Notes for an Address by the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), at the 50th Annual Meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank

March 30, 2009
Medellín, Colombia

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Mr. [Luis Alberto] Moreno, [President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)], fellow governors, honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen, I must start by thanking the Bank of Colombia and of course our beautiful host city, Medellín. Canada appreciates just how much work goes into hosting such a successful meeting, and you’ve set the bar very high as Canada looks forward to hosting the IDB’s annual meeting in 2011.

My participation here reflects Canada’s deep engagement with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean. My portfolio, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas, was created specifically to emphasize Canada’s engagement with the Americas—one of our main foreign policy priorities. In fact, President Moreno, when you visited Toronto and Ottawa last November, I was honoured to receive you as my first official visitor.

Canada recognizes Colombia as a dynamic country with a long democratic tradition. While Colombia, like many countries in the region, faces both economic and governance challenges, we commend the Colombian government for the great progress achieved and for turning a positive vision of the future into reality. On November 21, 2008, Canada and Colombia signed a free trade agreement [(FTA)], along with agreements on labour cooperation and the environment. The FTA was introduced into our parliament for ratification this past week. Once implemented, it will open new opportunities by removing bilateral barriers to trade and investment.

For a healthy world economy, we need strong financial systems, but we also need to remain open to trade and investment. Canada knows first-hand the benefits of an open economy. When the financial crisis developed, we thought that the economies of Latin America might be insulated from it, but this has proved to be wrong. We’ve all seen the data and heard the sobering account from [Chief Economist of the IDB] Santiago Levy, pessimistically in line with predictions from the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the UN and others: growth in emerging and developing countries is slowing.

The progress is particularly grim for low-income countries that rely on trade, foreign direct investment and remittances for their economic growth. Hard-won progress on the Millennium Development Goals is at risk. Multilateral institutions are cooperating as never before to mobilize resources and help their members face the current crisis. We must continue to work to ensure that all of these institutions have the political and financial support needed to respond to the crisis effectively, and that includes the IDB.

We have been pleased with the leadership demonstrated by the IDB in its counter-cyclical response to the financial crisis.

The IDB has a special responsibility in this regard. It has a large footprint in the region and understands the region intimately.

We know that there are actions that the Bank will have to take in the short term to address the immediate needs of its members.

And many of my colleagues have given compelling testimony of the challenges and constraints that their countries are facing.

But, beyond the short term, we need to make sure that the Bank has the necessary tools to continue to pursue its essential development mandate.

I understand that, later today, governors will consider a resolution that asks Bank management and the board of directors to develop a plan of action. Canada looks forward to receiving the Bank’s analysis as we look for constructive ways to move forward in these difficult times.

Along with short-term responses, Canada believes this is a time for members to look forward. Canada and other G20 members have reaffirmed their commitment to ensuring that the IDB and other banks have sufficient resources to continue playing a role in overcoming the current crisis.

Mr. Chair, colleagues, as I’ve said earlier, Canada knows that each and every one of us faces challenges at home—jobs are being lost, companies are going bankrupt, and the level of uncertainty and anxiety is rising.

To overcome these challenges, we need to remain focused on actions that will restore the functioning of financial markets, reduce uncertainty and accelerate the recovery.

Canada wishes the Bank all the best in the work that lies ahead.

Thank you.