Rio Rising - Rio de Janeiro Guide

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Rio Rising Brazil's Olympic city proves ripe for investment

Daniel Allen

Future Focus

From the rooftops of the elevated Cantagalo favela, Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach is a wide arc of golden sand extending toward the horizon. Below the distinctive, bun-shaped profile of Sugarloaf Mountain, serried ranks of apartment blocks and skyscrapers face the long rollers of the Atlantic Ocean. High overhead, kites on razor-sharp, glass-edged strings soar in the cloudless sky, as kids from this sprawling, hillside shanty town engage in aerial dogfights.

A few years back, Cantagalo was a no-go area for police, tourists and the wealthier residents of Rio. The city's favelas, now estimated to house over one million of Rio's six million-strong population, were riddled with crime and drug-fuelled violence. These days, however, things are different. "Police Pacification Units" (UPPs) have brought order to the chaos, while the provision of basic amenities and services is helping  the people of the slums lead a better and more productive existence.

Copacobana Beach, Rio, Brazil
Copacobana, Rio, Brazil
Ping-pong in a favela in Rio, Brazil
Ping-pong in a favela in Rio


The pacification of the favelas is something that cariocas – as the residents of Rio de Janeiro like to call themselves – thought they'd never witness. Many saw it as a turning point for a city which has endured decades of neglect, corruption and poor government. While serious problems remain, the changing face of Rio's poorest neighbourhoods is certainly symbolic of a wider, evolutionary process. Today, Brazil's "marvellous city" is a city on the rise.

"Rio de Janeiro is on the cusp of reinventing itself," says David Thomas, Director of Brazil Access, an Australia-based business consultancy. "The challenge for local government agencies and businesses is how to encourage and channel the influx of investment, business and trade that is expected to flow into the city between now and 2016. Rio is going to transform itself in the coming years."

Ipanema Beach, Rio, Brazil
Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aerial view of the Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Economic Good Times

Brazil has seen its economy soar in recent times, with growth far outpacing the United States, Japan and western Europe. Thanks to a diverse manufacturing base and escalating energy sector, GDP surged by an impressive 7.5% in 2010. While statistics have suffered a recent downturn thanks to the eurozone crisis, Brazil still managed to overtake the United Kingdom as the world’s sixth-largest economy last year.

A stable economy, a burgeoning domestic market, and huge untapped reserves of natural resources have led increasing numbers of foreign investors to the Brazilian doorstep and beyond. Despite an unsettled world economic outlook, the country witnessed a record number of foreign direct investment (FDI) projects last year, establishing it as the second most popular global destination in terms of FDI value. From 2007 to 2011, the value and number of inward investment projects tripled from US$19 billion (165 projects)  to US$63 billion (507 projects).

Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aerial view of Rio de Janeiro

According to a recent survey by Ernst and Young, which consulted 250 leading global executives, Brazil was rated as the most attractive FDI destination in Latin America by over three-quarters of respondents. Moreover, 83% believed that Brazil's attractiveness as an investment location would improve over the next three years.

"Brazil has transformed itself from a country with bleak economic prospects in the 1970s to a formidable force in the global economy," says Jim Turley, Chairman and CEO of Ernst & Young. "Part of that success story has been Brazil's ability to position itself as an increasingly attractive place to do business. The future has its challenges, but the hosting of high profile sporting events will contribute to infrastructure development and act as a catalyst to attract significant additional investment."

Rio de Janeiro backstreets, Brazil
Rio backstreets
Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro from Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil

Sporting Stimulus

Two years after hosting seven matches of the World Cup in 2014 (including the final), Rio de Janeiro will again be the focus of the world’s attention as it becomes the first South American city to host an Olympic Games.

JCopacobana, Rio, Brazil
Copacobana Beach, Rio, Brazil

As only the second city ever to host both events back-to-back, the international exposure will be huge, with over seven million spectators expected to attend.

With clocks counting down the hours until the Maracanã Stadium's first World Cup match, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia are now pulling out all the stops to ensure the city presents a thoroughly progressive, modern face.

The hosting of two sporting events in close succession is seen as a unique opportunity for Rio to advance several steps forward onto the world stage, much as Beijing did in 2008. While some of the city's new construction and regeneration projects are directly related to the World Cup and Olympics, others are designed to redistribute projected urban growth and drive longer-term economic development.

Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

As a state, Rio de Janeiro is increasingly awash with money. A recent report published by the Rio de Janeiro State Federation of Industries predicts public and private investment will pump in over US$100 billion over the next three years, notwithstanding the city's US$14.2 billion Olympic budget.

Boosted by its Olympic bid and the discovery of huge quantities of oil offshore, the economy of Rio is booming, far more so than that of São Paulo, its larger neighbor to the southwest. Companies representing half of Brazil's stock market capitalization are now headquartered here, and the city is already a hub for the Brazilian petroleum, IT and tourism industries.

Rio's workforce sits atop the Brazilian pile when it comes to professional qualifications, providing investors with a vast pool of local talent, and driving the city's growing role as a research and development base.

In 2010 the state of Rio de Janeiro became the first state in Brazil to be granted an investment grade by credit rating agency Standard and Poor's. That same year FDI in the city of Rio totalled US$7.3 billion, a sevenfold annual increase and more than twice the amount invested in São Paulo. The city now accounts for a quarter of all Brazil's inward FDI.

"Rio de Janeiro has been, and will continue to be, Brazil's best opportunity for the savvy international investor because of the tremendous need to improve the infrastructure," says Jonathan Kendall, co-founder of Rio Investment Consulting, a Rio-based trade and investment consultancy.

Christ the Redeemer statue, Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer statue on Corcovado, Rio de Janeiro

"Ports, roads, railways, construction - these are the low-hanging fruit and all need rapid improvement," continues Kendall. "The US, Europe and China will not be down forever; everything cycles and now is the perfect time to execute these projects in Brazil so that when the rest of the world is ready to buy commodities, Brazil is ready to sell and deliver them."

With prestigious and highly marketable sporting events on the calendar, an almost unlimited supply of oil and gas close at hand (oil fields off the coasts of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo states may contain more than 50 billion barrels of crude), and the city re-positioning itself as an international business hub, Rio's "investability" is currently sky high. Many development projects may have already been tendered, but for those companies and investors willing to get involved, the returns could be substantial.

Asia-Pacific Angle

Rio de Janeiro's rapid development and healthy investment climate are boosting trade ties with companies across the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. China is already Brazil's largest export partner (buying mainly commodities) and second largest import partner (selling manufactured goods). According to HSBC, trade growth is expected to remain strong over the next five years, with Brazilian exports to China to rise by nearly 12 percent, and imports received to grow almost 11 percent.

"We've seen a lot of investment in Rio by Chinese firms already," says Antonio Carlos Dias, Commercial Director of business development agency Rio Negócios. "For example, State Grid Corp., one of the world's largest electric utilities companies, had 10 employees in its Rio office two years ago. By the end of this year it will have more than a thousand." Established in 2010 by Rio de Janeiro's mayor Eduardo Paes, Rio Negócios has already attracted $US1.6 billion worth of inward investment to the city.

China is also accumulating a significant stake in Rio's offshore oil deposits. Located deep underwater, these will require huge capital expenditure to exploit. Last year China's second largest state-owned company Sinopec spent US$5.2 billion on a 30 percent stake in the Brazilian assets of Portuguese Galp Energia Group, following on from a US$7.1 billion investment in the Brazilian assets of Spanish oil and gas company Repsol YPF.

Sugar Loaf Mountain cable car, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sugar Loaf Mountain cable car, Rio de Janeiro

The trade and investment relationship between Australia and Brazil also continues to strengthen, and Australian companies are already involved in a number of Rio-based contracts for the World Cup and Olympics. During the recent Rio+20 meeting in June 2012, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff agreed to take the Brazil–Australia relationship to the level of a strategic partnership, highlighting progress achieved in the energy sector and increasing bilateral investment in agribusiness.

"There is increasing potential for Australian companies to invest and do business in Rio de Janeiro," says Fabio Nave of the Australian Trade Commission in Brazil. "The increase in infrastructure spending in Brazil, the growing focus on high performance sport and major events ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, a booming resources sector, and an expanding middle class of new consumers, all represent potential opportunities."

One of Rio's most urgent urban development priorities is to upgrade its transport infrastructure. Olympic preparations include extending its subway and building dedicated bus lanes, including one linking the international airport to the city centre. Many competition venues will be located miles from the new Olympic Village in western Barra da Tijuca District, which is currently linked to the rest of Rio by a pair of traffic-choked highways. The federal government has also committed to modernize Rio's woefully inadequate airport by 2014.

Largely on the back of Rio and Brazil's infrastructure development requirements, Japanese conglomerate Hitachi recently announced plans to further strengthen its Brazilian investment and operations, aiming to quadruple its consolidated revenues in the country to US$1.5 billion by 2016.  The group is particularly interested in a proposed high-speed train project between Rio and São Paulo.

Growth potential

From hotels and transport through to mining and hydrocarbons, Rio de Janeiro city and state now offer companies from across the APAC region a golden opportunity to become involved and strengthen their position in the Brazilian market.

"While Rio's biggest player is the oil and gas sector, with a huge budget extending well past the World Cup and Olympics, the expansion in real estate and construction industries - including commercial offices and hotels - continues to grow and offer lucrative possibilities," says Jonathan Kendall.

"Trade and investment between the APAC region and the Rio de Janeiro business community starts with commitment," he continues. "Foreign companies and investors must come here and commit to the market for the long term. They must bring their best ideas and products, bring their business acumen and ability, and be prepared to adapt them to the local market."

"Right now, Rio de Janeiro need the Asia-Pacific and the Asia-Pacific needs Rio," says Marco Aurelio Cardoso, Undersecretary of Finance at Rio's City Hall. "We are faced with a unique moment in this city's history. In two years' time, in four years' time, in a decade from now, those that can forge productive business ties will certainly reap the reward. This city can be marvellous on many levels."

Port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Port area of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Port Progress

While Brazil's Olympic athletes competed in London this summer, a team of businessmen and politicians discussed ways of ensuring that Rio delivers in 2016, when its turn comes to host the world's largest sporting event.

One of the largest and most ambitious infrastructure projects already underway in the city is the "Porto Maravilha" (Marvelous Port) development. Similar to urban regeneration projects in other Olympic host cities, this massive, US$3 billion-plus facelift is designed to completely revitalize Rio de Janeiro's extensive port area. While this neighbourhood was very lively in the 1920s and 1930s, many of its buildings now lie abandoned and derelict.

"The idea of the project to improve local services, increase access to water supplies and sewage systems, alleviate traffic congestion, and offer additional leisure options to tourists who will visit Rio in 2016," explains Marco Aurelio Cardoso.

Development will focus on residential and commercial properties, with the landmark Pier Mauá set to become the focal point of a major new leisure complex. The project also includes the construction of a new media center that will operate during the 2016 Olympics, and two museums - the Rio Museum of Art and the Museum of Tomorrow.

A separate project, entitled "21st Century Port of Rio," will see the waters of Guanabara Bay dredged to accommodate larger ships, the construction of a pier to expand the passenger terminal, and the renovation and construction of highways, railways and cargo terminals in the port area. According to Brazilian  Transport Secretary Julio Lopes, the government plans to double cargo handling capacity at Rio de Janeiro port by 2015.

Port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Port of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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