Address by Minister Baird to Vancouver Board of Trade

August 22, 2012 - Vancouver, British Columbia

Check Against Delivery

I’m pleased to be back in Vancouver, one of the truly great cities of the world and one of my favourite places.

I am honoured to be here.

And I’m honoured to be serving as your minister of foreign affairs.

Without a doubt, it’s an exciting time to be a foreign minister.

It’s an exciting time because we’re witnessing deep change in some of the darkest corners of the world.

It’s also a challenging time because, so often, the smallest, seemingly most inconsequential events can bring about profound change.

And often we cannot predict which events will bring about that change.

It reminds me of the days and weeks leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual collapse of Soviet rule.

It’s a little-known piece of history, but before the Berlin Wall came down, East Germans vocalized their demands for dignity in a public square better known as the home of the third-tallest structure in Europe: the Berliner Fernsehturm television tower.

It was at Alexanderplatz where East Germans gathered, chanting “wir wollen raus”—“we want out.”

Before long, those protesters migrated from Alexanderplatz to the Berlin Wall.

And still, 23 years ago, no one could have predicted that within days of young people taking to the Berlin Wall, they would have successfully used sledgehammers and chisels to tear the wall down and do away with 45 years of Soviet rule.

Just as we could not then have predicted the rapid end of the Cold War and the many transformative implications that would bring, we cannot now predict the lasting impacts one street vendor in Tunisia will have in shaping the future of the Middle East and North Africa in the months and years to come.

It’s almost easy to forget that the Arab Spring ignited when that Tunisian fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire to protest corruption and cronyism, starting a movement that has since captured the world’s attention.

The events that took place in Alexanderplatz and those that took place on the streets of Tunisia are not too dissimilar. East Berliners fought their revolution with chisels. Tunisians brought about theirs with fire. Each struggle had a different method. But each was, fundamentally, a struggle for dignity.

The dignity to live in freedom.

The dignity to contribute to society.

The dignity to provide for one’s family.

But as we continue to try to understand the scope and scale of current events in the Middle East, another, much quieter but equally fundamental, revolution is occurring in the Far East.

And that economic revolution under way in most of Asia is directly tied to Canada’s future prosperity.

That revolution, across the Pacific from this great province, can make waves of opportunity wash across our entire country.

You know, when a bamboo seedling is watered and fertilized during the first year, nothing happens.

It is watered and fertilized for another whole year.

And another.

And another.

And still nothing happens.

Then in the fifth year, something amazing happens: the bamboo shoots up to the sky.

It grows 90 feet in six weeks.

In those first five years, an enormous network of roots develops to support the bamboo’s sudden growth.

When the plant breaks through the ground, it may look like an overnight success, but it represents the fruit of years and years of hard labour.

And that is like Canada’s relations with Asia today.

For years, countries such as China, Singapore, India and Indonesia have methodically and patiently sown and nurtured the seeds of success. And they are seeing their economies shoot sky high.

Today, the International Monetary Fund believes that China’s economy will grow to almost $12 trillion in 2016.

Twelve trillion dollars.

At first, it may not seem like a large number.

But imagine this: with $12 trillion dollars, you could buy out the Toronto Stock Exchange, the NASDAQ, the London Stock Exchange and the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, combined.

Or you could cover the cost of every major U.S. war since the American Revolution and have $4 trillion to spare. And that’s adjusted for today’s dollar.

Simply put, it’s a lot of purchasing power.

But the Asia-Pacific transformation is not just about China.

It’s also about the Republic of Korea, India and the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations—especially Indonesia and Vietnam.

Singapore’s economy, for example, is expected to double within six years. It should come as no surprise: we know that with population growth, per capita GDP grows.

A recent report by HSBC predicted that, by the year 2050, 19 of the 30 largest economies will be in countries we now call “emerging.”

The numbers are simply staggering.

The economic potential is immense.

The demographic shift is monumental.

And Canada must be a part of it. It’s not a choice; it must be a national imperative.

Canada’s economic success hinges on the success of Western Canada, the gateway to Asia.

Just as the auto sector was galvanized by the Auto Pact in the 1960s, the whole country should be galvanized by the opportunities created by the West’s rise.

What’s good for British Columbia is good for me as an Ontarian; it’s good for all of us as Canadians.

And our government gets it.

It’s why I have visited Asia four times, including on my first trip upon becoming foreign minister.

It’s why I have recently committed more funding for projects in countries within the Association of South East Asian Nations.

And it’s why I was the first Canadian foreign minister to visit Burma.

We’re looking for new opportunities to build jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

We’re doing so while recognizing that pursuing an activist foreign policy in these exciting times is a delicate balancing act.

On one hand, it is an extension of our national interest. That means everything we do around the world aims to create long-term prosperity.

On the other hand, my job is to promote Canadian values: freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. And as you can imagine, this can be a challenge in parts of Asia.

How we promote these important Canadian values while creating economic opportunity will determine Canada’s success in a time of global transformation.

And we must get it right. Western Canada’s prosperity depends on it. Canada’s future economic prosperity depends on it.

The good news is that our relations with Asia are better and stronger.

In the last year, Canada’s governor general has made state visits to Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has visited Thailand, China, South Korea and Japan. Ed Fast, our minister of international trade, has visited China, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Japan. And I recently returned from a trip that included stops in China, Cambodia, the Philippines and Brunei. Our ministers of national defence and international cooperation have paid multiple visits to the region.

These engagements are paying off.

Earlier this year, under the leadership of Prime Minister Harper, we were pleased to conclude substantial negotiations on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement with China.

We also agreed to continue cooperation in the field of education. Already there are 68,000 Chinese students studying in Canada every year. These students put an estimated $2 billion a year into the Canadian economy.

On my most recent trip, I signed a nuclear cooperation agreement that will secure jobs in Saskatchewan’s nuclear industry.

These emerging markets are keen to partner with Canada, because we have what others want.

Global energy needs will increase by 50 percent by 2030, with the increase driven largely by Asia.

So when I meet with my counterparts around the world, I consistently build up Canada’s reputation as a resource superpower.

People’s jaws drop when I tell people we have the third-largest proven oil reserves in the world; many don’t know this.

Many don’t fully appreciate that we’re among the top producers of copper, nickel, zinc and uranium.

And for many, the statistics generated by B.C.’s forestry sector, for instance, are simply unfathomable.

B.C. shipped $668-million worth of lumber to China in 2010 alone. That’s double the value shipped a year earlier.

In 2011, B.C. exported almost $4.6-billion worth of goods to Japan; the top three commodities were coal, copper and lumber.

There is huge demand for these resources. And it’s time for Canada to take full advantage of our blessings.

We must remind the world that Canada can be a source of stability in an unstable world; that Canada can be a trusted partner in developing its resources responsibly.

But we know that success doesn’t happen on its own.

John Wooden, the great American basketball coach, once said that “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

That’s why our government takes nothing for granted. We’re preparing for the future by creating the conditions for success. We simply won’t put all our eggs in one basket.

We’re supporting the Keystone XL pipeline because it will create tens of thousands of jobs throughout North America.

We’re aggressively supporting new investment in energy projects over the next decade because here in British Columbia there’s enough shale gas to meet Canada’s needs for a hundred years.

We’re seeking a new trade agreement with Europe because it means billions of dollars in benefits for the Canadian economy.

Canada welcomes the support of the members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] for our participation in the TPP negotiations. Joining the negotiations is a key pillar of Canada’s ambitious pro-trade plan and will strengthen our efforts to broaden and deepen our trading relationships with Asia-Pacific markets. We’re actively working to complete free trade agreements with India, Japan and South Korea because these emerging markets present tremendous economic potential.

We’re committed to an ambitious trade agenda because we know that by promoting Canadian values abroad, we position Canada for success at home.

Like our resources, Canadian values are the envy of the world. We support freedom, democracy and respect for the rule of law, and we don’t apologize for it. These values are universal: people in every corner of the world, including the Asia-Pacific region, cherish them. They form the bedrock of prosperous countries.

Our foreign policy includes the promotion of our values, but we recognize that it is up to people to pursue their own rights.

And we’re seeing it happen in countries such as Burma, where people are engaged in a struggle to claim their individual rights, to express their views, to voice their concerns and to have a say in how they are governed.

They want the chance to benefit from the rewards of this century’s open societies.

They want what we all want: hope and opportunity, the building blocks of stability and prosperity in any society.

Canada stands ready to help them.

Thankfully, if the last 12 months are any measure of what we should expect for the future, things are looking up for the people of Burma.

I can’t believe that it has only been just a little over a year since I first met my Burmese counterpart and demanded that his government demonstrate its commitment to reform through concrete actions.

When we met that July day, Canada still had the toughest sanctions of any country against the Burmese regime.

But shortly after that meeting something remarkable happened. In October, Burmese authorities released a number of political prisoners. We saw it as promising sign but called on Burmese authorities to uphold and protect democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law for all Burmese people.

Then the Burmese authorities allowed one of Burma’s great champions of change, Aung San Suu Kyi, to run in a by-election, releasing her from 21 years of arrest. This too, was a promising sign, but we remained cautiously optimistic, holding our breath until the April 1 by-elections, waiting to see if voting would be conducted without violence or intimidation.

But rather than wait from afar, I paid a visit to Burma and urged Burmese authorities to guarantee free and fair elections. I also pledged Canada’s legal expertise in democratic reform and vowed to help build a better future for Burma.

When the elections came and went without violence or intimidation, when Aung San Suu Kyi and her party won seats, and when she was sworn into parliament as an opposition leader, we were excited to witness Burma apparently taking the road to democracy.

We’re fully aware that these are just baby steps. Burma has a long road ahead. It’s a long road we’re ready to help them navigate. Last month, I announced our plans to open an embassy in Burma. Canada stands ready to assist the Burmese government in any capacity to build on the democratic fundamentals and the freedoms and rights of their people, including freedom of religion.

It is in our interest to help those people who are seeking to create a free society, to give a voice to the voiceless and to enable every individual to live in peace and security.

The bottom line is that economic opportunity, whether ours or that of those beyond our borders, rests on free, transparent and open societies. Canada’s foreign policy will continue to support the development of these societies in the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere. We have a shared interest in ensuring this development happens.

In the last year, I’ve learned that relationships matter. They matter because economic prosperity is directly linked to our diplomatic relationships. Diplomatic relationships are increasingly linked to our economic ties, which means building economic prosperity for all Canadians requires us to build our trade ties with the Asia-Pacific region.

We have planted the seeds for our future prosperity. And just as Chinese bamboo requires years of nourishment before it sprouts from the ground, the seeds we have planted in the Asia-Pacific region will sprout only if we continue to nourish them.

Our economic prosperity depends on it.

Rest assured, our government will do its part.

Thank you.