Stretching reed-like along the western coast of South America, The Republic of Chile has enjoyed a short but productive history with Canada; one which has been credited with providing Canadian society its first large-scale direct interaction with people from a Latin American nation. Prior to the 1940s, the two counties held no formal relations, shared little trade, and rarely saw immigration between their states. When the Second World War broke out, both Canada and Chile sought to consolidate their weak economic positions via commercial treaties and their first exchange of ambassadors. But by the mid-1950s, this trade had tapered, and over the next thirty years relations between the two countries remained quiet. It took a military coup d’état to change all that.
In 1973, the longstanding Chilean government was overthrown by a coalition of the armed forces. Hundreds of thousands of Chileans fled from the regime that followed; their diaspora reaching all the way into Canada. While the Canadian government reacted cumbersomely and sometimes offensively in responding to the thousands of new arrivals, many ordinary Canadians privately reached out via church groups and citizens organizations to support and settle the refugees. In turn, politically-active Chileans formed their own organizations to help settle later arrivals in their new home; with cities like Toronto and Edmonton becoming host to large Chilean Canadian populations. These organizations have since become part of numerous groups that now voice concerns behalf of Canada’s Latin American population. Today, more than 34,000 Chileans call Canada home.
Since the election of progressively democratic Chilean governments in the 1990s, Chile’s relationship with Canada has blossomed. In 1997, the two countries signed the Canada-Chile Free Trade Agreement; Canada’s first free trade agreement with a South American nation, and Chile’s first free trade agreement ever. By the end of 2012, CCFTA’s bilateral trade had tripled; with more than $2.5 billion in traded merchandise that year alone. Canadian exports to Chile include machinery, mineral ores, mineral fuels and oil, electrical and electronic machinery and equipment, and fats and oils; its imports include precious stones and metals, fruits, copper, fish and seafood, and beverages (mostly Chile’s world-renowned wine). Canadians have invested more than $13 billion in Chilean mining, utilities, chemicals, infrastructure, and financial services; becoming Chile’s single largest source of direct investment between 2002 and 2011.
Curiously, this trade between persons largely from the upper classes of both nations has created an impression among many Chileans that Canada’s population is composed exclusively of white, rich Europeans. Perhaps in response to this phenomenon, since 2007, Canada and Chile have been pursuing a road map to expanding and deepening their collaboration beyond the economic sphere through the Canada-Chile Partnership Framework. Canadian and Chilean officials regularly conduct visits to each other’s countries; with Chilean President Sebastián Piñera visiting Ottawa in May 2013. At the Canadian Embassy in the Chilean capital of Santiago, the Canadian defence relations section actively works with their Chilean counterparts to assess issues of security within Latin America. Approximately 28,500 Canadians tourists visited Chile in 2011, and Canadians have the option to travel and work in Chile for stays of up to six months. More than 120 agreements exist between Canadian and Chilean universities, colleges and technical institutes; making Canada among the top foreign study destinations for Chilean post-secondary students. In 2012, 631 young Chileans traveled to study and work in Canada under the International Experience Canada (youth mobility) program. In September 2013, the whimsically named “Penguins Without Borders” program brought forty grade-eleven Chilean students to Canada, where they are currently living with families in households across the country and attending Canadian high schools.
Canada’s relationship with Chile looks to remain prosperous and healthy.