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Brazil–Canada relations have been cordial but relatively limited, although the relationship between the two countries has been gradually evolving over time.
Prior to the 1820s Brazil and Canada were both colonies of European powers, and had no direct contacts. Brazil's independence was much earlier than Canada's, and British control of Canada's relations with foreign governments lasted well into the early 20th century.
However, trade was important enough that Canada opened its first trade office in Brazil in 1866. Canada’s Embassy in Brazil did not open until 1944, with Jean Désy as Canada’s first Ambassador to Brazil. In May 1941, Brazil opened a legation in Ottawa. The first Brazilian Ambassador to Canada was João Alberto Lins de Barros.
Today, in addition to the embassy in Brasilia, Canada is also represented by consulates general in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, a trade office in Belo Horizonte and a Canadian International Development Agency office in Recife.
Cold War politics also got in the way: while Canada was a founding member of the Atlantic Alliance and was closely associated with US policies, Brazil was an observer at the Non-Aligned Movement and its leaders held sometimes cool views of United States. Canada was very disconnected from Latin America and did not join the Organization of American States until 1990.
The 1990s saw the relations become more important to both countries as trade and investment links grew, and Canada became interested in regional trade agreements in Latin America. These increasing economic ties lead to several disputes, however.
The two-way trade reached C$5.3 billion in 2008, making Brazil Canada's second largest market in Latin America. Accumulated Canadian investments in Brazil were estimated at C$9.2 billion in 2008/2009.
Economic and diplomatic relations famously sunk to all-time lows between 1996 and 2001 because of several disputes over trade policy.
The main bone of contention stems from the rivalry between aerospace manufacturers Bombardier of Canada and Embraer of Brazil. Each is a major player in the market for regional jets. In 1996, Canada went to the World Trade Organization alleging that the Brazilian state was subsidizing Embraer's costs, and Brazil filed a counter-claim. In 1999 the WTO ruled that both parties were at fault, and told both countries to clean up their export-promotion programs. Canada complied but Brazil did not, leading the WTO to grant Canada the right to levy C$344.2 million in sanctions a year for six years against Brazil, although the sanction did not go into force.
In February 2001, Canada instituted a temporary ban on Brazilian beef, over fears of BSE ("mad-cow disease"), despite Brazil having no cases. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) obligated both the United States and Mexico to also ban the import of Brazilian beef. Brazilians saw this as a political move linked to the aircraft dispute, and soon retaliated. The Brazilian Congress voted to suspend the ratification of all treaties with Canada, and popular protests and boycotts against Canada were organized. The ban was lifted three weeks after an inspection by a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) team.
Canada and Brazil have also clashed over the proposed Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, which Canada's government actively promoted. Brazilian then-President Fernando Henrique Cardoso viewed the proposal more coolly and preferred to create a South American bloc and then negotiate with the United States and Canada from a position of strength. The failure of the FTAA and the creation of the Union of South American Nations seems to have vindicated Brazil's position.
Other disputes have included "Brazilian suspicions of Canada’s relationship and perceived automatic alignment with the United States, and Brazil's claims that Canada has failed to recognize its economic weight and importance as a regional and international actor."
Outside of trade policy, relations have been much warmer. The foreign-policy making groups in each country tend to value multilateralism and human security. Canada is not necessarily opposed to Brazil's main goals of international recognition as a great power, and regional integration in South America. Canada's main goal in the region is to prevent the emergence of hostile trade blocs separating North and South America, and to ensure Canada has reliable market access.
Sub-national ties are friendly as well. Ties and exchanges between states and provinces, cities, universities, scientific research, cultural and non-governmental organizations, are important. Canadian universities and colleges received more than 4,000 Brazilian students in 1999 (a record), while by 2006, almost 12,000 visas were issued to Brazilians to study in Canada, making Canada the number one study abroad destination for Brazilians. Over a dozen Canadian Studies Centres have been established in Brazilian schools. Both countries' largest cities Toronto and São Paulo are part of a twinning agreement. Approximately 50,000 Brazilians per year visit Canada as tourists, and about one third that many Canadians visit Brazil.