Transcript – Miniseries on Sustainable Development Goals, Episode 3: Trade and the Sustainable Development Goals in Brazil with Heather Cameron

Alexandre Lévêque: Heather Cameron has been making Canada shine abroad since she joined the department in the 1990s. Working in the international development field, she had a number of assignments overseas. During her career, she served in Zimbabwe in Regional Humanitarian Affairs, in Mozambique as Director of Development and in Ghana, as Canada’s high commissioner. Her significant experience has brought her to São Paulo in Brazil, where she and her team deliver services to Canadian clients and partners, advancing Canada’s trade and policy priorities in the southern region of Brazil.

Hello dear listeners, this is Alexandre Lévêque, Assistant Deputy Minister of Strategic Policy at Global Affairs Canada. Welcome to this miniseries on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with Heather Cameron. Together, we will explore the relationship between trade and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Heather, welcome to the podcast.

Heather Cameron: Thank you. Great to be here.

Alexandre Lévêque: Before we begin, I would like to point out that this episode is part of a 3-part podcast miniseries on the SDGs. To respect Canada’s Official Languages Act, I invite our guest to speak in the language of her choice. Heather, let’s begin. Could you explain for our listeners what exactly is your role as consul general?

Heather Cameron: I’m here based in São Paulo, Brazil, one of the world’s largest cities, to represent and advance Canada’s priorities in the 4 southern states of Brazil. So trade, investment, foreign direct investment attraction, very big parts of the job, but also we have a large responsibility to Canadians in need of consular assistance and other priorities to advance, for example, in the areas of gender equality, environment, etc.

Alexandre Lévêque: Indeed. And many people would be jealous to hear about your experiences living in Brazil. Can you share some of your favourite experiences or anecdotes that really mark your time as consul general?

Heather Cameron: Well, without question: the pandemic, whether it was helping Canadians get home, just helping our staff through that and then thinking through how to innovate and how to serve abroad in a very difficult context in a very urban setting. But so glad things have opened up now and that we’re able to get out and explore this beautiful country a little bit more, and it’s great to welcome back so many Canadians who are here in the areas of education, trade and others and to see how they advance the relationship between Canada and Brazil.

Alexandre Lévêque: Now, as our listeners know, SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] are universal, they mean different things to different countries; how has the context evolved and how are they relevant in the Brazilian context?

Heather Cameron: Brazil was very engaged actually on the Sustainable Development Goals, including here in the city of São Paulo, the state of São Paulo and other actors. And, in fact, a UN-led organization called the Global Compact, which brings together private sector actors to help advance the SDGs, its largest chapter globally is based here in Brazil. And so there’s quite a broad societal engagement on the SDGs offering lots of inspiration and lots of opportunities to connect.

Alexandre Lévêque: You, in your career, have made some changes or interesting moves that not every foreign service can claim to have done. You were much more of a development expert, and now, I would argue, in São Paulo, the bulk of your work is focused on trade and on helping Canadian companies in Brazil. That’s a pretty significant change in career trajectory. First of all, if you wouldn’t mind taking a minute to walk us through why that change and speak a little bit about how that came about for you?

Heather Cameron: Well, I’m grateful that [the] Canadian foreign service and the public service offers us a chance to serve abroad and to bring different strengths to different jobs. And, of course, development is a social and economic process that all countries are engaged in. Regardless, there’s always room for improvement. And so, the private sector and the role of the private sector, the role of trade, is always a big part of the development process even if in different countries… Canada chooses to target its official development assistance towards a particular vulnerable group or towards a particular issue. Without question, the overall development trajectory in any particular context really requires a strong active private sector and… to create those jobs, to create that wealth. And so perhaps it’s not quite as big a shift from an SDG perspective as it might be seen.

Alexandre Lévêque: So I’m hearing a lot of complementarity. And would you say in a way that your training or your experience as a development officer has helped you, has contributed to you being a better senior trade commissioner, the head trade commissioner in São Paulo?

Heather Cameron: I would say yes, I think it’s helped make a great consul general, especially when we look at priorities like clean tech and responsible business conduct and the opportunities to advance with Canadian technologies on really important things like energy transition. And so being aware, I think, more broadly of the contributions that can be made really helps advance opportunities for Canadian companies within those frameworks.

Alexandre Lévêque: I’d like to circle back a little bit to the SDGs themselves. How does Canada’s inclusive approach to trade contribute to meeting the SDGs in Brazil?

Heather Cameron: I think our inclusive approach to trade, part of it comes through trade policy and the kind of dialogue that we have with different countries about the differential impacts of trade, about norms and standards for trade… and those create opportunities for entrepreneurs. And that’s really important. If I share an example, you know, a small company from southern Ontario that has some amazing wastewater technology that’s now being used by some of the largest public utilities in the world.

And so to see our department encouraging small, medium enterprises to export, to see them having export success in an area that also helps, directly relate to, SDGs such as responsible consumption and production, clean water and sanitation…that really brings a smile to my face and really makes me feel very positive about how Canadian exporters can contribute to the achievement of SDGs, not just here in Brazil, not just in Canada, but around the world.

Alexandre Lévêque: Heather, these are great success stories. Can you also tell us about some of the challenges you face in this job?

Heather Cameron: In large markets, there is always competition, and for us here at the Consulate General, it is important that we offer the best advice to our Canadian exporters. But there is still work to be done to raise awareness in the private sector, to raise public awareness of the potential of the SDGs to advance - through economic growth - our priorities. So there are people who may want to cut corners, who may not want to meet the standards, etc. That's not the way to do it. That's not the way to do business for Canada or for others, and an important request from citizens now is to have products that are well founded on the environmental and social level. So I think we're making progress, but it's important to make progress as quickly as possible.

Alexandre Lévêque:  We don't have much time left for this podcast. I would like to end on a positive note. Heather, I’m curious to hear from your point of view are there reasons to be hopeful when it comes to implementing the SDGs?

Heather Cameron: Well I know that there’s a lot of challenges globally. In terms of the future, I’m really excited about what’s happening locally… and so many companies coming in with some great solutions, whether it’s to optimize renewable energy performance, whether it’s to help with food storage or more efficient production of almost anything. There, I think we’re making some progress there. The private sector is having some great roles and great opportunities, and so when I see those successes happening, that’s what gives me energy; that’s what helps keep us motivated and so pleased to be working on behalf of Canadian companies to help advance in these areas and others.

Alexandre Lévêque: Very good words to end on. Heather, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure talking with you today.

Heather Cameron: Thank you very much.

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