Address by Minister Baird to the Alberta Enterprise Group

March 8, 2013 - Edmonton, Alberta

Check Against Delivery

Canada in the Asian Century

In all seriousness, I do have one of the best jobs in the world. As Canada’s foreign minister, I get to advance Canadian interests and stand up for Canadian values. It’s a job made much easier by this great province.

Canada’s image in the world is shaped, in no small part, by the strong and visible role Alberta plays in our federation and in protecting our image on the world stage. You can’t get more Canadian than this:

  • an energy superpower;
  • a supplier of the world’s best agricultural products;
  • a centre for innovation and technology;
  • world-class colleges and universities;
  • vibrant cities with diverse cultural industries;
  • majestic beauty; and
  • of course, its famous hospitality.

As Canada’s foreign minister, I’m responsible for looking beyond our borders to build opportunities for jobs, growth, and economic prosperity for all Canadians. That means our government’s job is to solidify existing economic partnerships and establish and deepen new ones in this rapidly evolving world.

As Albertans, you’re acutely aware that the United States is going to remain our most valued partner. But we can’t put our eggs in one basket. That’s why our government has been expanding relations in further south in our hemisphere. Indeed, two-way trade, investment and the flow of people is steadily increasing, and will continue to intensify, energetically supported by a fellow Albertan, the Minister of State for the Americas Diane Ablonczy.

Diane and I have just returned from a 10-country tour of Latin America, where we underscored Canada’s interest in deepening trade cooperation.

Of course, Europe continues to be a close friend and ally. The Canada-Europe relationship will deepen further as we conclude the Canada Europe Trade Agreement, which will boost bilateral trade by up to 20 percent and increase Canada’s GDP by some $12 billion.

This agreement will be of great benefit to Alberta’s key sectors—agriculture, industrial machinery, wood products, services, investment and government procurement.

However, I would like to pay particular attention today to a burgeoning market for Alberta and the rest of Canada.

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

You know this, of course. Alberta is already benefiting from Asia’s growth and has the tremendous potential to take advantage of the profound change taking place in the region.

In fact, Albertans are more aware than most just how much is at stake: support for Asian trade agreements is higher in Alberta than anywhere else in Canada. Two out of three Albertans believe that relations with Asian countries should be a top foreign policy priority for Canada.

It is no coincidence that the University of Alberta has the strongest link to China of any Canadian university, with over 3,000 students and some 100 professors from China.

Well, I can tell you, it is. Our government gets this.

We get that Asia is full of new opportunities to expand Canada’s economic prosperity. We know that Canada must take an active role in this part of the world. It’s simply not a choice; it’s not an option; it’s a national imperative.

As Asia continues to prosper, the implications for Canada are immediate and they are profound.

But I don’t need to tell you that. You know this all too well.

So rather than go on at length about why our government is making this region a foreign-policy priority, let me share with you what we’re actually doing in four key areas:

  • trade
  • deepening relations with our partners
  • regional security and governance
  • promoting Canadian values

Canada’s Trade Agenda in Asia

As I’ve already touched on, it’s no secret that 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 it.

Canada’s trading relations with Asia have more than doubled in a generation.

And Asian investment into Canada has grown by over 400 percent in the last two decades.

Canada continues to strongly encourage inward investment and will maintain an open, market-based approach to foreign investment into our country.

We see great potential for Canada to play a role in supporting the region’s economic expansion and modernization. Canada can be particularly strong in meeting the needs of Asia’s rising middle class—supporting its building of cities and related infrastructure, communications and IT needs, offering world-class education programs, financial services, diversified energy supplies and green technologies, and agriculture and agri-food products as diets evolve and improve.

We are very conscious that we live in an era of continued economic uncertainty, which is why we must diversify our trade to growing Asian economies.

The Keystone XL project is one example of a larger need to diversify our trade. We think this project has obvious benefits for both Canada and the United States, and we respect the American process for approvals.

We hope Keystone will move forward.

We remain committed to responsible resource development; to getting those resources to market, whether it’s the United States, Asia, or elsewhere.

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. While our trade and investment ties to the region are growing, they have yet to realize their full potential.

These sobering realities are a constant reminder that this region cannot be taken for granted. We have no room for complacency.

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

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

We have joined the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] 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.

As we look forward, we are deepening our trade relationships with China, India, Japan, South Korea and with the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] region, among others.

Deepening Relations with Our Partners in Asia

Those of you who have done business in Asia will know that doing business in Asia is all about relationships.

Relationships matter. They build trust and understanding, help avoid and resolve differences, identify opportunities for partnerships, and get business done.

I’ve learned that effective diplomacy is based on relationships as much as business is. To establish these relationships, we need to be present and visible in Asia.

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

And it’s a commitment shared by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and my Cabinet colleagues.

We have made some 100 cabinet-level or prime ministerial visits to Asia in the past four years alone.

In a short period of time, we have signed bilateral and strategic dialogues with Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea, escalating these bilateral relationships to the deputy minister or ministerial level, just as we have with India and China.

Of course, it takes more than regular visits to build a presence in the region. That’s why we’re investing in our diplomatic and related networks in Asia.

In times of fiscal restraint, we have more than doubled the number of offices Canada has in China and India. The proportion of resources we have dedicated to supporting our Asia engagements is at an all-time high.

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

We have just opened a consulate in Bangalore [India], have upgraded our presence in Chongqing and are opening our first ever embassy in Yangon, Burma. We have expanded existing missions in priority countries like Indonesia and Thailand. In fact, Canada has the second-largest network of offices in India of any country. We have eleven points of service in greater China and we hope expand it further.

We are also recognizing, and capitalizing upon, the positive role Canada’s private sector, universities, and civil society can play through their engagement abroad.

The important Canadian networks and actors are able to convey our values, advance concrete Canadian interests and bring jobs and prosperity to the communities in which they operate.

Canadian programming is being modernized to deepen partnerships with Canadians abroad, especially with the private sector, and notably in sectors where Canada brings notable strengths—and responsibilities—such as the extractive sectors, and financial services regulation.

Contributing to Security Cooperation in Asia

Just as we know that Asia 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 we’re making important contributions to foster peace and security in the region.

We’re actively participating in APEC’s Counter-Terrorism Task Force and co-chaired an ASEAN regional forum on counterterrorism last 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, and technical and legal assistance. We are contributing to our partners’ efforts to combat human smuggling throughout Southeast Asia before it arrives on our shores.

We’re supporting the creation of multi-agency intelligence units in Indonesia, Cambodia and Thailand. Canadian equipment and training has already had an impact in fighting callous organized crime groups that prey on vulnerable human beings.

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.

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

Of course, in this region we have to remain vigilant against the provocations of North Korea. North Korea remains one of the foremost threats to security in Asia and beyond. Last month’s third nuclear test is yet another demonstration of the regime’s recklessness and its misguided focus on developing weapons of mass destruction rather than providing for the basic needs of its people. Canada will continue to work with partners to pursue a strong international response to North Korea’s provocation.

A Values Agenda: Promoting Freedom, Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law

The fourth aspect of Canada’s engagement in Asia is the promotion of 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 is 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. But when we get it right, the results are 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.

Canada stands ready to help them.

It was only a short time ago that I first met my Burmese counterpart and asked that his government demonstrate its stated commitment to reform through concrete actions.

When we met less than two years ago, Canada still had the toughest sanctions of any country against the Burmese regime.

But the country undertook a steady series of important steps, responding to the urging of Canada and others. Prisoners were released, Aung San Suu Kyi was freed, and generally free and fair by-elections were held.

We’re fully aware that Burma has a long road ahead, and conditions remain fragile. But it’s a road we’re ready to help them navigate.

We will soon open our first Canadian embassy—ever—in Burma.

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.

Burma serves as an example of how 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 Asia 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 others, can be realized through free, transparent and open societies.

Conclusion

Allow me to close on this note:

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 Asia 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.