Address by Minister Baird at the Opening of the ASEAN-Canada Post-Ministerial Conference

August 9, 2014 - Naypyidaw, Burma

Check Against Delivery

Distinguished colleagues and friends, I am very pleased to be with you again.

This is now my fourth consecutive ASEAN-Canada Post-Ministerial Conference. Over the last year, I can confidently and proudly say that we have made more progress in building our partnership than in any other year.

So as we begin this session, I would like to give you a brief update on this progress and set out where I see our next steps.

Canada is, unequivocally, a Pacific nation. We are deeply integrated with Asia-Pacific historically, geographically, demographically and economically.

We are also increasingly deepening that integration politically. I don’t just say that as a politician trying to please an audience. In Canada we have a saying that you “vote with your feet,” and that’s exactly what we’ve been doing in Southeast Asia.

I arrived in Yangon [Burma] yesterday after two weeks of meetings across the region. I had the opportunity to meet with president-elect Joko Widodo and, of course, our colleague Marty in Jakarta.

In Singapore, I gave a lecture about supporting stability in Asia and, of course, met with our esteemed co-chair, Minister Shanmugam [Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam, Singapore’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Law]. I also had the opportunity to visit the young country of Timor-Leste, which, as you know, is keen to join ASEAN in the near future.

This trip builds on numerous others. In fact, when visiting Vientiane last year, I had the distinct pleasure of becoming the first Canadian minister to visit every ASEAN member state.

My friend and colleague Ed Fast, the minister of international trade, will soon be able to say the same, ahead of the Canada-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting.

This focus is also shared by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. For example, in 2012 he became the first Canadian prime minister to visit the Philippines in over a decade. Last year, he visited Malaysia—again, this was the first Canadian head-of-government visit to Kuala Lumpur in decades. And this was followed by Indonesia, for the APEC Summit.

Two months ago, Canada welcomed the ASEAN economic ministers for a five-day “road show” to expand trade and investment linkages: another first for Canada, in receiving such a high-level delegation from ASEAN.

We have met your leaders and seen first-hand the impressive development in the region, including ASEAN’s efforts to strengthen its community and reinforce its central role in regional architecture.

I see ASEAN as a vitally important institution in the region and a key vehicle for our support to the region.

More importantly, we are more engaged with you than we ever have been in the past. We are present, we are active, and we are here for the long term.

On Tuesday I had the honour of meeting [ASEAN] Secretary-General [Le Luong] Minh at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta—another first for a Canadian foreign minister. I advised the Secretary-General that Canada will establish a dedicated, stand-alone mission to ASEAN headed by a new ambassador.

And just yesterday, in Yangon, I had the honour of opening Canada’s newest diplomatic mission. This too was a historic first for Canada: we have long had diplomatic relations with ASEAN’s current chair, but never a resident representative in-country.

I am also pleased to announce today that the Government of Canada is further expanding its diplomatic footprint in Southeast Asia. We will be establishing on-the-ground Canadian diplomatic presence in both Cambodia and Laos.

With these new resources, Canada will have a diplomatic presence in all 10 ASEAN member states—again, a historic first for Canada.

We commit to having the expanded Canadian diplomatic footprint in ASEAN in place within a year. But this isn’t about the bricks and mortar of diplomatic buildings, it’s about our commitment to democracy and prosperity in ASEAN member states.

Our relationship with ASEAN is of strategic importance to both sides. Canada has been increasing our engagement across the full spectrum of common interests.

During the past several years, we have taken specific and concrete steps to enhance our partnership. These steps are consistent with, and responsive to, ASEAN priorities in the lead-up to the establishment of the ASEAN Community in 2015.

Two years ago in Phnom Penh [Cambodia], I committed Canada to a contribution of $10 million over three years for ASEAN initiatives. I followed that up at the last post-ministerial conference in Brunei, where I outlined specific new projects for ASEAN and for Southeast Asia in excess of $30 million.

Canada has delivered on those commitments.

We have worked with ASEAN member states and the Secretariat to move forward on projects announced last year in Brunei, of which I would highlight three:

First, a $6.5-million project in support of the Mitigation of Biological Threats in ASEAN, funded at the request of ASEAN health ministers.

The second project, $3 million, is focused on Improving Counter-Terrorism Investigation and International Collaboration in ASEAN.

The third project is Financial Regulations Capacity Building in ASEAN—2 million.

Colleagues, I am happy to report that not only did we meet our commitment of $10 million in funding, we have exceeded it.

Our current cooperation covers all three ASEAN pillars: political-security, economic and socio-cultural.

Today, I am furthering this cooperation by announcing additional funding in the amount of $14 million to help address security issues of shared concern in Southeast Asia and to enhance the ASEAN connectivity agenda.

We’ll work to mitigate biological and nuclear threats, disrupt illicit flows while protecting legitimate trade, combat human smuggling activities and improve regional cyber-security tools, and we’ll work with our ASEAN partners to address the phenomenon of “foreign fighters” and “radicalization.” Another key focus of this new Canadian programming will be to bolster border management capacities, particularly in ASEAN’s CMLV states [Cambodia, Burma, Laos and Vietnam]. Taken together, these projects will complement those of ASEAN to improve regional connectivity, whether through information technology or the safe and secure movement of people and goods across borders by sea, air or land.

Also in the political-security sphere, in addition to the projects mentioned above, Canada’s Deputy Minister of National Defence was recently in Singapore for the Shangri-La Dialogue, accompanied by my own deputy minister. Both reiterated Canada’s commitment to expanding our contribution to regional security initiatives in ASEAN, including through the ASEAN Regional Forum, but also our specific interest in becoming a member of ADMM+ [ASEAN Defence Ministers Plus].

On the economic pillar, Canada has developed an impressive set of projects to enhance our economic cooperation. Some of the key activities in the coming year include:

  1. The Canada-ASEAN Business Council [CABC] will organize the second Canada-ASEAN Business Forum in March 2015.
  2. The CABC will work with the ASEAN Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] Network and the Government of Canada to organize an ASEAN-Canada CSR forum in Bali in November 2014.
  3. Canada and Singapore will co-host an ASEAN-Canada Clean Energy Seminar in October in Singapore.

Finally, on the socio-cultural pillar, I am pleased to announce that through Grand Challenges Canada, we will be funding seven new health projects in ASEAN member countries this year: in Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.

This funding, totalling $784,000, will support scientific, technical, social and business innovation to solve the most pressing regional and global health challenges. Over the past three years, through Grand Challenges Canada, we have invested $12.8 million to support the development of 57 innovations now being implemented to the near-term benefit of the health of the people of the ASEAN region.

Canada has been clear in outlining our vision for the future of ASEAN-Canada relations. It is a relationship in which Canada is now engaged in all three pillars of ASEAN community building and has truly enhanced our cooperation exponentially over the past three years.

To fully achieve our vision, Canada and ASEAN should engage regularly—and with ASEAN’s regional neighbours—at the highest level. That’s why Canada’s Prime Minister asked in 2012 that Canada be welcomed as a member of the East Asia Summit [EAS]. Engagement at the leaders’ level is essential to fully realize the potential of the ASEAN-Canada partnership. I will be contacting you all directly to request your active support for Canada’s EAS membership.

We have been an interested partner of ASEAN for 37 years. Over the last few years, I hope it is obvious that we have taken this up a gear, with sustained, high-level and practical engagement.

Not only has our long relationship been mutually beneficial, but our recent deepening of cooperation in areas that are priorities for ASEAN has been in direct response to your counsel and commitment.

I believe we have a lot more to contribute, and I look forward to taking this partnership to the next level.

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