Prime Minister Stephen Harper deserves praise for visiting the economic behemoth of Latin America last month, the first prime ministerial trip to Brazil in seven years. Yet spending a few days on the ground in Sao Paulo and Brasilia, and launching a Canada-Brazil CEO forum, will not transform the relationship, or cause new business and investment opportunities to flow automatically.
Many suitors are courting Brazil, and Canada must work hard to turn around a lukewarm association. The visit must be followed up with high-level ministerial exchanges, as well as serious efforts to market Canada to Brazilian entrepreneurs, and to understand Brazil’s challenges and opportunities.
Brazil isn’t just a regional leader, but a global one; its economy has surpassed Canada’s, and is slated to be the fifth largest in a few years. Old prejudices and assumptions must be set aside. The country’s rising geopolitical significance must be acknowledged, in the same way that Canada has changed its approach to emerging powers in Asia.
Canadians must take the time to understand where Brazil leads as a country, its success in fostering inclusive growth, and expertise in such sectors as biofuels, information technology, aircraft assembly and energy, including underwater oil exploration and exploitation. It is also a leader in alternative energy, with almost half of its energy coming from renewable sources. “Just because Canada has discovered Brazil, doesn’t mean Brazil will dance with Canada at the ball,” says Professor Ted Hewitt, vice-president of research and international relations at the University of Western Ontario and a leading Brazil expert. “You need personal networks.”
“Brazilians anticipate several decades of growth and development,” notes Jennifer Jeffs, the president of the Canadian International Council, which is hosting a Brazil forum next week in Toronto with economic experts and political analysts from both countries. “Canada must establish strong bilateral relationships and networks in business, academe, industry, energy and environment, as well as culture.”
Especially, that is, if Canada is serious about boosting relatively stagnant levels of trade. Last year, bilateral trade with Brazil was just $5.9-billion (compared with $30-billion between Mexico and Canada). Home to one-third of Latin America’s population, and 40 per cent of its GDP, Brazil is a hemispheric player worth getting to know.
Editor's note: In a previous version of this article, Ted Hewitt was incorrectly described as a leading Brazil expert at Queen’s University. This version has been corrected.