Embassy Magazine, 06/28/2012

Last month, the Senate foreign affairs and international trade committee released its final report, “Intensifying Strategic Partnerships with the New Brazil”—the fourth in a series exploring the potential of Canada’s future relationship with the BRIC economies.

Released with little fanfare, the report has largely escaped media attention. This is a pity. To date, Canada has produced no more insightful and salient strategic document on future prospects with Brazil than this, signalling a subtle but critical change in the direction of Canada’s global diplomatic efforts, particularly with emerging economies.

To be sure, Canadians will see a familiar refrain in much of the language in the document, which positions this country as a provider of advanced expertise to an emerging economy in need of “assistance.”

The goal, state the senators, is to supply “Canadian advantages and leadership [that] are of value-added to Brazil,” suggesting the continuation of a largely unbalanced relationship, which until recently helped to fuel a range of trade disputes over commuter jet aircraft and beef imports.

An entirely new approach, however, is signalled in the document’s subsequent affirmation regarding the dawn of a “new era of Brazil-Canada relations based on equality and mutual respect.”

And more striking yet is the senators’ abiding determination to focus on areas where the two countries can work together. Gone is the traditional diplomatic-speak regarding regional solidarity, membership in multilateral alliances, and joint proclamations, replaced by a rhetoric based on productive and mutually beneficial collaboration in a relatively limited number of focus areas.

Some of these are not surprising: defence co-operation, co-ordination in international aid, and a potential role for Canada with Brazil’s primary trading bloc, Mercosul (also known as Mercosur). Two others, however, are relatively novel and of significant importance to the future prosperity of both countries: education, and science and technology.

A new education partnership

On education, first of all, the senators have seized dramatically on Brazil’s unprecedented commitment to send up to 100,000 of its post-secondary students abroad for training. The report in fact lauds the Canadian government’s offer to receive up to 12,000 of these—a number second only to the United States—and unequivocally urges “the Government of Canada [to] apply the necessary resources and support to sustain education as a key driving force in intensifying Canada-Brazil relations.”

This represents a clear value statement of the importance of highly-qualified international students to this country—not just financially, through the tuition fees they will provide to post-secondary institutions, but in the experience and academic skill-set they bring to the learning process, their contribution to diversity in classrooms and labs, and their potential for contributing directly to the Canadian economy through enhancement of future ties with Brazilian educational institutions and industry where they will eventually seek employment.

Far beyond this, however, the report clearly understands and respects the principle and the value of reciprocity, urging Canada to find ways to promote Brazil as a study-abroad opportunity for Canadian students.

In supporting bilateral internship programs as well, the report points to opportunities for students to get temporary employment in key industries in both countries, giving early career paths a serious boost and, not unimportantly, helping both countries to deal with acute labour shortages in areas of key importance to their economies: mining, oil and gas, aerospace, and agriculture.

Science and technology

The Senate committee scores high marks as well for its understanding of, and clear support for, greater collaboration in science and technology.

This is, in fact, an area of considerable potential, given the contribution of both countries to international scientific production. Taken together, Canada and Brazil would rank fifth or sixth globally in scholarly output.

More importantly still, there is striking complementarity in a number of areas that support their respective economies: ocean science and technology, green energy, the life sciences, and information and communications technologies.

Canada’s offer to work together with Brazil in these and other areas not only recognizes Brazil’s growing importance scientifically, it firmly acknowledges the potential of such collaboration in the development of new technologies and processes that, hand in glove with domestic industry, can be commercialized to benefit both economies.

At long last then, the rhetoric of competition and national dominance that up until very recently informed Canada’s commercial rivalry with Brazil—particularly in aerospace—is now replaced by a joint agenda that can only serve to strengthen the relationship between the two countries.

Notably as well, the rhetoric is backed with a newly released action plan, authored by the newly minted Canada-Brazil Joint Committee on Science, Technology, and Innovation, which sets out a clear agenda for enhancing and supporting not only collaborative research with industry, but networking through the development of researcher mobility programs, bilateral events and conferences, and communication.

In its novel approach to bilateral relationship building, the Senate report breaks new and significant ground.

In its tone, content, and focus, it will almost certainly be welcomed by Brazilians.

If it does not go far enough, however, it is in the relatively moderated tones it views the benefits of a Canadian-Brazilian rapprochement for Canadians. What is implicit in the report’s recommendations, but largely missing in its stated rationale, is a clear affirmation that a stronger, collaborative relationship with countries like Brazil is not just desirable but necessary if Canada to achieve strategic advantage and maintain prosperity in the face of serious and growing competition globally.