Notes for an Address by the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), to the Canadian Council for the Americas

February 6, 2009
Toronto, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

I’m delighted to be here today to talk about the importance Canada attaches to the Americas.

I must say, however, that I am very conscious of the weight of expertise in this room.

Individually and collectively, you are all part of the energy and optimism that flows between Canada and our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Your council—and the broader business community you represent—has been at the heart of this engagement from the very beginning.

Thanks to the leadership of people like Ken Frankel [Chairman of the Board] and the dedicated efforts of board members past and present, we’ve seen a renewed dynamism within the Toronto chapter of the Canadian Council for the Americas (CCA).

You’ve managed to attract a number of highly influential speakers, including Francisco Santos Calderón, Vice-President of Colombia, and Michael Lee-Chin, the Chairman of Portland Holdings, Inc.

You’ve been an “integrator,” of sorts, for the interests of Canadian businesses in the region, giving their concerns a broader platform and deepening cooperation with the various bilateral chambers of commerce throughout the region. As such, you’re a valued “incubator” of the kinds of ideas we need going forward and, from the government’s perspective, a critical part of Canada’s engagement strategy in the Americas.

It is an honour and a privilege to make my own modest contribution to these important efforts today.

As you know, I’ve just begun my own role as Minister of State for the Americas. While I know the region well from my days as a journalist, you could say that I’m now looking at it through a new lens. I conducted my first official visit to the region last month.

What’s clear to me is that, as nations in the Americas, our current and future interests are increasingly interdependent. As neighbours in the Americas, our geography compels us to work together.

Our future demands it.

For Canada, it’s a vision that starts at the very top. As you know, our Prime Minister has made a personal commitment to supporting a more prosperous, democratic and secure hemisphere that brings increased stability and opportunity to its citizens.

These areas are interconnected. Prosperity can’t take hold without security, or without the freedoms and laws brought about through democratic governance. And democracy can’t function without personal security and the chance to improve living standards through increased business opportunities.

We can also see the interconnected nature of the issues at play in the region through the wide range of Canadian government departments active in the Americas—departments like DFAIT [Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada], of course, but also National Defence, the Canadian International Development Agency, Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Industry Canada.

This diversity of effort brings a richness and depth to our presence in the region that speaks to Canada’s many interests there. It also demonstrates some of the big challenges we face.

Our region is no stranger to calamity and disaster. But these challenges—whether natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, or challenges of the human-made variety, like crime, drugs, terrorism and political instability—have a way of bringing out the best in us, when we cooperate in fighting them, and of creating new avenues of hope for people.

Our message to the people of the Americas is that the best path to prosperity and security is through open markets and democracy.

However, we need to ensure that democracy delivers—delivers opportunity and jobs, security and access to fundamental social goods like education, transportation and health.

We believe that this is a function of good governance. And making good on Prime Minister Harper’s commitment, we are assisting countries in the region in strengthening their democratic institutions to ensure a higher degree of transparency and accountability to their citizens. This includes models of governance that directly impact on business, such as regulatory frameworks, domestic legislation and auditing.

Business cannot flourish in an environment of insecurity. Corruption, crime and violence are impediments to building opportunity and jobs. Canada is therefore actively engaged in helping these countries to strengthen their capacity through better training, systems and processes.

Canada’s strong involvement in a number of international and regional organizations is also strengthening peace and security in the region. For example:

  • our contributions to the United Nations and the Organization of American States;
  • or the Pan American Health Organization, where we are working with countries to strengthen their capacity to deliver health services to their citizens and to respond effectively to potential pandemics;
  • and the Summit of the Americas process, which will bring all the leaders from the hemisphere together in Trinidad and Tobago this April to set a vision and course for the future development of the region.

This kind of cooperation and effort will be absolutely essential as we face yet another crisis—an economic one.

The global financial crisis has hit all of our nations hard. While we are cautiously optimistic that most countries in the region are positioned to weather the storm fairly well, we need to be vigilant. Left unchecked, the crisis threatens to amplify the many other challenges at play in the hemisphere, and it can give rise to narrow, isolationist thinking.

Canada’s approach, from the very early days of this crisis, has been to warn against protectionism and isolationism—the kind of ideologies that determined the length and severity of the Great Depression—and to promote the importance of global and regional economic partnerships to move us past this difficult period and come out on the other side stronger and more competitive than ever before.

It’s a message that this government, led by Prime Minister Harper and his ministers, including International Trade Minister Stockwell Day and Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, has been promoting at every opportunity: at APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum], through the Pathways to Prosperity meetings, at the World Economic Forum, and in bilateral meetings with our counterparts around the world.

I should add that no nation is completely immune from the “protectionist temptation.”

As you know, Canada has been among the most vocal opponents of the “Buy American” provisions currently before the U.S. Congress, provisions that we view as highly protectionist in nature. The Prime Minister was one of the first world leaders to raise concerns, and others have since followed.

Our voices have been heard. The amendment approved by the U.S. Senate includes a requirement that Buy American provisions be consistent with U.S. obligations under international agreements.

Americans themselves are divided on the issue, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce coming out strongly against any protectionist measures in the proposed stimulus package. I am encouraged by many of the positive messages coming out of the United States on the Buy American provisions. However, the legislative process is not yet complete. Final decisions on these controversial measures have not yet been made, and we will continue to make our views known to the U.S. administration and legislators.

Our trade counterparts around the world share Canada’s concerns on this issue. We all agree that it would be a mistake to pass legislation that inhibits the global economic recovery that we all want.

We need to grow our way out of this crisis together. Open markets stimulate our economies, create new job opportunities and keep our countries strong.

American jobs and American communities rely on Canadian inputs, Canadian know-how and Canadian investment. And Canada is an important purchaser of American goods and services. It’s clear that Canada can play a huge role in tackling the many domestic challenges the United States faces.

We believe Canada is the right nation to be carrying this message of cooperation at this crucial time in the global economy. After all, our economy was built on trade. Our jobs and quality of life depend on it.

Our history is a textbook case of the power of economic openness to create jobs, prosperity and opportunity for people, whether it’s at the World Trade Organization, through our existing hemispheric free trade agreements with Chile and Costa Rica, through our North American partnership with the United States and Mexico, or through our commercial relationships with other nations around the world. That includes in Latin America and the Caribbean, where we have been forging commercial ties for decades.

Today, thanks to people like you, Canadian businesses, goods, services, expertise and investment dollars can be found throughout the Americas.

Canadian companies are currently among the largest investors in Latin America and the Caribbean, led by the financial services and extractive industries.

As the region’s third-largest source of capital, Canada matters. I saw this first-hand in Guatemala, where Canadian investment in the mining sector has become the single largest source of revenue to the national government.

Inward investment is a factor, too. The recent purchase of Inco by Vale of Brazil helped Brazil to rank as our seventh-largest foreign investor in 2007, a fact not lost on the Brazilian export agency APEX, which has now made Canada one of its priority countries for the coming year.

As active as the private sector has been in forging these ties, there’s a clear role for government to play, too.

Minister Day’s first trip to the region was to Brazil, to sign a new science and technology agreement. This agreement will provide exciting new opportunities for investments in cutting-edge technologies between Canada and Brazil.

Our trade commissioners are active throughout the region, building Canadian trade, investment and innovation links with our partners. This includes an expansion of our services in Brazil, where the government is opening two new offices, in Recife and Porto Alegre.

Export Development Canada also maintains a significant presence in the region.

To deepen our presence and encourage even more business, Minister Day is moving forward on an aggressive trade strategy. Last year, we completed free trade negotiations with Peru and Colombia.

We are also pushing forward on free trade negotiations with Panama, and working hard to advance talks with the “Central America Four” nations of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua, as well as with the Dominican Republic and the Caribbean Community.

We are building new avenues for bilateral cooperation in the area of innovation. During the visit of President [Michelle] Bachelet of Chile, she and Prime Minister Harper signed a memorandum of understanding on science and technology.

We are also expanding air services through new and improved accords with many countries in the region. And we are working closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to address critical issues, like visas and labour mobility, that affect the ability to do business.

You’ve also told us that liquidity is an issue. Canada is committed to helping emerging economies and developing countries gain the access they need to financing and development funds through new and existing facilities at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Last fall, Minister Cannon and I met with IDB President [Luis Alberto] Moreno, who put forward a number of interesting proposals that we are jointly exploring. We hope to be in a position to announce something in the near future.

My point is that all of the economic engagement in the region is yielding some positive results.

According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, GDP growth in the region reached 5.6 percent in 2007. While this will likely be affected by the current economic downturn, it does show that a decade of improved macroeconomic discipline, coupled with a renewed openness to trade and investment, seems to be resulting in a strengthened economic core.

That is certainly the case for Canada, where our bilateral merchandise trade statistics for the region are still much above the global average. From January to November 2008, our merchandise exports to the region (excluding Mexico) rose by almost 30 percent, while our exports to the rest of the world grew by only 7.8 percent.

But this is no time to be complacent. More can and should be done to secure our current and future position in the region.

That’s where you come in.

Over the years, you’ve been instrumental in consolidating and enhancing Canada’s partnerships in the hemisphere, by increasing two-way trade and investment flows and promoting Canadian business culture and values. In some ways, government is just now catching up with the leading position established by you as our business ambassadors in the region.

As I said at the outset, the government sees the CCA as a critical incubator of ideas for Canada’s engagement in the region. And so I’d like to hear from you today about areas where we need to be placing a greater emphasis in the time ahead, especially given the economic crisis.

For instance, I’d like to know how you see the crisis affecting your plans—or the plans of your partners in the region—in the short and near terms.

I’d also like your views on how we can make the most of the free trade agreements we’re working on in the region, and how you can work in the region to support these negotiations.

As you know, negotiating these agreements is only the first step. How can we make them as useful as possible for people on both sides of the relationship?

What about public-private partnerships? Is there scope for such initiatives in helping Canadian businesses secure access to emerging markets in the Americas and operate with a greater degree of confidence and certainty?

Do other ideas, such as internship programs that link up young entrepreneurs in Canada with opportunities in the region, hold much promise?

These are just a few of the areas where I’d appreciate your thoughts today.

We are truly thankful for your leadership in the Americas. And I know that, in this time of economic crisis, our work together will become even more important—for Canada and for our partners throughout the region.

Thank you for your hard work and your ongoing commitment to cooperation and partnerships during this critical time.

Thank you.