Notes for an Address by the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), to the Inter-AmericanDialogue

March 16, 2009
Washington, D.C.

Check Against Delivery

It is a great pleasure to join you this morning. I welcome the opportunity to meet with distinguished members of the Inter-American Dialogue. Canada counts this organization among its most important hemispheric partners. Indeed, we share many of the same goals.

I read with interest your policy recommendations to the new U.S. administration—a document that attests to the quality of thoughtful analysis carried out by the Dialogue.

I am pleased too with the ongoing active cooperation between the Dialogue and the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, or FOCAL, our own leading Americas think tank.

I am here today to outline one of our government’s recent initiatives to help further cooperation and forge an even stronger relationship with our hemispheric partners. This is our Americas engagement, which reinforces Canada’s commitment to deepening its participation in the region.

As the region addresses the full scope of the worldwide economic downturn, this is a good time to assess how we are all acting and cooperating to bring solutions. Over the years, we have evolved together in the Americas to address problems ranging from endemic poverty and inequality to security concerns.

Canada is well placed to engage in deliberations on this issue not only by virtue of its membership in the G8 and the G20, but also because of the relevance of its economic and regulatory approach. This has made Canada one of the nations least affected by the current downturn.

As you may know, President Barack Obama recently visited Ottawa to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They agreed on the importance of close Canada-U.S. cooperation on a number of key international priorities, including achieving an economic recovery in the Americas and beyond. A follow-up to the leaders’ meeting was a bilateral visit two weeks ago by Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to consult with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. I look forward to my own consultation today with senior U.S. officials on our common interests and approach in the hemisphere.

Our two countries have agreed to work together closely in the region, including in promoting effective discussion and meaningful results at the Summit of the Americas in April.

Overview of the relationship

Canada has long-standing, rich and diverse ties with countries of the Americas. It has been forging close partnerships and commercial ties with the region as a whole for over 100 years, producing results that have been mutually beneficial.

Last year, the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean reported that Canada has become the third-largest investor in the region. Foreign direct investment from Canada into the Americas—excluding Mexico and Bermuda—now stands at $94.9 billion. That’s about three times the volume of Canadian investment in Asia. Our investments have been in a multitude of enterprises, but they have been particularly notable in the financial services and extractive sectors. Canadian banks have long had a presence in the Caribbean; they now offer stability and much-needed credit throughout the Americas. Particularly noteworthy have been the efforts of Scotiabank over the last decade. Through its determination to provide mortgage and consumer lending long absent in the region, this institution has gone a long way in what I would call democratizing access to credit.

Canadian mining and exploration companies are also on the leading edge in applying best practices of corporate social responsibility. Investment from outside the region is not always so scrupulous about matters such as labour standards, or community services and engagement. We are proud that Canadian companies serve as standard-bearers.

When I visited Guatemala in January, I found that the once-controversial Goldcorp mine has become the single-largest source of revenue for the government of that country. This shows another long-term Canadian strength: fiscal responsibility.

Until the economic downturn, our commercial relations had been on a steep growth curve. Canada’s trade with the Americas grew by 28 percent in 2008. This was due to a combination of factors, including strong demand for Canadian offerings and competitive pricing. But one of the factors, I believe, was the powerful message sent by our government about the importance of bolstering free and open markets. Certainly, Canada has been among the most active free traders in the region.

We are building on our successful free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica. In 2008, Canada signed free trade agreements with Peru and Colombia. The agreements will soon be brought before Parliament for ratification. We have ongoing negotiations with Panama, the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean Community, and the Central American countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

And our ties extend beyond mere economics. For countries marked by decades of civil conflict, Canada has been “branded” as a land of refuge. As a result, roughly 11 percent of recent immigrants to Canada are from Latin America and the Caribbean—particularly Chile, El Salvador, Jamaica and Haiti. Across Canada, there are over 70 organizations of the Latin American and Caribbean diasporas, fostering ties between our countries. Of late, Canada’s programs for seasonal migratory labour have played a significant role: they offer economic benefits and demonstrate that there is an alternative to the informal labour flows that predominate in the Americas.

The region is an increasingly popular travel destination for Canadian tourists, whose number reaches almost 4 million every year.

There are also growing academic connections. More than 80 Canadian universities and colleges have agreements with partner institutions to promote student exchanges. These further strengthen people-to-people ties between Canada and the region. For example, Canada has become the leading destination for Brazilian students studying abroad. They are building a human bridge that can only bring us closer in the future.

Latin America and the Caribbean are primary recipients of Canadian aid programs. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) disbursed $492.1 million in development assistance to the Americas in 2007-08. Major recent commitments include a $600-million investment over 10 years in the Caribbean.

Canada has a vested interest in its neighbours’ progress. Our economic success, our profound belief in democracy and the rule of law, the security of our country and our citizens within our borders and beyond—all are intricately linked with the welfare of other countries of the hemisphere. This recognition is at the core of Canada’s Americas engagement.

Americas engagement

As a committed member of the inter-American system, Canada has the opportunity and the responsibility to be active on hemispheric issues of critical importance to all countries in the region.

Our Americas engagement is focusing Canada’s efforts on three interrelated and mutually reinforcing objectives:

  • enhancing the prosperity of citizens in the region;
  • strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance throughout the Americas; and
  • building a safe and secure hemisphere.

Let me summarize.

Obviously prosperity has become more elusive of late, for all countries and both north and south hemispheres. Over the past six months, the economic situation has deteriorated further and faster than anyone could have predicted.

No country is immune to the powerful forces currently sweeping the globe. In fact, Canada shares many of the problems faced by its Latin American neighbours. Falling commodity prices mean shrinking exports for most of us, in turn leading to sluggish growth and rising unemployment.

Canada is faring better than most countries, but Canadians have not been spared the wrenching impact of the worldwide recession.

Despite continued economic uncertainty, it may be argued that most countries in the Americas are better prepared to weather a downturn than they were in the past. Since the 1990s, many have worked hard to improve their debt situation. They now have lower total debt ratios, reduced interest rates and decreased debt service requirements. In fact, many of these countries now enjoy fiscal surpluses.

Thanks to these efforts, many countries will be in a better position to rebound when brighter days return. And they certainly will return if we can resist the lure of short-term measures, whether populist or protectionist.

There is a risk that the current market failure will unfairly be blamed on capitalism rather than individual capitalists who acted without adequate supervision. In the region, we can detect the return of antiquated views, favouring import substitution and rejecting globalization. We must resist this. We need to identify and implement realistic solutions. For example, Canada is working with the Inter-American Development Bank on a liquidity enhancement, and I look forward to discussing this with President Luis Alberto Moreno this afternoon. In the meantime we need to contribute to repairing financial systems, ensuring that credit flows, and not only announcing but implementing expenditure programs.

Finally, we have to resist protectionism in every sense—not only tariff protectionism, but also the impact of spending measures and rescue bail-outs. These must be managed in a way that does not damage market participation in the region.

Another objective of Canada’s Americas engagement is security. The economic crisis has a clear and identifiable impact on security and governance in the region. What are the medium-term implications of reduced remittances, returning migrants, rising unemployment and falling government revenues? Some might call this set of challenges a “perfect storm.” Canada sees it as clear reason to increase its engagement in addressing security problems in the Americas.

As a result, Canada is assisting countries in the region in their efforts to strengthen law enforcement, judicial systems, disaster relief and preparedness, and health issues. Working together, we are confident we can reduce the impact of crime, drugs, terrorism, disasters and pandemics on Canadians and citizens of the Americas.

A good example of Canada’s leadership is its active role in the stabilization and reconstruction efforts in Haiti. CIDA’s annual bilateral program budget for Haiti grew fivefold in five years, from $20 million in 2003-04 to $100 million in 2007-08. That makes Canada the second-largest bilateral donor to the country.

Canada is also providing significant support for key stabilization initiatives in Haiti through its Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force. With an annual commitment of $15 million, the task force carries out a set of programs aimed at strengthening Haiti’s maritime and land borders, in support of a key priority identified in the mandate of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The programs in turn contribute to improving regional security.

For reasons I have noted, the Caribbean and Central America are areas that will be particularly affected by the economic downturn and attendant security risks. I saw this first-hand during my recent visits to both sub-regions, and I discussed these issues with presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Álvaro Colom of Guatemala, Antonio Saca of El Salvador and Bharrat Jagdeo of Guyana, and with Prime Minister Patrick Manning of Trinidad and Tobago. In Nicaragua, Canada chairs the donor coordinating body, and it will assume that role next year in Honduras as well as in Guatemala. As is the case in Haiti, it is critical for donor countries to agree with the host on underlying risks and the division of responsibilities and tasks. The challenge is immense and growing, but development aid and foreign direct investment coordination may not have an impact in the short term. An evident requirement is smarter and more targeted assistance, as well as better coordination.

Canada’s commitment can also be seen in its multilateral activities. In addition to supporting the Organization of American States (OAS), it is working through the United Nations to bring peace and security to the region. Recognizing that this includes improving emergency preparedness, Canada is working through the Pan American Health Organization to strengthen countries’ capacity for delivering health services to their citizens and responding effectively to potential pandemics.

As well, last fall Canada hosted the Conference of Defence Ministers of the Americas, which was successful in advancing regional cooperation on defence matters. We also worked with our partners for the region’s first Meeting of Ministers of Public Security last year.

Canada continues to ensure that all of these various ministerial processes contribute to the upcoming Summit of the Americas. It is working very closely with Trinidad and Tobago and other regional partners to ensure that the Summit brings tangible results through a clear action plan aligned with the work of other key regional institutions.

When I was in Trinidad and Tobago last month, I met with high-ranking government officials, OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza and Ambassador Luis Alberto Rodriguez, the National Summit Coordinator. I reaffirmed Canada’s support for the Summit of the Americas process and our desire to see a credible Summit process that delivers measurable progress for our citizens. We favour close alignment between Summit directives and the work of the inter-American ministerial meetings and institutions, such as the OAS and the Inter-American Development Bank. To ensure follow-up and accountability, we believe the Summit should be held on a regular, predictable basis—every three years.

The April Summit will be the first for some 20 hemispheric leaders, including Prime Minister Harper and President Obama. We must seize the moment to revitalize hemispheric cooperation and focus on the many challenges facing the region.

The Summit provides a rare opportunity for leaders throughout the Americas to agree on a common hemispheric approach to pressing issues, such as the global economic crisis. Equally important, our countries can take joint action on other shared interests, including energy, the environment, and strengthening democratic governance, security and prosperity.

Conclusion

I believe there is every reason for optimism, notwithstanding the current economic climate.

By pursuing this model of partnership, I have no doubt that together we can strengthen hemispheric cooperation in support of peace, security and development—and produce long-term results that will benefit us all.

Thank you.