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Thursday, 19 May 2011

Lessons in cultural awareness

Financial Times
May 18, 2011

It is 9.04am and a group of Chinese businessmen have assembled solemnly outside a hotel conference room in São Paulo. Brazil’s stock exchange operator, BM&F Bovespa, was scheduled to kick off its first ever capital markets forum with China four minutes ago but, like many meetings in the Latin American country, it did not start on time. As the Brazilian guests arrive, complaining loudly about the morning’s traffic and heading straight for the free breakfast, the huge cultural gap between the two emerging market powers becomes apparent.

Since China displaced the US in 2009 as Brazil’s biggest trading partner, Brazilian company executives and politicians have been scrambling to understand better the Asian giant in their midst and work out the best way to deal with it. BM&F Bovespa, for example, has long wanted to list Brazilian stocks in Shanghai – as it has done in places such as Hong Kong and Paris – but wooing the Chinese mainland has proved painfully slow.

“They’re not like the Americans or the Europeans,” Edemir Pinto, the exchange’s chief executive, explains in exasperation. “Sometimes, you have to sign a memorandum of understanding just to have lunch with the Chinese.”

Embraer, the aeroplane manufacturer, has also experienced a long struggle to expand operations in China while deals in other sectors have fallen through over such seemingly trivial things as a misinterpreted e-mail.
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