Canada has signed a series of agreements with Brazil that Prime Minister Stephen Harper says will boost business ties and increase the flow of goods and people between the two countries.
Harper and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff signed the pacts Monday on air travel, pension benefits, international aid and other areas at the presidential palace in Brasilia.
Harper brings team
In a show of the importance the government places on Canada-Brazil relations, cabinet ministers John Baird, Rona Ambrose, Diane Ablonczy and Ed Fast have accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the two-day visit to Brasilia and the financial centre of Sao Paulo.
They are joined by northern Saskatchewan Conservative MP Randy Hoback and a cadre of Canadian business leaders.
Brazil is the first stop on Harper's six-day tour of South and Central American countries intended to improve trade relations in turbulent economic times.
The agreements signed Monday will enhance Canada's competitiveness and translate into other benefits for Canadian businesses and consumers, Harper said in a release announcing the agreements.
"Brazil is a major global economic player and a key priority market for Canada," said Harper. "These agreements will benefit both countries by promoting greater two-way flow of people, goods and services, enhancing our competitiveness and further strengthening our partnership in key areas of shared interest."
Canada and Brazil already had a bilateral air transport agreement that dates back to 1990, and the one signed Monday adds more rights for airlines in both countries. There will be more flexibility for route selection, pricing, and frequency of flights, according to Harper's office.
The agreement will be good for Canadian airlines, the tourism sector and travellers, the prime minister said.
The two leaders also inked a deal on co-ordinating pension benefits. Among its measures are the easing of restrictions on social security benefits owed to Canadians who are living in Brazil, and making it easier for citizens of either country to be eligible for benefits by adding together periods of social security coverage in both countries. Canada has signed these kinds of social security agreements with dozens of other countries.
A new Brazil-Canada CEO forum was also launched by Harper and Rousseff as a result of the bilateral visit. It's meant to be a mechanism for the private sector to be involved in boosting trade and investment between the two countries and to serve as a forum for policy discussions on commercial relations. Six CEOs from each country will be invited to participate.
Canada to share Olympic expertise with Brazil
A memorandum of understanding was also signed that will see Canada share its Olympic-hosting experience and expertise with Brazil. The Summer Games are in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and the memorandum is aimed at the two countries talking about how to host a successful event and the environmental, social and legal considerations that are part of the planning.
Harper said the co-operation will mean business and investment opportunities for Canadian and Brazilian companies.
Harper and Rousseff also pledged greater dialogue on delivering aid in Latin America, and to establish the Canada-Brazil Strategic Partnership Dialogue. The new agreement will have each country's foreign affairs ministers meet annually to discuss regional and global issues.
A number of other topics were covered by the two leaders Monday including energy, agriculture and education. They agreed, for example, to try to enhance ties between universities and research institutions and increase the number of student exchanges.
They also agreed to explore ways to enhance Canada and Brazil's trade relationship, a key driver in Harper's visit to the region.
An estimated 400 Canadian companies already operate in Brazil, Canada's 10th-largest trading partner. Exports of Canadian merchandise to Brazil totalled $2.6 billion in 2010, up 60 per cent from the year before, and imports were $3.3 billion.
The Conservative government has sought bilateral free-trade deals with a number of countries, placing a special emphasis on the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2002, Canada signed a free-trade agreement with Costa Rica, where Harper will stop on Thursday.
Three years ago, Canada inked a free-trade agreement with Colombia, where Harper visits Wednesday. That deal comes into force next week.
But negotiating a free-trade deal with Brazil is trickier, since it needs the consent of three other South American countries — Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — that are members of a common economic bloc called Mercosur to enter into such an agreement.
Ted Hewitt, an expert on Brazil from the University of Western Ontario, said Brazil provides a huge consumer market — its population is nearly 200 million — and it has a growing middle class with valuable purchasing power. He said Brazil is a "critically important" trade partner for Canada.
He told CBC News that Canada and Brazil haven't had very close ties and that Harper's visit should send a signal that Canada is ready to engage in a deeper relationship, in trade and other areas.
"There's always a benefit when you increase your exports, and Brazil is an excellent market and an excellent partner," he told CBC News.
Hewitt said the relationship between Canada and Brazil should go beyond just trade.
"Canadian companies, Canadian universities should be interacting intensely with their partners, their collaborators in Brazil to better exploit the Canadian and Brazilian markets, and go after other markets, and I think that's where our real niche lies," he said. "If that takes trade to move products and people back and forth between the two countries to get that going, then I think that's all in the right direction."
Later in the week, Harper travels to Honduras where the prime minister is likely to highlight the role that Canada has played in trying to restabilize the country. It went through a military coup d'etat in 2009 and different factions have fought for control. Canada was part of Honduras's truth and reconciliation settlement that helped steady the country to the point it has been readmitted to the Organization of American States.
Canada and Honduras have started negotiations on a free trade deal but one is not expected to be announced on this trip.