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Location: Brazil
Members: 5
Latest Activity: Aug 17, 2012

Should our kids be learning Brazilian Portuguese?

Should our kids be learning Brazilian Portuguese?

Many parents I know have enrolled their kids in French immersion schools, or weekend Mandarin courses, in an effort to prepare the next generation for a competitive future world of open trading markets and portable skills. While commendable and far-sighted, I wonder how many parents have considered preparing their children for a world where Brazil becomes an economic powerhouse and significant trading partner for Canada?

I suspect not many. That should change.

Why should Brazil matter to Canada? It’s now the world’s seventh largest economy, one of the fastest growing and projected to be No. 5 within a few short years. Its natural resource based economy is similar to Canada’s, as are the vast distances that separate its resources from its main population centres. Most importantly, it is a rapidly developing economy with specific needs — many of which Canada is uniquely positioned to address.

It should be no surprise, therefore, that one of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s first foreign trade missions, since winning a new mandate, was to Brazil. Or that our new Trade Minister, Ed Fast, has already helped arrange two trade missions to that country in the past 100 days.

What they see is an opportunity for our businesses, our people and ultimately for our children.

Canada has much to offer Brazil. We have 80-plus years of experience in developing a natural resource economy, building critical infrastructure, and traversing large tracts of sensitive terrain in order to connect our resources to our population base. Developing infrastructure is a major priority for Brazil. In addition to hosting both the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil has plans to invest more than $800 billion in new infrastructure projects over the next 10 years. One example of the types of solutions Canada can provide Brazil is the portable camp and shelter market. Canada is a world leader in this field, born out of decades of helping resource and construction companies provide high quality living conditions to workers.

Weatherhaven is a 30-year-old Vancouver-based company that develops portable and re-deployable shelter solutions for the natural resource, disaster relief and military markets. Our specialty is re-deployable camps in remote areas, particularly those requiring a very light environmental footprint. We have supplied customers in more than 50 countries and, after entering Brazil 10 years ago, have seen it become one of our fastest growing markets.

This past August, as a direct result of our participation in the PM’s trade mission, Weatherhaven was able to secure a significant new deal with HRT, a very progressive and innovative Brazilian oil and gas company. This new opportunity, to build leading-edge sustainable exploration camps in the Amazon, will result in employment for British Columbians and create opportunities to export Canadian-made technology and services.

It’s clear that Brazil is a country in fast-forward mode, with an ambitious well-financed government, and fuelled by natural resource revenues. Its large companies are becoming aggressive global players: Witness the recent acquisition of Canadian mining (Inco) and brewing companies (Labatt’s) by larger, more global Brazilian competitors.

Ironically, the pace of Brazil’s economic development outstrips its domestic R&D and education capabilities, which provides tremendous opportunities to Canadian companies and to our education sector to help them bridge those gaps. For instance, Canadian universities are already stepping up to meet that need. Canada has become the No. 1 destination for foreign education and training by Brazilian students.

If you don’t know much about Brazil, or if your view of it is based on old stereotypes, you owe it to yourself and your children to learn more about this country. Not only won’t you regret it, your children may one day tell you “Obrigado.”

Ray Castelli is CEO of Vancouver-based Weatherhaven. The company recently started offering free Portuguese classes to all its Vancouver-based employees.

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