Notes for an Address by the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas) Keynote Address to the Experts’ Dialogue on Canada’s Engagement in the Americas

February 25, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

It is a privilege for me to join you today for the Experts’ Dialogue on Canada’s Engagement in the Americas. I would like to thank you for taking part and sharing your thoughts on this topic.

Leading academics and experts such as you play a crucial role in shaping Canada’s approach in the Americas. I appreciate your continued involvement and the critical perspectives you bring to the discussion.

Today’s event occurs at a critical moment for Canada. The global financial crisis has hit all our nations hard. There is room for cautious optimism that most countries in the hemisphere will weather the storm fairly well, but we need to be vigilant.

The Americas are currently at a crossroads in terms of economic and policy development. Canada firmly believes that the appropriate policy choices could foster lasting stability in the hemisphere.

Therefore, Canada is prepared to work with its partners to address issues of common concern in the Americas. Our geographic proximity encourages us to work together since our current and future interests are linked to those of our neighbours.

The Canadian approach—three mutually reinforcing objectives

Canada brings to the hemisphere a vision based on three mutually reinforcing objectives: enhancing the prosperity of Canadians and citizens of the Americas; building a safe and secure hemisphere; and strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance throughout the hemisphere.

The interconnected nature of our objectives is reflected in the wide range of Canadian government departments active in the Americas. Foreign Affairs and International Trade [DFAIT] is charting the overall approach, but others are deeply involved as well. They include National Defence, the Canadian International Development Agency [CIDA], Health Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and Industry Canada.

All stakeholders can contribute more effectively if we work in concert. I will come back to this point later. But I have to say at the outset that as I travel in the hemisphere, I am very impressed at the involvement of Canadians outside of government.

This diversity of effort brings richness and depth to our presence in the Americas, indicating Canada’s many interests. It also demonstrates the complexity of some of the big challenges we face.

Let me briefly discuss how we have been making progress on our three objectives of prosperity, security and democracy.

Prosperity

First is the prosperity agenda.

In my view, the current economic downturn highlights how important it is to revive Canada’s economy by strengthening our partnership with a part of the world having great economic potential.

We are building on our existing substantial free trade experience with Chile and Costa Rica, our North American partnership with the United States and Mexico, and our commercial relationships with other nations around the world.

Last year, we signed free trade agreements [FTAs] with Peru and Colombia. The agreement with Peru has been tabled in the House of Commons, and that with Colombia will follow shortly.

As the agreements make their way through Parliament, there will be opportunity to debate their merits.

Colombia is still in the midst of the longest-running civil conflict in the hemisphere. We see the FTA as only one of a suite of instruments that we and other governments are using to encourage a democratic and social transformation.

For democracy to function, there must be a chance to improve living standards through increased business opportunities. There must also be personal security.

Canada has long supported development in Colombia. We seek to counter violence against children, assist displaced people and work for the disbanding of paramilitary forces. The Canada-Colombia FTA can further these goals, including through its forward-looking labour and environmental side agreements.

The FTA gives us a real and substantial basis for working with Colombian authorities on these vital issues.

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 [CARICOM].

We have been forging close partnerships and commercial ties with Central America and the Caribbean for decades.

I recently travelled to these two regions. I met with a broad cross-section of interlocutors, including senior government officials, representatives of the private sector and civil society, and ambassadors from leading donor countries.

My visit to the Caribbean helped to convey Canada’s commitment to the region. It also gave me a clear picture of issues of regional concern.

We need to seek the commitment of our Caribbean partners to take the Canada-CARICOM relationship to a higher level, including through the negotiation of a trade agreement.

I was also able to discuss the upcoming Summit of the Americas with President [Patrick] Manning [of Trinidad and Tobago], Secretary General [José Miguel] Insulza [of the Organization of American States] and others. I reiterated to them that Canada wishes to see a Summit focused on producing tangible results for citizens of the Americas.

In other forums, such as APEC [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation], Canada continues to work closely with hemispheric partners to further trade liberalization and trade facilitation.

Canada’s commercial engagement in the Americas is of course important. But our presence as an investor is what gives us the chance to make a difference, in several ways.

First, as the third-largest investor nation after the United States and Spain, Canada matters in many countries, especially in the financial and extractive sectors.

The relatively good shape of Canadian banks is an asset for the Caribbean, where they constitute the largest part of the financial sector. In Guatemala, where I just visited, the single largest contributor to national revenues is Goldcorp Inc., a Vancouver-based firm that conducts gold-mining operations in San Marcos.

Second, Canada’s investment presence provides an opportunity to demonstrate corporate social responsibility, through best practices that ought to be followed at all levels.

These are only a few examples of how we build on our relationships with key partners in the Americas to secure access to markets, while fostering an attractive environment for business.

All over the hemisphere, we are building new avenues for bilateral cooperation in the area of innovation. Last summer, President [Michelle] Bachelet of Chile came to Canada. During her visit, she and Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper signed five memorandums of understanding in the fields of science and technology, scholarships, youth mobility, bilateral investment promotion, and sustainable mining.

Also, the visit of [Minister of International Trade Stockwell] Day to Brazil in December 2008 led to the signing of a new science and technology agreement between our two countries. The agreement will provide exciting new opportunities for bilateral investments in cutting-edge technologies.

This extensive, growing web of bilateral ties is yielding positive results. But this is no time to be complacent. More can and should be done to secure Canada’s current and future position in the Americas.

Security

Let me turn now to the security agenda. As all of you know, neither business nor equitable development can flourish in an environment of insecurity.

We are committed to working with our hemispheric partners, assisting in their efforts to strengthen local capacity in law enforcement, judicial systems, disaster relief and preparedness, and health issues. The aim is to reduce the impact of crime, drugs, terror, disasters and pandemics on Canadians and citizens of the Americas.

A good example of Canadian leadership on security assistance is our active role in the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Haiti.

We believe in the importance of being there for the long run. There is no quick fix. In the last 20 years there have been eight UN-sanctioned missions in Haiti. We have been learning from past mistakes, and are committed to improving coordination within the Canadian system and with the Haitian authorities. Canada has made a commitment of $555 million over a five-year period from 2006 to 2011. We rank second in terms of bilateral aid and deployed personnel in Haiti.

We also believe in the necessity of coordination between donors. Here again, Canada is playing a lead role.

Right now, our CIDA colleagues are organizing a technical meeting with the Haitian government and major development partners.

The meeting will take place in the near future. It will set the stage for the International Donors’ Conference, scheduled for this coming April in Washington, D.C.

Canada’s actions in Haiti are now part of an effort that, for the first time, includes a significant number of countries from the Americas. Our shared engagement helps enhance our bilateral relations.

Canada’s commitment to strengthening peace and security in the Americas can also be seen in our multilateral activities.

Through DFAIT’s Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force and other programs, we are working with the United Nations and the Organization of American States to bring timely and coordinated responses that increase peace and security in countries such as Haiti and Colombia.

Through the Pan American Health Organization, we are helping countries strengthen their capacity to deliver health services to their citizens and to respond effectively to potential pandemics.

Last fall Canada hosted the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas, which further advanced cooperation on defence matters. We also worked actively with partners for the first Meeting of Ministers of Public Security of the Americas, held in Mexico last October.

Canada continues to ensure that all of these various ministerial processes contribute to the Summit of the Americas process. The aim is to increase consistency and maximize the efficiency of the inter-American architecture.

Democratic governance

Let me now turn to the strengthening of democratic governance, which continues to be a priority for Canada.

We are optimistic when we see the democratic gains achieved in many countries of the Americas over the past two decades.

However, there is considerable variation in the depth and maturity of democratic governance. The impact of the current economic turmoil poses additional challenges.

Some countries see further progress jeopardized by the fragility of their democratic institutions and public administration, combined with poverty and socio-economic cleavages.

On equity in income distribution, the record of the Americas is among the weakest in the world. This may fuel opposition to the free market and democracy.

Canada has responded by reiterating its commitment to promoting freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

We are working with governments in the Americas that want to improve their democratic and public institutions, as well as to empower citizens and give them a voice.

At the bilateral level, we are providing assistance to make democracies more effective, transparent, accountable and inclusive.

More than one third of the democracy budget of DFAIT’s Glyn Berry Program for Peace and Security is focused on the Americas.

At the June 2007 General Assembly of the Organization of American States, Canada co-authored Resolution 2327. This instructed the Organization’s Permanent Council to convene a special meeting with representatives of civil society organizations for the purpose of examining the contribution of those organizations to strengthening democratic culture in the hemisphere.

The special meeting was held in March 2008. The Glyn Berry Program provided support for logistical organization and the participation of 31 civil society representatives.

I am pleased to say that funds from the program have been effectively supporting the valuable work undertaken by some of you, with a view to strengthening local efforts to increase citizen participation in political processes and enhance political representation in the Andean region, particularly in Venezuela.

At the multilateral level, we are promoting and defending freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law as core shared values of hemispheric cooperation.

The Organization of American States’ strengthened capacity in the area of democracy support is a key legacy of the two decades of Canadian membership.

We have also worked to ensure that democratic governance will be appropriately addressed at the upcoming Summit of the Americas.

When we meet with our interlocutors in the hemisphere, we continue to re-emphasize the importance that Canada attaches to strong democratic institutions.

On my recent visit to Nicaragua, I was able to express our concern about the reports of widespread fraud in the recent municipal elections. Canada has long-standing relationships in the region and I was able to convey this concern frankly and openly during my discussions with President Daniel Ortega. I am confident that we now understand each other better.

Conclusion

Canada is engaged in the Americas for the long term. Canada already has a wide range of interests and ties with the Americas. These involve government departments and agencies, the private sector, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, think tanks and research centres.

We need to capitalize on these ties to contribute to the development of a more prosperous, secure and democratic hemisphere.

These are the objectives the Government of Canada has set for itself in the Americas. Achieving them requires the full cooperation of Canadian society and our partners.

You are influential members of diplomatic, academic, government and business circles. Your actions, research and economic activities contribute to Canada’s leadership and help promote our values in the hemisphere.

Your expertise in your areas of specialization can make a significant contribution to the development of a coherent, effective action plan—one tailored to address the complex issues that we must consider.

This, of course, is the purpose of today’s event: to initiate dialogue in a friendly, attentive atmosphere of mutual exchange. We need to draw on each person’s expertise to improve the well-being of Canadians and citizens of our partner countries in the Americas.

I welcome your thoughts and questions.

Thank you.