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Looking to the south

Aug. 11, 2011, Ottawa - Until fairly recently, Brazil was not a country in which Canadians would be advised to proudly display the maple leaf while on vacation; Canada and Brazil have had some rough years, diplomatically speaking, marked by trade disputes and mutual hard feelings.


August 11, 2011
By The Ottawa Citizen

But that is changing, and a visit by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Brazil, and Colombia, this week has helped pave the way for a newly revitalized relationships in South America at a crucial point in history. The bilateral meetings held in the capital Brasilia this week, as the global markets were in turmoil, couldn't have come at a better time.

Whatever the outcome of the latest crisis over the U.S. economy, there is no doubt that Canada must look to other markets and become less reliant on the U.S. as a trading partner. Canada and the U.S. will likely to continue to be each others' biggest trading partners for the foreseeable future, but in uncertain economic times diversification makes sense. As does Brazil.

The South American giant has become a rising star in the world economic firmament at a time when the ground is lurching under many of the world's traditionally strong economies. Brazil, whose economy grew by 7.5 per cent last year, now claims to be the world's 5th largest economy. Like Canada, it is resource rich and poised to weather world economic storms in good shape.

In the past, Canada and Brazil have squabbled over several trade issues, namely beef and aerospace contracts. Canada complained to the World Trade Organization that Brazil was unfairly subsidizing its aerospace company Embraer. Brazil filed a counter-claim and the WTO ruled that both parties were at fault. The two countries also had diplomatic squabbles over beef and more.

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This week's bilateral meetings were marked by an open skies agreement between the two countries, among other agreements.

Harper has wisely made it a priority to look toward Central and South America, and his successful venture to Brazil should be seen as a sign of things to come.

Harper also visited Colombia just as the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement was taking effect.

As large-scale bloc or global trade agreements bog down, smaller, bilateral agreements to open trade and relationships between countries make increasing sense.

And as part of strengthening ties with countries such as Colombia, Canada must use its clout to press for improved human rights, one of this country's key roles on the world stage.