Envoy to the Other Side of the World: Ambassador Carlos Costa of Brazil

His Excellency Carlos Eduardo Sette Camara Da Fonseca Costa, Ambassador of Brazil, is as tall as his name is long, and has a diplomatic career that’s just as lengthy. “I’ve been in the profession for thirty-something years. It’s been a long time and I’m quite happy,” says the laid-back envoy. A career in international relations came quite naturally to the ambassador, having been born into a family of diplomats. “Since my childhood I have been thinking about being a diplomat. It’s the way of life of many of my relatives. My father wasn’t a diplomat but he was posted in many international conferences. And with my travels through the years my ideas were crystallized.” He then entered the diplomatic academy in Brazil and never looked back.
Ambassador Costa considers his role in strengthening the relationships between countries to be the most important and fulfilling aspect of being a diplomat. “I think that we are privileged that we are able to do that. When I was ambassador in Indonesia I did my best. I’m doing my best now with the Philippines.”“If I weren’t a diplomat I wouldn’t have any idea what I would be. By training I am a lawyer, but I don’t have the inclination to be one. If I wouldn’t be a lawyer, perhaps I’d be a doctor because sometimes medicine interests me. But I never really thought of having another profession,” he shares.

So far, the ambassador’s efforts have been paying off splendidly, with a breakthrough agreement already notched on his belt. “With the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) we now have a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between our two countries. Before I arrived there wasn’t an MOA yet. But now we are having the first meeting in Brasilia in 2007, and then we are going to hold a workshop every year either in the Philippines or Brazil. I am very proud of what we have accomplished here. I think this is an important step.”

The ambassador admits that it’s not the simplest matter to handle relations between two countries that are so distant geographically. “It takes two days to travel one way. So to go back and forth you have four days in transit,” he sighs. But he believes the results are worth it. “The relationship between the two countries is very positive. One example of that is this MOA. We have growing trade between the two countries. It’s very balanced, around USD150M each way, while bilateral trade is around USD550M with the Philippines exporting a little bit more than Brazil. Recently in New York, at the General Assembly of the United Nations,Brazil’s Foreign Minister Celso Amorim met with DFA Secretary Alberto Romulo. This is a landmark meeting and we intend to deepen the relationship.”The Guy From Ipanema

Beyond official diplomatic efforts, Filipinos already seem to hold a deep fascination with all things Brazilian. “Our music is very popular here in the Philippines,” the ambassador notes. “Bossa Nova is very common to hear on the radio. It’s also a surprise how capoeira has become popular. I think it’s very funny.” Ambassador Costa predicts that the caipirinha, Brazil’s national cocktail, to be the next trendy drink to sweep the country.

Evidently, the Brazilians are as eager to welcome us Filipinos as we are enthusiastic of their culture. Despite the distance, the ambassador encourages Filipinos to try to come and visit his country, which may actually be easier than what most may think. “Filipinos do not need a visa to go to Brazil. As far as I know, we are one of the few Latin American countries that do not require one.” He believes that Filipinos will find themselves right at home in Brazil, just as easily as he has settled here in the country. “Brazilian people are very friendly,” he asserts. “We like singing and dancing. I think it’s a good match because both of our countries have friendly people who are not afraid of being happy, of enjoying life. Brazilians and Filipinos are very similar. I think that you Filipinos are the Latins of Asia. That is the common perception among my friends from Latin America here.”

The envoy’s posting was actually his first time to reach local shores. “I wasn’t able to visit before because the Philippines is not along the usual tourism routes. You must purposefully want to come here. But I think you have huge potential for tourism. You have beautiful beaches, islands and buildings. I think you have very exceptional treasures that should be more explored and promoted. For example, I have never seen in Asia such a beautiful setting as Intramuros. I didn’t know about it before I arrived here. So when I saw it I was hugely surprised by the beautiful old churches, forts and buildings.”

Unfortunately, the ambassador will be here for only one year and has just now been able to begin to travel, but he intends to go to Mindanao, Palawan, and the Visayas. He clearly displays an affinity for the region and plans to learn more about it.

“I was very happy when I found out I would be assigned here, because firstly I would still be in the neighborhood of Southeast Asia. I consider Southeast Asia to be one of the most dynamic regions in the world, not only economically but also culturally. My experience in Indonesia with the Malay people was a very good one. So I was happy to come here and be with the same kind of Malay people who I know are friendly and happy like us Brazilians. It was a very easy transition for me. When I arrived here I felt at home.”

Reading is what essentially keeps the ambassador occupied during his spare time. But time for himself is quite a rarity, as a diplomat he has to honor many invitations to official events. The embassy even has to operate on two work shifts, a normal work shift in the day, and another in the evening for receptions and cocktails. But all in all so far, it has been smooth sailing for the Brazilian envoy. “It’s extremely easy to be posted here,” he affirms. “I’ve had no difficulty with relating to people. Everybody speaks English. There are lots of nice people and good restaurants. It’s a pleasant place to be. If only it didn’t take too long to travel home to Brazil. Otherwise it would be a paradise.”

Shared Pasts, Shared Futures

Besides our country’s natural charms, the ambassador also admires, of all things, our political system. “The Philippines has a good reputation as a free country, especially in a region where not all the countries are democratic. I think that your long-held democracy is a great virtue.” This approbation is really no surprise bearing in mind the fact that Brazil is also a predominantly Catholic country that has struggled through a long period of colonization, dictatorships and corrupt governments.

Looking further ahead, Ambassador Costa hopes to be able to help promote the use of ethanol here in the Philippines, a technology that the government is currently considering to reduce dependence on foreign oil and with which Brazil has a lot of experience. “We have been using ethanol for more than 30 years,” he explains. “Almost all cars in Brazil have multi-fuel engines. All gasoline in Brazil has a mix of 25 percent ethanol. The distribution of ethanol is now completely market oriented. It’s very efficient and successful.”

For the moment, the Philippine government has not officially approached Brazil about ethanol technology. “But if they do we will be glad to help,” states Ambassador Costa. “We are ready to collaborate with the Philippines regarding that. When we began with ethanol in Brazil it was very complicated. But now it’s a technology which we have completely developed and perfected in Brazil.”

The ambassador surely has no reason to be modest about Brazil’s many achievements and bright prospects as an emerging economic giant. “We are growing well,” the envoy admits. “We are the largest economy in South America. We will probably achieve an investment grade rating next year. Economic fundamentals are good like here in the Philippines.” He hopes that through trade and cooperation, the two countries may help support each other’s development.

“The Philippines already exports very specialized products such as cellphones and semiconductors to Brazil. We send mostly Brazilian beef. For the moment it’s quite dynamic, and we can’t control these forces. I am sure we can find the right ways to improve the trade between the two countries,” Ambassador Costa optimistically states.

-text & photos by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in What’s On & Expat newspaper, 2006

It Pays To Play (online gaming with Level Up! & Ragnarok)

How do you sell a service that basically asks its customers to spend their time and money in exchange for something completely intangible? Although paying for our entertainment is far from a new concept, online gaming takes the business of pleasure to a whole new level. It’s up-to-the-minute by-the-minute fun, thrills by the byte load. It’s this steady stream of gratification that can make addicted subscribers of the unwary, and earn big money for the savvy.

Official Ragnarok Online Icon

Official Ragnarok Online Icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Level Up!’s popular online game Ragnarok was the local industry’s first killer app. Amassing four million registered users and counting over the past three years. Main man Ben Colayco shares with us some insights as to what it takes to score in the gaming biz.

“In online gaming, 60-70% of the business is content,” states Ben. “Ok content can do great because of marketing. Great content can do terribly if you don’t market it properly. But crappy content never gets a market. So it all comes down to quality and if the local market really likes what you’re offering.”

In Ragnarok’s case, Level Up! exploited the popularity of anime to draw interest to their product. Then they priced their service well within the range of their target market, and made payment accessible and non-intimidating through the prepaid card scheme. Ragnarok established a foothold and gained ground quickly because of the ease of entry it offered. All this sounds logical in retrospect, but it was a groundbreaking paradigm at the time. “When we started the company four years ago, I knew that the only way to make money from video games legitimately was to make them affordable. Everybody thought we were crazy to give away CDs for free. But even piracy helped spread the word about our product,” Ben reveals.

Once the customers have fallen for the bait, the next challenge is to get them to keep coming back for more. “The experience should be so compelling that it makes you give up spending time doing other things. Then you should keep developing new content, new experiences for your subscribers. Tempt them with things they haven’t seen before so that they give you another chance” Ben advises. “We don’t just look at blockbusters, but for gems nobody has even heard of yet. We don’t rely on hype, but we look at the context of the local market.”

Because of Level Up!’s success, the Philippines is actually giving tech expertise to other countries as opposed to the other way around. The growth potential for online gaming in developing markets like the Philippines, India, and Brazil, all countries where Level Up! operates, is huge. Ben believes that online games have greatly improved and helped the growth of broadband infrastructure here and elsewhere. And they’re very optimistic about the expansion and evolution of their company’s services. There are plans to tap into the high-end hardcore market, in addition to their “pang-masa” products like Ragnarok, and their latest offering, Freestyle, an online street basketball game.

With Freestyle, Level Up hopes to dominate the online casual game market, targeting not just those who are into computer games, but the much larger market of basketball fans in this country where the sport is a significant part of popular culture. As Ben has pointed out, this is another example of knowing your market and tailoring your content to fit the context. “Filipinos like to play with Filipinos. And even if we Filipinos speak English and the games are in English, everyone speaks Tagalog when they start chatting.”

At the Freestyle launch, Ben realized that online gaming has started to gear up for more mainstream acceptance. “For the first time here, we had sportswriters covering the launch of a computer game. It really felt like we’re crossing over. And I believe that in a few years online gaming will be a legitimate sport. Today all teenagers play games, whether they’re into sports or science. And eventually, so will everybody”

– text by Jude Defensor, some rights reserved. first published in Manual magazine, 2006

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