08/09/2011 10:59 EDT | Updated 10/09/2011 05:12 EDT

Stephen Harper Brazil Visit: Canada Needs To Be 'Friendlier' With Brazil


SAO PAULO - Stephen Harper is courting Brazilian business leaders, saying he wants to get "friendlier" when it comes to trade.

"Too much grass grows in the cracks on the road between our two great countries. It is time for increased ambition," the prime minister said in a lunchtime speech in the financial centre Sao Paulo.

"That is why I am here today. For today, although Brazil is Canada’s largest trading partner in South America, our two countries still did barely $6 billion in business last year, despite having combined GDPs of close to $4 trillion."

Harper noted the "humble total" was a 40 per cent increase from the year before, that two-way investment reached $23 billion last year, and that some 400 Canadian companies operate in Brazil.

"Still, when you do the math, total merchandise trade is still little more than one tenth of one per cent of our joint gross domestic product... For two friendly countries, I think we could be friendlier than that."

Earlier, at a round table with Canadian and Brazilian business leaders, Harper said policy-makers and executives are putting too much emphasis on the stock markets. He said that while the volatility in the markets has consequences, it shouldn't be overplayed.

"We put too much emphasis on this stuff," he said. "You know, it's way too easy to focus on the trillions that seem to be made or lost from movements on markets."

He said policy-makers and business leaders alike should focus on "fundamentals" and "a clear, long-term strategy to create jobs and wealth"

"What really matters is what we are doing here and that is focusing on mid-term and longer-term opportunities to create wealth, to create trade, to create enterprise, to create jobs.... That is what is really important.

"That's what we're doing, that's what we're doing here today and that's what we've got to continue doing, notwithstanding all the noise out there on international markets."

Harper is on a four-country tour of Latin America in an effort to boost trade and strengthen relations.