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Canada a priority country for Paraguay’s president

By Marie-Danielle Smith      

Paraguayan ambassador all about hospitality and co-operation; Canadian named director of Canada Institute in Washington.

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Before the handshake is over, the new Paraguayan ambassador to Canada, Julio Cesar Arriola Ramirez, will start telling you all about his nearest and dearest.

He and his wife, Adriana, have been together for more than 30 years and married for 28.

His daughter, Macarena, is 24. She’s getting married on the fourth of July. He couldn’t be prouder. Her younger sister, Micaela, studies finance in Kansas City.

Their older brother, Fernando, used to work in New York, but now he’s back in Paraguay. The youngest, Julio, 14, is excited to come to Canada after his school semester ends at home. He’s going to join the Canadian public school system in September.

“I have to tell you this,” Mr. Arriola Ramirez said in an interview with Embassy June 15, two weeks after he presented his credentials at Rideau Hall. “I love my family.”

It could’ve gone without saying.

President’s choice

Mr. Arriola Ramirez said he’s here by special request from the Paraguayan president, Horacio Cartes, who sees Canada as a priority country.

With previous postings at the United Nations and the Organization of American States, he’s no stranger to multilateral initiatives.

Beyond improving commerce and investment—Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada puts bilateral trade at $36 million and identifies Paraguay as an emerging priority market—Paraguay wants to learn from Canadian expertise in a few specific areas.

For one, the country is sitting on the UN Human Rights Committee for the first time. “You have been there for many years. We need your expertise in democracy,” said Mr. Arriola Ramirez. He said he wants to get parliamentarians from Canada and congresspeople from Paraguay to visit each other.

Canada and Paraguay have a few things in common: both are officially bilingual—Paraguayans speak a native language, Guarani, as well as Spanish—and both are major electricity and beef exporters. There are many reasons to develop a closer relationship, Mr. Arriola Ramirez said.

Paraguay has a wealth of national parks to protect, too, so Canada’s history of preserving parkland has not gone unnoticed by the new ambassador.

Statistics and education

Very little, in fact, seems to have gone unnoticed.

Mr. Arriola Ramirez is a man of numbers. He can list off Canadian and Paraguay positions on various world rankings. For example, Canada’s number eight in beef exports and Paraguay’s number five or six depending on how well it competes with Uruguay.

He knows the square kilometerage of both countries—“Canada is 25 times bigger than Paraguay!”—and he knows the ages of key ministers in his government. The finance minister is 36, the public works minister is 44 and the commerce minister is 51. "Our president, he likes to work with young people," said Mr. Arriola Ramirez.

Another key stat: about 9,000 Canadians live in Paraguay, most of them Mennonites, Mr. Arriola Ramirez said. According to DFATD, those 9,000 are the ones who retained Canadian citizenship out of a community of 15,200 Paraguayan Mennonites of Canadian origin. "The majority of Canadian visitors to Paraguay have some connection to the Mennonite community," says DFATD's web page on bilateral relations between the two countries.

About 9,000 Paraguayans live in Canada, too, Mr. Arriola Ramirez said. He hopes to add a contingent of Paraguayan master’s and PhD students to that number and is close to signing an agreement with the CALDO consortium of universities.

“You have the best universities in the world in your country and we are aware of that,” he said, adding 70 per cent of Paraguay’s seven million people are under the age of 30. “Investing in education is a key issue for our country.”

Friends and solid soup

Family is important for Mr. Arriola Ramirez. So are friends. “We like to have friends from everywhere,” he said.

Along with his postings in Washington and New York, he spent five-and-a-half years in Argentina and four years in Costa Rica.

“I was 24 years ago in Argentina. My friends from Argentina, they are going to Paraguay very often to pay a visit. The people from Washington do the same, the people from Costa Rica do the same and the people from New York do the same,” he said.

“I would love the people from Canada going to Paraguay and saying hello and staying with me there in Paraguay.”

Mr. Arriola Ramirez is an avid sportsman. He said he still holds some national records in Paraguayan track and field, but he since moved on to rugby and volleyball. These days, he plays a lot of soccer.

So, while in Ottawa, he plans to find a soccer team to join. He also plans to take advantage of Canada’s fishing paradise, and, in the winter, skate on the canal with his youngest son, he said.

And, of course, he’ll be exhibiting Paraguayan hospitality, inviting new friends over for dinner.

“The Paraguayan soup is a solid. It’s like a cake,” he said, talking about some of his favourite dishes from home. “It’s delicious…I’m pretty sure you will be able to go to my house and try that recipe and learn how to do it.”

Laura Dawson named director of Canada Institute

One of Ottawa’s most influential foreign policy experts has moved south of the border to take up directorship of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Centre in Washington.

Laura Dawson was named one of Canada’s top 100 foreign policy influencers by The Hill Times last year.

She was most recently a senior advisor on economic affairs at the US Embassy in Ottawa, where she had a hand in the negotiation of the Canada-US Beyond the Border Strategy. She also taught international trade and Canada-US relations at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs.

Ms. Dawson has stayed on as a consultant with her firm, Dawson Strategic, which provides trade, market access and regulatory advice to the business world. She’s also a fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and a board member with the Council of the Great Lakes Region.

Ms. Dawson was in Ottawa last week participating in a panel discussion about intellectual property protection within the potential framework of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A report she published in May titled “Slow and Steady Will Not Win the Race” suggested the Canadian government needs to move aggressively toward better intellectual property protection, especially in the life sciences field.

That's not the only strong opinion held by Ms Dawson. On June 12, Ms. Dawson expressed as director of the Canada Institute that Canada needs to prioritize its trade partnerships with the US and Mexico instead of looking for free-trade deals with farther-away markets.

That echoes a report tabled by the foreign affairs committee in Canada’s woebegotten Senate the same day, which suggested Canada needs to develop a much stronger relationship with Mexico and take advantage of its significant economic potential. The report quotes Ms. Dawson extensively, since she appeared as a witness to the committee.

“A closer trade engagement with Mexico holds a great deal of promise to provide the greatest rewards at the lowest risk,” Ms. Dawson said in a Canada Institute press release.

Ms. Dawson replaces David Biette, a former Consul General in New York, who has taken on a new position at the Canada Institute as senior advisor and director of the Polar Initiative.


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