When it comes to looking to manufacture overseas, most companies these days head straight for Asia.
Not so GeoTrac, a Calgary-based company that specializes in fleet-management technology that lets oil and gas companies keep track of their specialized vehicles, large and small.
After meeting representatives from Brazilian suppliers at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the company struck up a relationship. But the logistics weren’t exactly easy.
“There [were] 32 pieces of information that that Brazilian government needed before they’d let us in,” recalls Kevin MacDonald, GeoTrac’s vice-president of marketing and communications.
Even once the information had been rounded up, visas could only be acquired from the nearest consulate in Vancouver. The process stalled. Trade commissioners were called in (they suspected hitches in Canada’s bilateral ties, says Mr. MacDonald).
Even the services of a third-party company that would send representatives to hover over the service counters of balky foreign missions yielded nothing.
In the end, GeoTrac had to cancel its trip, and rebook once their visas showed up.
But Mr. MacDonald says it was worth it – both the productive manufacturing relationship the company has since enjoyed with its Brazilian suppliers, and the in-person trip itself.
Brazil is Canada’s tenth-largest trading partner (though in absolute terms, the amount pales in comparison to the amount of trade we do with partners like the United States and China) and the fifth most-populous country in the world, features a growing technology and resource sector, and a burgeoning middle class.
Like India and China, it’s one of the world’s ascendant economies. Where does a small business start to seize the opportunities?
There’s usually an element of plunging in feet first when entering a foreign market – but taking advantage of resources that are already out there can save time on learning lessons.
As always, explore both government and industry-specific organizations: Governments at the national and regional level, both in Canada and Brazil, are eager to facilitate trade, and industry groups want to advocate for and grow their sectors.
Meanwhile, Export Development Canada, an important port-of-call for businesses looking to export, maintains its own directory of frequently updated business reports from third-party consultancies (including taxation and investment guides), as well as its own data.
It’s also worth searching for trade reports from consultancies like PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and the Economist Intelligence Unit, which can help identify opportunities and flag potential trouble spots.
On the Brazilian side
The Brazilian government’s international trade resources are focused on BrasilGlobalNet , a government portal that provides a breakdown of trade and investment opportunities by state.
The Brazilian consulate in Toronto offers a long list of resources, some of which are dated, but still give a sense of the breadth of agencies ready to assist on the Brazilian side. (The consulate itself has a trade bureau that can assist.)
And the Brazil-Canada Chamber of Commerce , with chambers in Toronto and Montreal. offers a roundup of timely news articles, links to trade organization, as well as the event roster and community support that a chamber of commerce provides.
The cultural equation
As always, navigating the nuances of local culture can be a determinant of business success.
Peng-Sang Cau, the chief executive officer of Kingston, Ont.-basedTransformix , which makes automation technology for manufacturers, discovered a business culture that was adverse to saying “no” when his company came to open an office in Brazil.
Instead, the company encountered what she describes as “five shades of yes.”
Translating these nuances often falls to – well, a translator. Ms. Cau recommends searching for a veteran translator, who tendsto be more adept at capturing the gist of the conversation, not just the words.
“It’s important that you don’t hire someone young, who will wind up translating what you say verbatim,” she says. “The North American way of speaking is not the Brazilian way of speaking.”
Similarly, GeoTrac’sMr. MacDonald says that it’s hard to overstate the importance of the social end of things in Brazil. A business meeting might be productive, but going out afterwards might prove even more productive. Aalways take that opportunity.
“They want to meet you. They want to know you,” he says.
And that made the hassle of getting visas to visit the country in person fully worth the time and effort, says Mr. MacDonald.
In a relationship-driven business culture, he says, that personal contact simply isn’t optional.
“Do not think you’re going to be successful without meeting them face-to-face,” he says.