Humberto Luiz Ribeiro da Silva
Secretary of Commerce and Services, Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade
In keeping with the spirit of the conference, final keynote speaker Humberto Luiz Ribeiro painted a picture of a Brazil struggling with historical underinvestment in infrastructure and education, but full of energy, optimism, and solutions in facing the challenges ahead.
Ribeiro, formerly a top executive with global IT-outsourcing firm Politec, was recruited by President Dilma Rousseff in 2011 as Secretary of Commerce and Services, Brazilian Ministry of Development, Industry and Foreign Trade. He introduced himself to the conference by saying, "I'm new to government, so please excuse my entrepreneurial mindset." He vigorously launched into a list of some of Brazil's assets: a land mass larger than the continental U.S., the world's largest exports of protein, a leading position in renewable energy, a robust agricultural sector, a growing consumer class, and a "demographic bonus" - the majority of the population will be of working age for the next two to three decades.
Ribeiro mentioned highlights in the country's efforts to raise the bar in infrastructure and education, such as infrastructure investments to the tune of about 600 billion reals over the next four years through the government's Programa de Aceleracao do Crescimento (PAC), and a recent mission by the U.S. Departments of State and Commerce to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in which 66 universities, including Cornell, discussed opportunities for exchanges and partnerships with international universities.
As part of the Brazilian government's war on poverty and social inclusion, Ribeiro spoke about Brasilia sem Miseria and Brasil Carinhoso, programs to encourage education and help defray living costs for indigent, mostly rural families with young and school-aged children. Pronatec and Projovem are programs to foster the technical education of high-school-aged students. And Ciencia sem Fronteiras (Science Without Borders) supports Brazilian graduate students' education abroad in the sciences and technical fields. "Our goal for 2014 is to have 100,000 Brazilian students throughout the world," said Ribeiro, adding that Brazil has just met an important goal of graduating one million students annually from colleges and universities.
Ribeiro oversees a web-based portal, Portal do Empreendedor, that allows entrepreneurs to register online for government-sponsored benefits. The minimum requirements for a micro-company (MEI) are annual revenues of about $30,000 and one employee. About three million MEIs have registered in three years. "When we talk about professionals registering their businesses for haircutting, nails, plumbing, housekeeping, and so on, we see the direct correlation of this program with social inclusion," said Ribeiro. "When a mother gets the money to provide her family with the things they need, they can control their finances and hire people to provide needed services."
Reducing tax burdens is another mandate of the government. Some recent changes: The payroll tax, which used to be deducted directly from an employee's salary, is now deducted from the employer's revenues; taxes on energy bills have been reduced by about 16 percent for consumers and 28 percent for corporations; and taxes for investment in capital goods have been cut. The government is looking next at the value-added tax (ICMS); but this is no simple matter, as changing taxes at the state level in Brazil requires obtaining consensus from 27 states, encompassing about 5,600 counties, said Ribeiro.
Another government innovation is a new nomenclature for goods and services, whereby 900 categories of services are now considered products. This is an important improvement because only goods were previously considered products of the country. "But now we see lots of resources flowing out to the services industry, like AV, tourism, hotels, travel agencies, logistics systems, educational services, healthcare. For each of those, you can have the opportunities that we have now in Brazil with a stronger consumer platform."
Brazil is using metrics from other countries as benchmarks to raise its own standards. For example, Brazil has 18 world-class theme parks selling about 10 million tickets per year, compared with 400 theme parks selling about 300 million tickets per year in the U.S. "In the U.S., you sell one ticket per inhabitant; we sell one ticket per 20," said Ribeiro. In a similar vein, for each express-delivery package sent in Brazil, there are about 1,000 sent in the U.S. Quantifying these differences helps the country set its goals for competitiveness.
Finally, Ribeiro mentioned APEX Brasil, the country's agency for promoting trade and investment. "If you have any needs learning about the legal system, the tax system, looking for the right local partners, the best locations for these opportunities, then APEX can support you," said Ribeiro. The agency planned to sponsor a roundtable of investors on Nov. 28 and 29.