Capitalizing the B in BRIC

By: /
August 11, 2011

It is terrific news that Canada finally has a group of focused business leaders working to enhance trade and economic relations with what is not only an important country in its hemisphere, but an emerging global power in the world. Congratulations to Rick Waugh, CEO of Scotiabank and the recently appointed Canadian co-chair of the newly announced Canada-Brazil CEO group, which is co-chaired by Murilo Ferreira, CEO of Vale, on the Brazilian side. We have seen the accomplishments of the Canada-China Business Council and the Canada-India Council, and it has been a bit of a mystery why no similar body has existed on behalf of the hemisphere to enhance corporate engagement and public awareness of the important and emergent commercial – and other – relationships with growing Latin American countries. It was certainly fast work by Ambassador Jamal Khokhar, who arrived in Brasilia barely a year ago, and mentioned this idea to me just this past March.

Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s trip has directed much media attention to the commercial and trade ambitions that apparently propelled it, yet Canada can, and should, engage with Brazil in a great variety of ways, building on interests and commonalities not immediately apparent when one juxtaposes the northernmost hemispheric country against the largest southern one. These commonalities are more numerous than one might guess, and warrant serious attention.

First of all, we must be aware that Brazil is now a global power, and that Canada needs to engage with all global powers.

Second, both countries are global energy powerhouses, and, in that role, both are looking at how to manage traditional energy extraction and processing in an environmentally responsible manner, while also looking ahead to developing energy sources and the evolution of new energy paradigms.

Third, both countries host enormous agriculture sectors, and the complementarities and added value that Canadian advanced farming techniques and agri-food processes can contribute to Brazil’s agrarian sector is very high.

Fourth, in education, particularly in sectors from technical training to post-graduate management education, Canada can contribute value-added training for professionals at expert levels.

This last point is extremely important. Brazil contains a vast and growing market for high technology engagement. It is a huge consumer of communications technology that not only needs manufactured electronic goods, but also the content and the software to power those goods. With a market of 200 million consumers that speak a language not widely spoken in the rest of the world, Brazil must be its own supplier of that content. To do this, it needs to train and educate its people to supply that content for their country. This presents a very important opportunity to provide training and education to Brazilians to fulfill the content and platform needs for electronic goods used by their rapidly growing middle class. To do this, Brazil needs value-added education support. Canada can provide this support, and is now on track to do so.

During the prime minister’s visit, it was announced that the governor general would be taking a group of Canadian university leaders to Brazil next spring. Given that Gov. Gen. David Johnstone is a former university president who made tremendous inroads internationally, he will no doubt set serious goals for this trip, which will clearly reap important results for both countries.

To Canadians, Brazil generally seems like an exotic, distant, tropical land of carnivals, music, rain forests, and beautiful people on beautiful beaches, but also a place potentially fraught with complications. Crime rates, gangs, poverty, and favelas – on top of a foreign language ­– make it sound like a very complicated place to learn about, and to do business. However, from another perspective, Brazil is a fellow commodity-based economy, a country facing similar currency and foreign-exchange challenges to Canada, and a place that shares with Canada an interest in Haiti, and in generating food aid for Africa. In terms of Canada’s need to generally diversify its international-trade portfolio, it is important to note that it is no more difficult to do business in Brazil than it is in China. The regulatory system is no more complex, government intervention is no more prevalent, and it is due south in our own hemisphere, so, although the distance is significant, the time difference is a mere one hour from Toronto.

At a time when Canada is broadening its trade and investment horizons, Brazil presents both a regional and global platform for Canadian international engagement. The Canadian International Council is delighted to be partnering with the Centre for Hemispheric Studies in Miami to present the Brazil Forum in Toronto on September.

Photo Courtesy Reuters.