Address by Minister Baird to ASEAN-Canada Ministerial Meeting

July 11, 2012 - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Check Against Delivery

My objective today is not only to assess what we have accomplished over the past year—which is quite substantial—but also to look ahead and discuss how we can work jointly to elevate the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Canada relationship to its full potential.

Canada is paying close attention to ASEAN. There is an atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm about this region and the potential of bolstering our relationship with it.

Increasing Canadian presence through action

Just a few years ago, ASEAN was calling on Canada to take an active role in the ASEAN region.

I can tell you that we have not only heard your calls, we have backed up our commitments with action. Over the past 12 months:

  • Canada’s Governor General David Johnston made state visits to Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia in November. This was his first trip abroad in that role.
  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper paid an official visit to Thailand and China. Both the Minister of International Trade Ed Fast and I accompanied him on that trip to build our ASEAN connections.
  • Minister Fast travelled extensively throughout the region, including visits to Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.
  • Canada’s Minister of National Defence Peter MacKay attended the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and later visited Thailand.
  • And I made a historic visit to Naypyidaw and Rangoon in March, the first-ever visit to Burma by a Canadian foreign minister.

Changes to sanctions against Burma

The positive steps taken in Naypyidaw toward democratic development and change deserve special mention. One year ago at this very conference, I was not so optimistic.

But as you know, Canada recently announced an easing of its sanctions. Most of the prohibitions related to exports, imports, investment and financial transactions have now been suspended.

This step will help facilitate stronger relations between our countries and between Canada and the region as a whole.

We hope that the progress to date will continue and lead to the consolidation of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and Canada stands ready to support that transition.

That said, Canada urges Naypyidaw to go even further to improve conditions for human rights. This would include, among other things, the release of all remaining political prisoners and the halting of all conflict in ethnic minority areas.

Canada-ASEAN cooperation: an enduring and growing relationship

Colleagues, the level of cooperation and engagement that underpins ASEAN-Canada relations is growing every year.

Beyond the adoption and implementation of our plan of action and Canada’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, there have been some notable developments over the past year.

Last October, the new ASEAN-Canada Joint Declaration on Trade and Investment was adopted. This joint declaration represents the very first commercial instrument between us.

Canada’s Minister of International Trade is looking forward to meeting, for the very first time, all ASEAN economic ministers in late August. Minister Fast is committed to finding ways to broaden commercial ties through expanded trade and investment opportunities for our business communities.

Canada continues to be a significant contributor to ASEAN’s community-building objectives. The Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA’s) total aid to Southeast Asia reached $134 million in fiscal year 2010-2011. CIDA’s regional programming aligns with ASEAN objectives, with a significant portion of this cooperation dedicated to supporting ASEAN’s human rights bodies and disaster risk reduction.

Canada remains a staunch supporter of the protection and promotion of human rights around the world. We have lauded the creation of ASEAN’s new human rights bodies. I would like to encourage the ASEAN family to ensure that ASEAN’s new human rights declaration builds on the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights and to ensure that there is an open and transparent process toward its finalization.

Canada attaches great importance to freedom of religion, and the freedom to practice that religion free of persecution and free of fear. It is my true hope that ASEAN members will reflect on the importance Canada places on this fundamental human right and keep it top of mind during future deliberations.

Canada is a Pacific nation. We have a keen interest in the evolution of the region’s evolving architecture. ASEAN now finds itself at the core of important developments in the region’s architecture, namely the East Asia Summit (EAS) and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM-Plus).

We continue to follow very closely the EAS and the ADMM+ and their future direction.

Colleagues, as a demonstration of Canada’s heightened commitment to ASEAN, and in the context of our anniversary year [35 years of Canada-ASEAN relations], it is my great pleasure to announce a $10-million funding commitment dedicated to ASEAN-related projects over three years, including projects in the area of connectivity.

We very much look forward to working with the ASEAN Secretariat, other ASEAN bodies and ASEAN member states towards the effective implementation of this funding commitment.

Conclusion

Colleagues, this meeting marks the end of Thailand’s term as Canada’s country coordinator in ASEAN.

Under Thailand’s guidance, the ASEAN-Canada relationship has grown substantively over the past three years. From the adoption of our plan of action to Canada’s accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, I would like to personally recognize Thailand’s energy and enthusiasm.

A strong foundation has been laid, and I am confident that the next three years will bring further momentum with Singapore as Canada’s incoming country coordinator.

I would also like to recognize our host, Cambodia, for the excellent organization of this meeting, and to wish it continued success in its remaining months as chair of ASEAN.

Thank you.