Opening Remarks by Minister Cannon at ASEAN-Canada Ministerial Meeting

No. 2010/49 - Hanoi, Vietnam - July 22, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It is my great pleasure to participate in this post-ministerial-conference session. These gatherings are important to Canada.

Allow me to thank our host and ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] chair, Vietnam, for arranging this meeting and for the warm hospitality. I wish to also extend my appreciation to our country coordinator, Thailand, for its work in coordinating the various meetings with Canada over the past several months.

Strengthening bilateral ties

The ASEAN economy boasts impressive numbers.

With a population exceeding 590 million, a combined gross domestic product of more than $1.5 trillion in 2009, and the relatively rapid emergence of ASEAN economies from the recent global economic slowdown, ASEAN is considered one of the world’s fastest-growing and most dynamic regions.

I’m pleased that Canada-ASEAN bilateral trade and investment has grown over the past few years and that it has fared relatively well despite the global economic downturn. Bilateral merchandise trade has increased by 19 percent between 2005 and 2009.

ASEAN is an important commercial partner for Canada, collectively representing one of Canada’s largest bilateral trading partners in terms of merchandise trade. Furthermore, ASEAN benefits from a healthy merchandise trade surplus with Canada, exporting twice as much to Canada as it imports.

We believe that existing commercial links between ASEAN and Canada could be strengthened through the conclusion of the ongoing trade and investment framework arrangement negotiations. With some political will on both sides, agreement is within reach.

But our relationship is about much more than numbers.

Canada is proud to be one of ASEAN’s oldest dialogue partners, dating back to 1977. Our relationship is founded on people-to-people and institutional links, and based on mutual respect and a shared commitment to fundamental freedoms and democratic governance.

We value our long-standing relationship with ASEAN as one that has matured over the past three decades.

But rather than recount the breadth of our historical ties, I would prefer to focus today on the accomplishments achieved since last year’s post-ministerial conference, accomplishments made possible through our commitment to furthering relations.

I’m delighted we have before us today a solid plan of action that will guide our cooperative activities over the next five years. This plan will build upon previous work plans and contribute to ASEAN’s ambitious community-building efforts.

Canada will be acceding to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. Canadian accession to the treaty is a clear demonstration of our strong commitment to ASEAN and our desire to find viable ways to reinforce our special bond.

This is an important year for Canada, an international year. As you all know, Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper hosted the G-8 and G-20 summits last month. These two meetings produced concrete outcomes, and we are pleased that Vietnam, as ASEAN chair, and ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan participated in the G-20 Summit in Toronto.

The Canadian government is creating new ASEAN-dedicated positions across our diplomatic missions in the ASEAN region. We are confident that these new resources, referred to as Canada’s “ASEAN Network,” will help identify new opportunities to strengthen our ties in the region.

ASEAN community-building efforts

ASEAN has set for itself an ambitious road map toward the establishment of an “ASEAN Community” by 2015. Since the adoption of the ASEAN Charter in December 2008, commendable progress has been achieved.

We have followed with interest the developments that led to the establishment of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights as well as the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children.

Canada assisted ASEAN in drafting the Terms of Reference for the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, and we look forward to working with ASEAN to support the Commission through the ASEAN-Canada Plan of Action.

Canada closely monitors human rights in Southeast Asia and around the world. The promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms are pillars of Canadian society, as are democracy and the rule of law. Canada congratulates ASEAN on the establishment of these two human rights bodies, and we continue to urge ASEAN members to protect human rights fully.

Canada views the promotion and protection of human rights in Southeast Asia as a key requirement for ASEAN members to realize their full political, economic and human potential.

In this regard, Canada has grave concerns regarding Burma’s disregard for human rights and repression of the country’s democratic forces. New electoral laws did little to change this. As the 2010 election approaches, Canada urges the government of Burma to respect and abide by international standards and human rights principles by conducting a process that is free, fair, inclusive and transparent.

Credible elections must be preceded by the unconditional release of all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, and genuine dialogue between the government, members of the democratic opposition and ethnic groups.

Conclusion

Canada is a country of the Pacific; our expanding trade, investment and political engagement and our well-established people-to-people links reflect this reality.

We are actively engaged in the Asia-Pacific region as an active member of the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC and are keenly interested in new developments in Asia-Pacific initiatives. The ASEAN-Canada post-ministerial conference process will continue to be an important part of this engagement.

We consider our relationship with ASEAN integral to sustaining cooperation on issues that span the Pacific, and we look forward to strengthening our important friendship.

I am looking forward to our discussions today.

Thank you.