Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s visit to Brazil – his first – will signal to Brazilians that Canada is serious about improving our bilateral relationship. This comes not a minute too soon, given the growing list of countries looking to develop a special linkage with one of the world’s fastest growing and innovative economies.
Steadily increasing levels of economic investment in each other’s economies, bilateral trade and co-operation between Canada and Brazil to enhance security in the Americas, most recently in Haiti, signal a strong improvement in relations between the two countries. And with Brazil’s economy continuing to flourish and the country asserting itself as a global power, the timing is excellent for Canada to take better advantage of these advances by more actively developing a stronger partnership.
But sustained partnerships don’t occur overnight. They take time, and they are fundamentally based on two ingredients: knowledge and networks.
Do Canadians know enough about Brazil and do Brazilians know enough about Canada to take this leap? We all know the answer: No. We can say the same about the extent to which our two countries have developed sustainable networks across the private, academic and government sectors. As a result, we have not yet been able to fully seize the opportunities and challenges we both share.
Protection of our natural resources, climate change, global health and the search for creative solutions to societal ills through social innovation loom large in both countries. Moreover, we both face significant and growing competition in Asia. So we can either let our ignorance about each other and lack of connections continue to lag, or we can start to work to close that gap.
So let’s commit to get to know each other better. Let’s open our borders and foster the kind of open relationship required to ensure the mobility of talent and ideas between our two countries. Let’s increase Canada’s presence in Brazil and raise Brazil’s profile in Canada. Let’s take each other seriously as major bilateral partners.
And let’s do this with a two-fold strategy: continued investment and trade; and investment in co-operative ventures through our university and college system, in our young generation of Brazilian and Canadian researchers and students by giving them the opportunities and incentives to get connected. The way forward is increased educational training and mobility, research or cultural exchange and targeted opportunities for student internships and researchers to work with industry, NGOs and government in both countries.
Brazil, like many other countries, has already adopted this as a key strategy. Over the next four years, it has committed to send abroad 75,000 of its students and nearly 600 university faculty to establish connections in the pursuit of advanced training and collaborative opportunities to develop knowledge. We may not be able to match this number, but we could certainly welcome thousands of these new explorers while creating the same opportunities for thousands of our students and hundreds of our academics to see and seek out the vast opportunities waiting for us in Brazil.
Other countries are already heeding the call. Britain, for example, has agreed to receive 10,000 of these Brazilian students. So far, Canada none!
Yet, we have begun the first steps toward taking up the challenge, with the establishment of the Canada-Brazil science and technology agreement in 2008 and a modest allocation of $3-million for collaborative research and development, and the creation of the Canada-Brazil awards program designed to promote graduate student mobility between the two countries.
Individual institutions have also begun to act. The University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto have recently announced the creation of a funding program with the Sao Paulo state research funding agency to finance collaborations between faculty and students at their universities with counterpart institutions in Brazil. What’s now required is the broader mobilization of government and their agencies and institutions – particularly our universities and colleges – and industry to support the building of a network of young leaders that will ensure that Canadian-Brazilian partnerships will be taken seriously in the face of other powerful suitors.
This will surely demonstrate to Canadians and Brazilians that our two countries are equal and attractive partners and signal our intention to achieve a win-win outcome for both countries. More friendships will lead to more collaborations. More collaborations will lead to increased and sustained economic trade and investment and result in new social and technological innovations of global value.
What greater impact can one ask for from the power and potential that a Canada-Brazil partnership of talent will bring to our economic and social prosperity. Mr. Harper has demonstrated to Canadians this country’s commitment to talent and research domestically. Let’s show our vision for going global through a major Canada-Brazilian bilateral investment in mobilizing our talent and ideas.
Lorna Jean Edmonds is executive director (international relations) and Ted Hewitt vice-president (research and international relations) at the University of Western Ontario.