacity was also responsible, in 2017, for the proposal of my name to Councilor of Portugal in the World by the Council of the Portuguese Diaspora. I should say that one of the greatest “lessons” I learned from this “first mile” was to understand the process through a perspective and angle that, somehow, connected the business and practical side with the corporate and more institutional side, this was crucial to define the style with since then I have been working in these markets.
Africa is an integral part of your professional and business activities, the interaction that you have developed in recent years with political leaders, entrepreneurs, and corporate influencers on this continent allowed you to have a broad view of the Euro-Africa relational potential. Having said that, one of the questions I must ask you is how do you envision the short-term evolution of bilateral relations between these two continents?
It is unquestionable that the “factor” Africa is very relevant in the activities I develop, and I believe that the trend will not be reversed in the coming years as the corporate, institutional and business “ecosystem” of the Europe-Africa binomial has been evolving and improving at different levels and dimensions. The vision we have of the African continent is and must increasingly be holistic and democratic, it is imperative to develop concerted policies in the management of natural resources, the management of knowledge, logistics, and commercial and financial agreements, without forgetting training and regulation, as essential factors for the confidence of entrepreneurs and institutions.
Another issue that we all have to bear in mind is the need to retain populations in their countries of origin, creating expertise and training human resources through the transfer of knowledge and technology. Demographic issues must be on the agenda of the day and only in cooperation and collaboration of all the parties involved will it be possible to minimize the phenomenon of unplanned demographic movements. Whatever the future, the issue of training, capacity building, and transfer of skills and technologies is a condition for this “ecosystem” in permanent evolution. Look at the maturity of the financial sector and the proliferation of start-ups across the continent and in the most diverse areas of activity…! Africa springs from the talent that has to be properly framed and managed.
On this topic and to conclude the answer it will make sense to look at the geopolitical and economic strategies of the European Union and its policy of development funds and regional support. We assist to a true and fully committed will and formal intention to create stable bridges in bilateral relations, for me this is clear. The European and African public and private sectors must collaborate and, whenever possible, cooperate in the way they relate to each other, the balance must be transversal to all areas. The Europe – Africa relations have reached a higher, more dynamic, and performing level, and it is mandatory that companies and entrepreneurs should adjust their mindset accordingly.
Based on what you mentioned above, then what role should economic and diaspora diplomacy play in valuing economies and internationalization processes?
The question has today, in my opinion, a relevance that in the past would not have, in fact, the role of economic diplomacy (for many still an expression of biased interpretation and sometimes improperly connoted) in its most modern and dynamic form, exerts a weight and has a very relevant influence on the success of the internationalization of companies. Likewise, countries that have the strategic ability to identify and collaborate with the talent of communities residing abroad, a growing trend in several African countries, end up fostering increasingly dynamic and structured bilateral trade and financial relations.
The vision I have of diplomatic missions, in fact, confirmed by the experiences that I have had the opportunity to experience in recent years, especially in Senegal, is that all agents involved in supporting the internationalization of companies, from the embassy to corporate services and associations to national economic promotion agencies, have much to gain by investing in collaboration and integrated cooperation. A diplomatic mission capable of lobbying and exerting institutional influence and which at the same time ensures a close interrelationship with entrepreneurs and with the real economy of their country and their communities, translates, in the geographies where it operates, into an “instrument ” amplifier and promoter of skills and know-how of companies, thus impacting on their competitiveness. For the most conservative and traditional career diplomats, this view is still interpreted as a “conflict of interest and even of competencies”, but what I can convey to you, as president of a chamber of commerce, is that in recent years I have had the privilege of depriving and collaborate with an ambassador who embodies what I consider the style and way of doing economic and corporate diplomacy that best serves the interests of business people and the economic interests of a country.
The Ambassador of Portugal, Vitor Sereno, with whom I had the opportunity to cooperate for 4 years, represents, as a diplomat, the best that can be done towards a successful internationalisation environment. The uncomplicated, but at the same time audacious way in which it positioned itself as an interface between the different economic agents and the institutional and political powers and tutelage, allowed Portugal and Portuguese companies to be repositioned in a complex and competitive market. This experience, which I capitalized on as a “case study”, allowed me to understand, on the ground and in a practical way, how important this “soft-power” is for the success of any economy’s internationalization strategy and policies. The corporate lobby of economic diplomacy, together with the valorization of the diaspora, namely through a close relationship between the diplomatic and associative mission with entrepreneurs, are essential factors for the valorization and economic promotion of a country.
If the role of economic diplomacy should function as a “soft power” and “enabler” of economic, commercial, financial, and cultural relations, what position should foreign policies assume in supporting business sectors that differ in each nation?
Well, I have always argued that all countries have positive differentiation factors, whether they are derived from natural factors (such as geographic location or natural resources) or resulting from the professional and industrial specialization of certain markets. Having said that and considering that diplomatic missions are an international extension of the country at all levels, I believe that, in this context, an adequate foreign policy will be one that is capable of promoting and enhancing multisectoral and multidisciplinary synergies at the service of the development of the different sectors of activity, in particular in the capacity building of companies for foreign markets.
In my opinion, diplomatic missions must work in permanent collaboration with foreign policies, namely with economic, corporate, and associative agents focused on foreign trade and internationalization. Globalization processes, the access to information, and the ongoing technological advances, necessarily translate, particularly in an emerging continent such as Africa, to important levels of growth, and consequently lead to an increase in bilateral relations, especially Euro-Africa relations.
It is legitimate to say, in my opinion, that diplomatic missions and investment and foreign trade promotion agencies along with corporate sectors (eg Chamber of Commerce and employers) must be able to adapt to this recent dynamic and innovate in the way they relate to each other. In summary, I would say that today any economy that aims to grow and defend the interests of its business framework, namely abroad, will inevitably have to ensure a correlation of efforts and concerted foreign policies involving all actors, from politics to the economy, from foreign trade to industry, from finance to technology, as well as, from culture to innovation and sustainability.
To conclude, and as a “final remarks” in the current international framework, the question is the following: given the increase in European dependence on energy and food resources and the concerns about possible intercontinental demographic movements, how a modern diaspora, in a full concerted effort with economic diplomacy, can contribute to the balance of forces, in particular, social, economic and financial order?
The question is very interesting and it couldn’t be more up to date, unfortunately, the world is going through a complex period, at all levels, people and states have to adapt and learn how to mitigate losses and difficulties. The main markets of both continents, in particular its politicians and strategic decision makers, must understand that their relationship has evolved and continues to evolve, today we cannot look, in the way I interpret the future, at the correlation of forces as previous generations did – diasporas included.
What my position allows me to understand is that innovation, creativity, talent, the energy transition, climate change, and digital transformation, have changed the narrative. Today, we are witnessing increasingly organized sectoral movements supported by very competent corporatism.
The new geopolitical map, which includes the return of the most competent and gifted African diasporas in some countries, is transforming and empowering African civil society and economies, thus leveling the balance of forces. The greater the “complicity” and the convergence of interests between this new way of doing diplomacy and the movements of the various Diasporas, the more sustainable, fair, competitive, and lasting will be the social, economic, and financial balance of the two continents.
Africa represents the next global player and I believe that the European Union and its diplomacy have understood the need for inclusion, dialogue, and collective action in all their strategies and orientations, in its relationship with the African continent.
I believe that the next decade will bring an industrial and agricultural revolution to the African continent, and I am still convinced that demography and migrant movements will put us in the front of major challenges that it is important to know how to defeat and overcome.
If we also consider the “fintech and start-ups” hubs that proliferate across the continent, as well as the complexities that the Public Health and food security sector have in store for us, I would say that more than ever the binomial economic diplomacy versus sustainable development assumes an extremely important role for the future.
Finally, with regard to the corporate and business activities that I carry out with several countries in Africa, my position remains firmly based on collaboration, understanding of trends, and the main needs vs opportunities that this emerging and effervescent continent has to offer. I will continue to lobby, exert strategic influence, and value the role of economic diplomacy, without ever devaluing the growing talent of the different diasporas which are increasingly equipped with the talent and a culture of empowerment that will surely amplify the strength and power of this great continent.