An Interview with Ted Hewitt

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August 17, 2011

Can you please introduce yourself and your connection to Brazil/Canada relations?

Ted Hewitt: I’m Ted Hewitt, Vice-President of Research and International Relations at Western. I’m a sociologist, and I’ve been studying Brazil probably for the better part of 30 years, for the last 10 developing a sharper focus on the issue of Brazil/Canada relations.

How would you describe the historical relationship between Canada and Brazil and historically situating Harper’s current courting of Brazil? Are there any precedents of Harper’s current courting of Brazil?

TH: Canada and Brazil have had a relationship that goes back to the visit by the then emperor, Pedro II in the 1900s, to Hamilton, Ontario – apparently it was written up in the Hamilton Spectator. Since that time relations have been fairly cordial, but I wouldn’t say very intense. There has been significant investment in Brazil by Canadian companies.  More recently –I would say in the last 20 years – there has been a considerable degree of interaction, increased investment, particularly Brazilian investment in Canada, in companies, now such that it actually outpaces Canadian investment in Brazil. But trade has been fairly limited. It’s currently over 5 billion dollars two ways right now, but it’s been that way –3-5 billion dollars – for years. If you think about the value of that versus the amount of trade that goes across the Canada/U.S. border every day, two billion is peanuts. I think that the Harper government over the last few years has realized that Brazil is a target market for Canada.  I think Canada has newly realized that Brazil has significant capacity right now in science and technology, research and development particularly, that could be tapped in collaboration with Canada in areas like nanotechnology, alternative energy, agricultural research and bioproducts, in a way that allows us to develop products and technologies for our own markets and to sell to third markets together. I think this trade has become more attractive, along with the movement of people and the sharp increase recently in academic interchange.

Beyond engaging with Brazil in business, do you see other ways in which Canada can engage Brazil?

TH: We do have a Brazil/Canada Chamber of Commerce that has been very active, both in Toronto and San Paolo. It brings visibility to the relationship and to trade the prospects of trade in the two countries, and I think that’s great. There is also currently a joint committee for collaboration in science and technology, on which I sit. It was struck after the science and technology agreement was signed with Brazil in 2008. There are more informally ministerial visits, there’s a delegation on agriculture; we’ve had collaboration, security. So it’s not only about high level engagement; it’s about volume; how many agreements we sign for social security, how many agreements we sign to move students, how many agreements to finance joint research together by moving researchers between the two countries.

Could you elaborate on similarities between Canadian and Brazilian societies?

TH: The obvious point of similarity is that Canada and Brazil are multicultural societies, though this is true only to a limited extent. It’s true that we’re immigrant countries – Canada has a much different approach to relationships among ethnic and racial groups than does Brazil, which has been very strong on assimilation – it is proud to be one country with one language and one people. Canada has a developed economy has a relatively flatter distribution. In Brazil, the difference between rich and poor is dramatic. Canadians pride themselves on their education system, access to education.  In Brazil there is relatively limited access to university.

There have been some tremendous improvements in the Brazilian quality of life. These are demonstrated in infant mortality rates, which are dropping to Canadian levels. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in the percentage of Brazilians moving from the ranks of the lower classes to the middle class. There is a growing level of affluence, but still a lot of disparity in many, many respects.

Could you assess whether Canada has made the most of recent opportunities to nurture its relationship with Brazil, and where you see things going?

TH: It can only go up. I don’t think it can be based on the historical relationship, in which Canada and Brazil primarily focused on Canada offering services and advantages to Brazil as an emerging economy. Currently we’re starting to change that particular approach, recognizing the kind of advances Brazil has made, and the kind of science and technological expertise they have to develop. I think trade will increase as a result of that, but I think ultimately we can give each other less as competitors. We should start thinking of each other as equals and prospective partners in key areas of endeavour that are going to drive economic advancement or are going to drive jobs and open up markets to both Canada and Brazil.

Do you think that looking forward, for reasons of culture and geography, Brazil is the most important of the BRICs to Canada?

TH: Well, I may be a little bit prejudiced in that regard because I’ve been working, living and traveling in Brazil for so many years. The other BRICs, by their sheer size, are critically important to Canada as well, but one thing I would argue is that, compared to India, China and Russia, for different reasons, it’s a heck of a lot easier to work with Brazil, and the reason for that is simply cultural in the sense that we inhabit the Americas, we’re dealing with a Latin-based language, we have to some extent movement in terms of tourism and immigrants between the two countries, and we have a business culture which is very similar and has been. So my thinking is, and my guess is, that it would really be a lot easier to work with Brazil, and I think we should be focusing on that market.