'Pensilvania' trade mission to Brazil underway

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SAO PAULO, Brazil -- The Pennsylvania trade mission kicked off in earnest Monday, with delegation members traveling crowded, leafy streets to meet with business prospects and then to mingle at the residence of the U.S. general consul.

It was a day of introductions to the country -- there were briefings on the Brazilian economy and commerce -- and to the people, as local tour operators gathered for a luncheon, complete with slides on "Filadelfia" and "Pensilvania, EUA," and dark-suited executives chatted over hors d'oeuvres (and the occasional caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail) at the diplomatic residence.

When they spoke before a crowd in English, members of the delegation sometimes found themselves continuing on too quickly, before a translator could break in to keep the hosts informed in Portuguese.

But the visitors tried to demonstrate their commitment to working together with their counterparts from Brazil.

As he headed out to his first meeting, with a prospective Brazilian representatives, Michael White, marketing manager at Brookville Equipment Corp., which manufactures locomotives in Jefferson County, wore not one but two Brazilian flag pins, one with the U.S. flag on his jacket and the other with the Pennsylvania flag on his shirt.

(His Chilean flag pin, to be worn on the second half of the mission, was safely in his room.)

After a morning briefing, members headed out the hotel's main doors and into dark cars that took them to their meetings. They walked and drove along streets of businesspeople in suits and women in tank tops, where Brazil's rich diversity was on display.

"You're probably in the biggest African city outside Africa, the biggest Japanese city outside Japan, the biggest Syrian city outside Syria," Dennis Hankins, the U.S. consul general in Sao Paulo, told the group at the morning session.

The delegation gave its first group pitch at a tourism luncheon, where about 50 local tour operators and travel agents listened over filet mignon and risotto to Gov. Tom Corbett, his wife, Susan Corbett, and others expound upon the attractions of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Gettysburg and other regions of the state.

With clothing prices much higher at home than in the United States, Brazilians make a habit of shopping abroad, and there was laughter when Mrs. Corbett told the group that "Pennsylvania is a place for bargain hunters."

But much of the presentation focused on Pennsylvania's role in U.S. history, from the Revolution to the Civil War, and afterward Christina Kler, a business development executive at Designer Tours in Sao Paulo, said the state seemed like a good prospect.

"America is not only shopping," she said. "There is history. This is really a side of America Brazilians do not know yet."

In the evening, the delegation boarded buses to the U.S. consular residence, where security staff allowed them through a gate and into a lush courtyard with a U.S. flag raised above. After greeting Mr. Corbett and Mr. Hankins at the door, they mingled with one another and with potential Brazilian partners in a room with paintings by a Sao Paulo artist.

With the Brazilian economy on the rise, the visit by Pennsylvania business and government officials wasn't a rare event for the consulate. Mr. Hankins said he sees some kind of trade delegation in Sao Paulo at least every couple weeks.

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Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-2141.


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