Portugal’s Connections to the Wider World Explained
Dillon Banerjee, senior commercial officer in Lisbon, tells how the country—the home of port wine and the soulful sounds of fado music—can be a doorway for U.S. exporters looking to enter not just the European market, but also the market of Portuguese-speaking countries worldwide.
Since the establishment of democratic rule in Portugal more than 30 years ago, the country has seen rapid change: the loss of the vestiges of its colonial empire, accession to the European Union (EU), and societal changes that have made it a modern society that might be unrecognizable to previous generations.
Dillon Banerjee, senior commercial officer of the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service (USFCS), recently spoke with Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center about the many opportunities that Portugal holds for U.S. businesses.
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|Dillon Banerjee (L), senior commercial officer in the U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service’s post in Lisbon, and Thomas F. Stephenson (R), former U.S. ambassador to Portugal, at a wind farm managed by the Portuguese company Martifer in December 2008. (U.S. Department of State photo by Wes Carrington)
Barry: Most Americans don’t know a great deal about Portugal. They may know of Vasco da Gama; port wine; and, perhaps, fado music. But what is it about the Portuguese market that is really something that Americans should take notice of?
Banerjee: Portugal is a country with a long history of friendship—and very close bonds—with the United States. It was the first nation to recognize the independence of the United States. There’s a strong affinity here for the United States, which includes an affinity for U.S. products and U.S. brands. Equally important, Portugal is a member of the EU. So U.S. companies that set up operations here almost automatically have access to the broader EU market, and that can be a big advantage.
Barry: So it’s a kind of launching pad for U.S. businesses to get into other, maybe larger, markets?
Banerjee: Absolutely. And an added advantage is the Portuguese workforce. You can find people, particularly in a major urban area like Lisbon, who speak four or five languages. So as you set up operations in Portugal, you get an office staffed with people who are able to communicate in other European languages. It becomes an easy base from which to branch out into these other markets.
Barry: Do U.S. companies doing business in Portugal have to grapple with EU regulations, such as those that involve labeling, privacy rights, and so forth? Isn’t this a challenge for U.S. companies entering Europe via Portugal?
Banerjee: Yes, Portugal adheres to all of the directives issued by the European Commission in Brussels. But that means that there is an absolutely open and free flow of trade with the other EU member countries. Once a company addresses all of the standardization and labeling issues, for example—which it has to do anyway to get into the Portuguese market—it will be well positioned to expand into other markets in the EU.
Barry: How much of a hurdle is it for a smaller company to comply with those EU regulations?
Banerjee: The beauty of exporting into Europe is that it is a relatively transparent and regularized part of the world in which to do business. The bar would be much higher were a business to expand first into a more complex market, such as Russia or China. So I don’t consider EU regulations to be a barrier for new exporters. And there certainly are a number of resources—our office being one, and the network of domestic U.S. Export Assistance Centers being another—in which a company can get all of the information it needs either to try to meet these requirements by itself or to find expert consultants who can help.
Barry: Portugal was a great seafaring power—a small country that sent its ships all over the world. Now it seems that in contemporary dress they’re still providing that same entrée into distant markets for Europeans and also Americans.
Banerjee: Portuguese is the sixth most widely spoken language in the world—200 million people. That includes pretty much every corner of the globe, from Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau in Africa; to Brazil in South America; and all the way out to East Timor and Macau in southeast Asia. So many companies find that once they start partnering with Portuguese companies and doing business here, they get access to markets that they may have not considered before in far reaches of the world, where Portugal has excellent relations and very well-established business routes.
Barry: That’s a very interesting concept: getting to Brazil—which is a much larger market and booming now—via Portugal.
Banerjee: Yes, and we found that the Europeans are already hot in pursuit of these access routes. The Spanish are here in full force, partnering with Portuguese companies, in some cases for the sole purpose of accessing these third markets—and in particular Angola, which has been a booming market lately.
Barry: What do you see there now as the biggest opportunities in Portugal?
Banerjee: If I had to narrow it down to just a handful from the larger list, the USFCS is excited about the so-called ACE sectors: architecture, construction, and engineering. In part, that’s because the government has taken quite a few large steps forward with some infrastructure projects that have been on the drawing board. One of those is the new Lisbon International Airport, which is a €5 billion project that’s scheduled to be completed in 2017 and offers a host of opportunities for services and products through the tendering process. Similarly, there are plans for constructing a high-speed rail line to Madrid. There are also port development projects. All of these big-ticket infrastructure projects offer good opportunities for big and small U.S. companies. Green building products are also coming online here, as Portugal recently passed a law that requires all new construction and renovations of buildings to be energy efficient.
For More Information
A longer version of this interview is available at www.export.gov. A detailed profile of the Portuguese market was recently featured as the Market of the Month on Export.gov. To learn more about commercial opportunities in Portugal, contact the Trade Information Center at www.export.gov; tel.: 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723).