| SAO PAULO
SAO PAULO May 16 Many Brazilians think the upcoming soccer World Cup is a waste of money, but Apex, the nation's export agency, says it can use the tournament to get more than $3 billion in new contracts for local businesses.
To do so, Apex has invited more than 2,300 foreign businessmen to come to Brazil, watch a game in a VIP lounge and, hopefully, sign new deals.
A pilot program during a World Cup warm-up tournament last year, when 900 businessmen were invited, resulted in $1.8 billion in new export deals and $1.2 billion in foreign direct investment, according to Apex.
"There will be meetings and visits to factories," said Apex Business Director Ricardo Santana. "Taking your client to a match will be the icing on the cake.
"We believe those relaxing moments are ideal for a negotiation to succeed."
If successful, the program could end up being one of the few positive developments of a multibillion-dollar sporting event that many Brazilians fear will do little to bolster their struggling economy and improve their lives.
A report issued earlier this year by Moody's said the benefits of the June 12-July 13 event would be short-lived and represent just a fraction of Brazil's annual economic activity.
The Apex initiative comes as Brazil's trade surplus is dwindling on weakening global demand for the nation's commodities exports.
About 300 companies have signed up for the program and will help Apex foot the bill. They include bus maker Marcopolo , heavy vehicles manufacturer Randon and fashion retailer Cia Hering.
Bauducco, one of Brazil's biggest biscuit makers, invited 92 business partners from dozens of countries, including the United States, Britain, Chile and South Africa. The company expects the soccer networking campaign to help bolster its exports by up to 20 percent in 2015.
"This is a great opportunity to show our buyers that besides soccer and carnival, we have a state-of-the-art industrial park," said Edgar Matos, Bauducco's export manager.
Apex, a local sponsor of the World Cup, set aside 3,000 of the much sought-after tickets to matches, including the final one in Rio de Janeiro's legendary Maracanã stadium.
"The desire to attend a World Cup match is enormous," said Santana, the agency's business director. "This is an excellent opportunity to strengthen business ties." (Reporting by Esteban Israel; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)