Carolyn Cross had her eye on the South American markets for years. What the CEO of Vancouver’s Ondine Biomedical didn’t understand was how to go about tapping into those emerging economies.
“And then I get this invitation for a trade mission,” Cross told Business in Vancouver.
The federal government’s first all-female trade mission to Brazil brought the CEO and other Canadian business leaders to São Paulo last month for four days of back-to-back meetings. Introductions to strategic partners were made, while executives were debriefed on all the regulatory and legal issues Canadian businesses face when conducting business in the world’s 10th largest economy.
Brazil imports $2.1 billion from Canada annually and Canadian direct investment in the country amounts to $10.3 billion, according to data from Export Development Canada.
While various levels of government have long been pursuing deep economic ties to Asia, Cross said it’s time for Canada to orient toward more “north-south trade opportunities, which I think is more of a natural fit if you’re not from an Asian descent. We have core values and similarities from business and cultures that we can tap into.”
While EDC's quarterly risk report determined Brazil is expected to be a net-benefactor of weaker oil prices, ongoing corruption investigations have the potential to overshadow much of the rest of the economy.
“Brazil presents many opportunities for Canadian companies in a number of sectors, however expensive tax regimes, heavy bureaucracy and strong local and foreign competition continue to present challenges for Canadian exporters and investors,” the EDC stated.
But Cross said the opportunity to work within the Brazilian marketplace and reduce manufacturing costs before exporting goods back into the U.S., Asia or Europe offers potential that Canadian companies shouldn’t be passing on.
Photo: From left, Labour Minister Kellie Leitch, Ondine CEO Carolyn Cross, BlackBerry vice-president of global sales Margaret Stuart (credit: submitted)
“Canada has great ideas and possibly good innovation but our tiny market puts us at a massive disadvantage. Until we can get some scale to bring the costs down, we can’t really go export,” she said.
The trade mission, which Cross described as “empowering” for all the female executives who attended along with Minister of Labour and Status of Women Kellie Leitch, allowed business leaders in life sciences, education, information technology and agriculture sectors to meet with licensing and regulatory experts who could help businesses navigate through the country’s economic quirks.
“I will be very aggressively exploring Brazil, and had I not been on this trip I would have left that for a much later date and that would have been a mistake,” Cross said.
“And so I’m really orienting myself more south rather than east.”