With the economic development community stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history. Covid-19 is spreading throughout Latin America, with Brazil among the region’s worst affected countries. Sergio Segovia, president of Apex, the country’s trade and investment promotion agency, shares his experience of dealing with the crisis.
Q: How has Apex been adjusting in recent weeks?
A: Our 380 employees have been working from home since March 20. It’s been challenging, but it has brought opportunities too. Today I feel more connected with my team. We used to have one monthly meeting, now we have an online meeting every day. This helps us to be more connected and integrated as a team. When we are in a position to go back to the office, I still want to continue these digital meetings once or twice a week – it’s helping us make better decisions.
Q: What is Apex’s mission in the current environment?
A: Our first concern is to take notice of all the measures approved by the Brazilian government to support the economy and how they might affect investors. The second step is to keep investors informed. We are also surveying investors to better understand the difficulties they are facing in order to develop new solutions and mitigate their losses.
Q: What have these surveys highlighted so far?
A: With the lockdown, companies are facing massive challenges to uphold their businesses, particularly with regards to payrolls. We are obviously worried about unemployment. At the same time, some of the companies supported by Apex – like those in agribusiness – are still exporting on a regular basis.
Q: Are you still doing lead generation to identify prospective investors?
A: Brazil is running one of the greatest privatisation programmes in the world for infrastructure such as railroads, ports, airports, water and sanitation. Investors were interested in the programme [previously], and we are keeping them informed all the time to keep them interested.
Q: How has the crisis affected you on a personal and professional level?
A: On a personal level, very little. In fact, I was part of the presidential mission to the US where 23 people tested positive – I was one of them. I remained asymptomatic and in good health throughout, and more recently I tested negative. On a professional level, some consequences have been welcome: I’m more in touch with my team and I have more time to participate in webinars and online events. But obviously, the damage this crisis is causing to the whole country’s health system and economy is very worrying.
Q: What leadership are you providing?
A: We have to keep in contact with the team so they know we are not leaving them alone at this critical time. We should also not be afraid to be open to new ideas and approaches. We must be bold and open minded. It is an extraordinary time, and old ideas may not now be successful.
Q: What do you predict for the mid-to-long-term?
A: We have to find new ways to work with other people; teleworking will be the new normal. Instead of travelling to a meeting, we will use the digital tools we already have. We used to participate in many global trade fairs, for example. What will happen to those events now? Will will see events evolve to become more virtual?
Q: How will this crisis affect Brazil’s investment proposition?
A: Brazil is a country of many opportunities, with a big domestic market of 200 million people. We can handle primary commodities here. Agribusiness – for example, food – will not be of concern for us. But we have concerns about supply chains. In the automotive industry, for example, some parts are imported from China, and we are not able to produce those parts. Countries everywhere are rethinking their supply chains to attract key strategic operations back to their home regions – in the medical space, for example. It’s not easy to rely on just one or two countries to produce strategic goods and products.
Sergio Segovia is the president of Apex, Brazil’s trade and investment promotion agency.
If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.