Address by Minister Baird to Canadian Council of Chief Executives

September 24, 2012 - Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

I’m honoured to participate in this timely and important conference and to speak to you about the increasingly important role of the Asia-Pacific region in Canada’s foreign policy.

Our government is tremendously excited by the opportunities the region offers for our nation’s long-term prosperity.

Yes, the economic potential is immense, but we’re also excited about the evolving political transformation and the monumental demographic shifts taking place across the Asia-Pacific region. From Mumbai to Manila,  you can feel the pulse of a region undergoing profound change.

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

The Asia-Pacific region matters to our government because it is full of new opportunities to expand Canada’s economic prosperity.

It’s crystal clear to Prime Minister Harper and me that as Asia continues to prosper, the implications for Canada are immediate and they are profound.

But you already know that.

And, quite frankly, so too does our government.

So, rather than go on at length about why our government is making the Asia-Pacific region a foreign policy priority, I want to talk to you about what we’re actually doing in the region, about our full-scale engagement on four fronts.

The first is trade.

It’s no secret our government has been leading the most ambitious trade agenda in Canadian history.

We’re aggressive in our pursuits to build long-term prosperity for Canadians, and we don’t apologize for that.

But we’ve also learned some tough lessons.

Continued economic uncertainty requires us to improve links with growing Asian economies and to diversify our trade ties.

We know that we have a lot of work to do on this front. While we have completed nine free trade agreements since 2006, we have yet to complete one with any country in Asia.

This sobering reality is a constant reminder that this region cannot be taken for granted. We have no room for complacency.

For this reason, we have made our relations with Asia a top foreign policy priority.

We have made 77 cabinet-level or Prime Ministerial visits to the Asia-Pacific in the past three years alone. Last year, our Governor General made first-ever visits to Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore.

Under the stewardship of my esteemed colleague, the Minister of International Trade, Ed Fast, Canada is pursuing agreements with India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and we may pursue agreements with Thailand.

We have joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations with 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

This strategic partnership will open new markets and create new business opportunities to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for all Canadians.

It will enhance trade in the Asia-Pacific region while providing greater economic opportunity for Canadian businesses. I’m confident the TPP will set a high standard that the Doha Round has failed to achieve.

We’re also looking closely at options to deepen Canada’s ties with the Pacific Alliance, a new grouping of globally oriented western hemispheric partners that includes Chile, Mexico, Peru and Colombia.

Prime Minister Harper has placed special focus on these countries. They have open economies, free trade agreements with Canada, and are committed to further liberalizing trade with one another to use their collective market as a platform to extend political and economic relations in the Asia Pacific region.

Through the Prime Minister’s resolve, strong leadership and engagement with Chinese President Hu Jintao, we signed—earlier this month—a Foreign Investment protection Agreement with China—an agreement which will underpin our important economic partnership.

That same week, I visited my Indian counterparts, and we recognized the enormous economic potential of the Indian market and are committed to concluding trade negotiations. We are working toward concluding negotiations on a free trade agreement with South Korea and are redoubling our efforts to conclude a comprehensive economic partnership with Japan.

Just this weekend, I hosted my Korean counterpart, to push the conclusion of negotiations. Our government wants an ambitious deal with that economic powerhouse. We are working to conclude one that will create jobs, growth and prosperity in Canada and Korea.

While some have suggested that Canada should consider launching all sorts of new trade talks, our government is committed to concluding the agreements already under negotiation.

So that was the first topic I wanted to talk to you about—our commitment to establishing an ambitious trade agenda in the Asia-Pacific.

The second is regional security and governance.

Just as we know that the Asia-Pacific region is critical to creating expanded economic opportunity for Canadians, we also know that economic opportunity is enhanced by stable and secure markets in regions devoid of conflict. Security and prosperity go hand in hand.

And Canada has a role to play in helping our partners in the region chart a path toward better governance. We’re making important contributions to foster peace and security in the region.

We’re actively participating in APEC’s Counter-Terrorism Task Force. Canada also co-chaired an ASEAN regional forum on counterterrorism earlier this year.

We have established regular counterterrorism consultations with China and India, to deepen our cooperation. We’re helping states prevent and respond to terrorism by providing training and equipment, technical and legal assistance.

Last year, Prime Minister Harper, while in Bangkok, announced significant funding to fight human smuggling in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

This includes funding for communications and navigation equipment for the Royal Thai police, along with specialized training.

This builds capacity in Thailand and helps fight crime before it arrives on our shores.

Through the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, Canada is supporting the creation of intelligence units in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand that will respond to maritime smuggling activities across Southeast Asia.

Through the Canadian International Development Agency, we’re working to prevent shocks as diverse as financial crises, natural disasters and humanitarian catastrophes before they happen. This is far less costly than responding after the fact.

That’s why, in the Philippines, Canada is helping build a people-centred early-warning system as a means of enhancing local capacity for risk reduction and strengthening community resilience to the effects of natural disasters.

In Vietnam, we’re helping to bolster national disaster prevention, response and mitigation measures.

And we’re contributing to the Asian Development Bank’s efforts to shield developing countries from the worst of the global economic crisis.

Canada, of course, will continue to respond to calls to help as we did in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Japan, where we provided assistance to help respond to the nuclear emergency.

We remain concerned about a much more serious nuclear threat: nuclear terrorism. It presents a significant global security challenge. We have invested in nuclear radiological security projects in the region. And we have been working with the United States on a project in Vietnam to convert one reactor to run on non-weapons nuclear materials. We’re also helping to secure these materials.

We’re making unprecedented investments in the region. And Canada will engage our counterparts on a growing range of regional and global issues because we are there, on the ground.

Our diplomats are engaged.

I’m engaged.

We’re forging new ties to become key builders of the growing governance architecture of the region.

To be an effective player in a number of global institutions, we need even deeper relations with our Asia-Pacific partners. In order to deepen these relationships, we need a firm grasp of the issues affecting the region. We need to make the most of every opportunity to protect and promote our interests and our values.

We’re committed to the region for the long term and are signalling our intent in very real ways.

We cannot afford to be a spectator. We know we have a contribution to make in shaping the future of Asia and Canada’s role in it.

I’m also pleased to confirm that Canada has formally sought membership in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus, to deepen our partnerships in the region on matters of peace and security. This group has the potential to be the foremost security forum in the region. Our entry is an opportunity to play an active role in securing stability and order.

This builds on our recent decision to elevate our participation at the Shangri-La Dialogue to the ministerial level, and on our regular participation in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise. Our government is deeply committed to enhancing cooperation between partner forces and to increasing military preparedness.

Again, stability and security are vital to the region’s prosperity and to Canada’s prosperity.

That’s the second topic I wanted to talk to you about: regional security and governance.

The third is about following through on our commitments.

While we have made tremendous progress in recent years to re-energize and deepen our relations with our partners in the Asia-Pacific, we now have an obligation to sustain our engagement— to make it meaningful—to make it real.

Our government understands that trade alone will not generate long-term prosperity for Canadians.

In fact, if trade is our only focus, we risk handicapping our ability to compete in the region.

We’re fully aware that in order to succeed in the Asia-Pacific, Canada needs to be seen as a bigger player… and actually step up to the plate.

I’m conscious that Canada was once seen as not being serious enough to establish long-term relationships with the region.

I can tell you; this is changing in a big way.

My first major bilateral visit as foreign minister was to the region. I have since returned five times and will return frequently. This is more than just symbolism. We understand that this type of high-level engagement is what’s required.

On that front, we have signed bilateral and strategic dialogues with Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea, escalating these bilateral relationships to deputy minister or ministerial level, just as we have with India.

When I visited Minister Krishna in India earlier this month, we agreed in principle to meet at the ministerial level alternately in India and Canada every single year. This speaks to the important relationship we have with a country with which we share so much in common: parliamentary democracies, our Commonwealth relationship, and a deep enduring commitment to pluralism.

Canada knows that the impact of our actions can be increased when we partner with key allies who share common values and interests.

That’s why we see tremendous value in partnering with the U.S. on some of our outreach to Asia. The U.S. remains our number one market. And we are America’s number one market. By working together, we can make a real difference in the region.

That’s why I’m excited to announce that just last week, our two governments agreed to establish a formal strategic dialogue on Asia at the senior officials’ level. This is a no-brainer. By having a better understanding of our respective priorities in the Asia-Pacific, we’re in a better position to advance our own interests.

This type of engagement with our most important ally will complement and reinforce Prime Minister Harper’s discussions with the U.S. President and my own with Hillary Clinton, who has become a friend. In order to succeed in the region, we are intent on significantly strengthening cooperation with ASEAN as a group and with its individual members.

On Thursday, I met with ASEAN’s Secretary-General, Surin Pitsuwan. For the first time, our embassy in Jakarta is working with the ASEAN Secretariat to identify ASEAN-wide projects.

This builds on the $10 million ASEAN fund I announced in Cambodia earlier this summer—a fund which will respond to ASEAN’s top priority of advancing its connectivity agenda.

It is a concrete example of our commitment to making better links to Asia.

It has been suggested that our engagement in the Asia-Pacific region is threatened by our government’s efforts to cut the deficit.

In fact, we now have more diplomatic staff in Asia than anywhere else in the world.

Our government has more than doubled the number of offices Canada has in China and India. The proportion of resources we have dedicated to supporting our Asia-Pacific engagements is at all-time highs. In the months ahead, we will continue to review our priority relationships with the region and focus on the kinds of activities that will most effectively enhance Canadian interests there.

We will open trade offices and diplomatic missions where we need them now and in the future.

Our government is also determined to deepen our relationships with the business community and educational institutions. I’ve told my officials that I want to see deeper collaboration between Canadian and Asian universities.

And, I can tell you unequivocally that our renewed engagement does not represent a new chapter in Canada-Asia relations; it represents a new volume.

That was the third topic I wanted to talk to you about: following through on our commitments.

The fourth and final area of engagement is in the promotion of Canadian values, and the tangible benefits they bring.

As we look for new opportunities to create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity, we recognize that our pursuit of an activist foreign policy can be a delicate balancing act.

On one hand, in the uncertain global economy we find ourselves in, our actions need to be considered from an economic point of view.

On the other, 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 many parts of the world.

It’s a balancing act. But when we get it right, the results are absolutely remarkable.

Take Burma as an example, 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 and their country’s immense natural wealth.

They want what we all want: hope, opportunity and the dignity to live in freedom. These are the building blocks of stability and prosperity in any society.

And Canada stands ready to help them.

I can’t believe it was only last year when I first met my Burmese counterpart and asked that his government demonstrate its stated 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.

I was encouraged when, a few months later, Burmese authorities released a number of political prisoners. We saw it as promising sign but called on them to go even further.

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 almost two decades of arrest.

This too, was a promising sign, and we remained cautiously optimistic. We were waiting to see if voting would be conducted without violence or intimidation.

In the lead up to the vote, 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 constitutional law and vowed to help build a better future for all the Burmese people.

When the elections were deemed largely free and fair, 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 formally recognize Burma’s steps down the path to democracy by suspending our sanctions.

We’re fully aware that these are just baby steps. Burma has a long road ahead. It’s a long road that we’re ready to help them navigate.

Earlier this year, I announced plans to open an embassy in Burma. Canada stands ready to assist the Burmese government in building on the democratic fundamentals, freedoms and rights of their people – including the freedom of religion.

We’re also establishing a full-service Trade Commissioner as part of the embassy, in the full belief that Canadian companies will have an important role to play.

It’s not a free-for-all. People must go in with eyes wide open to the past. Canadian companies should be vigilant in ensuring they deal only with reputable people who have acted, and will continue to act, with integrity.

The Burma example demonstrates that Canadian values and Canadian interests are interconnected.

Canada’s principled approach helped encourage reform, which in turn helped open new economic opportunities for Canadian companies and civil society.

Our commitment to support Burma and its people in their democratic development has also served to signal to our partners in the Asia-Pacific that Canada brings a comprehensive and constructive approach to the region.

It has demonstrated that we will act quickly and decisively to deepen relations and to bring concrete resources to bear when warranted.

It has shown that we will partner closely with Canada’s private sector to expand our engagement and to make the deepening of relationships a win-win proposition.

It is in our national 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 when it comes to effective diplomacy, personal relationships matter just as much as they do in business—perhaps more so in Asia than anywhere else.

Upon returning from my first visit to the Asia-Pacific, I spoke to John Manley and asked for advice. He said: “Go back and go back often.”

Well, you know what?

I have.

I will.

And so will my cabinet colleagues.

This is not about collecting frequent-flyer points. It’s about recognizing that economic interests are linked to so many other factors that are deeper in many ways than a simple transactional relationship.

To be engaged for the long term, we need to be personally invested.

It’s why I personally worked with Foreign Minister Yang of China to finalize a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement.

It’s why last year, as changes were sweeping across Burma, I personally sought the advice of Indonesia’s Foreign Minister, Marty Natalegawa, a man who has an intimate understanding of that country and of the region.

It’s why I have been meeting at the leader’s level in China, Cambodia and the Philippines—there to signal that Canada is engaged for the long term.

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

Our economic prosperity depends on it.

Our national security demands it.

Our collective cause implores it.

Rest assured, our government will do its part on these fronts and more.

Thank you.

Text of speech in Chinese: 贝尔德部长对加拿大首席执行官协会的演讲