Soccer fans watch a regular soccer match valid for Carioca Championship 2014 at the renovated Marcana stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, April 6, 2014. (Bloomberg Photo/Dado Galdieri)

São Paulo - Many Brazilians think the soccer World Cup, which kicks off next month, is a waste of money, but Apex, the nation’s export agency, says it can use it to get more than $3 billion (R31bn) 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 programme during a World Cup warm-up tournament last year, when 900 businessmen were invited, resulted in $1.8bn in new export deals and $1.2bn in foreign direct investment, according to Apex.

“There will be meetings and visits to factories,” Apex business director Ricardo Santana said. “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 programme could end up being one of the few positive developments to come out 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 to July 13 event would be short-lived and represent 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 firms have signed up for the programme and will help Apex foot the bill. They include busmaker Marcopolo, heavy car manufacturer Randon and fashion retailer Cia Hering.

Bauducco, one of Brazil’s top biscuit makers, invited 92 business partners from dozens of countries, including South Africa, the US, UK and Chile. The company expects the soccer networking campaign to help bolster its exports by up to 20 percent next year.

“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 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,” business director Santana said.

“This is an excellent opportunity to strengthen business ties.” – Esteban Israel for Reuters