Notes for an Address by the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (Americas), to the Greater Toronto Marketing Alliance 'Building Trade and Investment Links in the Americas'

April 24, 2009
Toronto, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

It’s a great pleasure to be here today among so many of the people who make the Greater Toronto Area such a powerhouse in Canada’s economy.

Your efforts are appreciated. And they’ll be critical as the Government of Canada advances in helping communities like this one move through—and beyond—the current economic crisis.

Earlier, [Industry] Minister [Tony] Clement told you about what our government is doing to help Canada’s economy recover. Building new international trade and investment links must be part of the solution too.

Globalization isn’t going away. Canada must continue creating new opportunities for its firms and investors to prosper in markets around the world.

As you know, our government has been moving forward on an aggressive agenda to open doors for Canadian businesses and investors abroad.

Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy focuses on a range of tools, including free trade agreements, boosting the services provided to Canadian businesses around the world, and innovation and investment partnerships.

As a country of the Americas, Canada is committed to playing a larger role in the region and doing so for the long term. The current and future interests of Canada and its neighbours are increasingly interdependent.

This global financial crisis is no time to be complacent. Our future demands that all nations work together to weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever before.

Prime Minister [Stephen Harper] has made a personal commitment to work toward a more prosperous, democratic and secure hemisphere. He created the position I now hold, with a specific focus on the Americas, to give Canada a new voice in dialogue with its neighbours.

As Minister of State of Foreign Affairs for the Americas, I’d like to focus today on how Canada is strengthening partnerships in Latin America and the Caribbean.

We all know that greater prosperity can’t take hold without security, or without the freedoms and laws brought about through democratic governance. And democracy cannot function without personal security and the chance to improve living standards through increased business opportunities.

Canada is committed to increasing prosperity and opening markets in a manner that also protects human rights, the democratic process and collective security. That commitment can show people in the Americas that democracy is able to deliver more than just elections.

The global financial crisis has hit all nations hard. Canada has provided leadership internationally by encouraging free trade and open markets, and discouraging other countries from moving back to protectionist measures.

Canada is working to ensure that the neighbourhood’s prosperity gains are not lost. Just last week at the Summit of the Americas, the Prime Minister announced a substantial contribution toward strengthening the resources of the international financial institutions, working to temporarily increase the lending capacity of the Inter-American Development Bank in response to the financial crisis. This timely increase will provide countries in the region with greater access to credit to promote economic growth—an essential element of economic recovery.

Canada’s strong stance against protectionism and in favour of further liberalization is bringing benefits not only to the region of the Americas but also to Canada’s economy, at a time when these benefits are needed more than ever.

There are almost 70 Latin American and Caribbean diaspora organizations across Canada. Many recent Latin American and Caribbean immigrants are proud to call Toronto home. They contribute to the rich and diverse social fabric of a multicultural society, something Canada values greatly.

The importance of Canada’s Latin American and Caribbean connection extends to trade and investment. Canadian firms and investment dollars have a strong presence in the Latin American and Caribbean markets.

Last year, two-way trade in merchandise grew 9.5 percent to over $22 billion. Investment ties are even stronger, with Canadian direct investment into the region worth nearly $132 billion at the end of 2008.

Canadian companies are among the largest investors in Latin America and the Caribbean, particularly in the sectors of financial services and extractive industries. And the region is fast becoming an important source of foreign direct investment into Canada as well.

At the same time, it’s important not to view the hemisphere through a single lens. From the resource-rich Andes to the vast agricultural lands of the Southern Cone, to the well-developed tourism and financial services industry in the Caribbean and Central America, the region has a true diversity of opportunities for Canadian firms.

Working in close consultation with businesses, industry representatives and academics, the government has developed market plans. They target key sectors where Canadian firms could make big gains and have substantial positive local economic impacts in the region.

The sectors include:

  • building products and construction;
  • electric power equipment and services;
  • environmental industries;
  • information and communications technology;
  • and oil and gas equipment and services.

Canadian investments are complemented by a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility.

The fact is that Canada can offer a lot to its partners in the region in all of these sectors. And those partners are beginning to understand what Canada can offer.

Take innovation, for example. Canada is home to some of the world’s most exciting scientific research and technology development.

Our government has recognized the importance of innovation to Canada’s national economic agenda and is working to reshape the country’s trade policy to reflect the new reality.

This approach includes efforts to work with Canada’s global partners to develop tomorrow’s scientific breakthroughs.

Look at Brazil. Canada enjoys a strong track record of collaboration with that nation, in innovative areas such as biotechnology, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, space technologies and renewable energy.

Our two countries are pushing this relationship further with a new science and technology agreement. The agreement will make it even easier for scientists, researchers and innovators from both countries to join forces and put their ideas, expertise, research and innovation to work in markets around the world.

It’s one more example of what Canada can offer partners in the region, and what they can offer Canada.

As Canada reinforces its connections with the region, it is also working in support of the next generation of leaders.

Last week at the Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister Harper announced the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Program of scholarships, expanding an existing Canadian program.

Up to 1,600 scholarships are now available for students to pursue studies or research here in Canada in fields that serve to advance the economic, social and governance needs of the hemisphere.

These new leaders will have an appreciation for Canadian values, technologies and know-how. The program will also help enrich institutional partnerships between Canada and other countries in the Americas.

Of course, part of the government’s strategy in the Americas involves opening doors for Canadian businesses through a range of free trade agreements [FTAs].

Building on existing FTAs with Chile and Costa Rica, Canada is pushing forward on negotiations with El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

My first official visit as Minister of State for the Americas was to Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador. I reinforced our commitment to working collaboratively to combat hemispheric challenges, particularly insecurity, crime and poverty.

Because of Canada’s long-standing relationship with these countries, I was able to have frank and open discussions with senior political leaders. We touched on areas about which Canada is deeply concerned, such as the impact of corruption and the need for greater transparency and accountability. In particular, I expressed my deep concern over allegations of fraud during local elections in Nicaragua last November. On the other hand, Canada was pleased recently to be able to commend El Salvador on a free and fair election this past March.

The Dominican Republic, Panama and the Caribbean Community are other potential free trade partners. I travelled to the Caribbean in February and again reinforced Canada’s commitment to building on its existing relationship with the Caribbean.

Prime Minister Harper met with leaders of the Caribbean Community at the recent Summit of the Americas to engage them in further strengthening trade ties with Canada. At the Summit, the Prime Minister announced a five-year technical assistance program to help countries that have signed or are about to sign trade agreements with Canada.

These are great results.

Following the Summit, the Prime Minister travelled to Jamaica. There, he reaffirmed Canada’s interest in deepening its engagement with this important regional partner and with the whole of the Caribbean, including through the negotiation of a mutually beneficial trade deal.

Last month, [International Trade] Minister [Stockwell] Day tabled legislation in the House of Commons to implement two other free trade agreements, with Peru and Colombia.

The agreements give Canadian companies and producers a competitive edge in many key sectors, including wheat, paper products, mining, oil and gas, engineering, information technology and financial services.

This represents a great opportunity for Canada’s agricultural producers. They will benefit from the immediate removal of tariffs on such cornerstone crops as wheat and pulses. The result is that Canadian producers will be more competitive in these lucrative markets.

Manufacturing is another good example of a sector that will benefit under the agreements.

It’s no secret that Canadian manufacturers across the country are facing tough times these days. They need all the opportunities they can get to ride out the storm.

That means opening doors in new markets such as Peru and Colombia. With the free trade agreements, Colombian and Peruvian tariffs on most machinery and industrial goods will be eliminated. This is especially significant for Canadian manufacturers of mining equipment, industrial machinery, construction equipment and a number of other products.

The agreements also create opportunities for Canadian companies to access lucrative government procurement contracts in these markets. And the FTAs take steps to promote two-way investment between Canadian firms and partners in Peru and Colombia.

These are just a few areas where Canadian companies and investors alike can find real benefits in these important markets.

I recently returned from a successful bilateral visit to Colombia. I met with a number of key stakeholders from civil society and labour unions, as well as the business community. I engaged them in dynamic discussions of the free trade agreement recently introduced in Parliament for ratification.

We exchanged frank views on the current situation in Colombia. I expressed Canada’s support for the efforts of [President Álvaro] Uribe’s government to improve the personal security situation of citizens. I also expressed support for the Colombian government’s ongoing efforts in the area of human rights.

I had the opportunity to meet with Colombian Foreign Minister Jaime Bermúdez, and we discussed Canada’s active role in support of peace, security and human rights in Colombia. Given the positive relations between our two countries and the mature and frank nature of the dialogue, we agreed to establish regular human rights consultations to discuss bilateral and multilateral areas in which our countries share an interest and cooperate.

In meeting with all these different stakeholders, I was able to highlight that the FTAs with both Peru and Colombia are accompanied by labour cooperation and environment side agreements. They include strong provisions to ensure that increased business does not come at the expense of workers or the environment. Canada looks forward to using the agreements as a template for future FTAs with other countries in the region.

The Government of Canada firmly believes that trade and investment can play a positive role in communities around the world. That’s why it recently announced new initiatives to support responsible practices for Canadian businesses abroad.

The government’s Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy includes a series of new measures to help Canadian mining and oil and gas companies meet, and possibly exceed, their social and environmental responsibilities abroad.

The government is creating a new “counsellor” office to help resolve issues that may arise between Canadian companies and the communities in which they operate.

We’re supporting a new centre of excellence outside government to give Canadian businesses and other organizations one-stop shopping for the information and tools they need.

Through the Canadian International Development Agency, the government is continuing to help foreign governments develop their own capacity to manage their natural resources responsibly and sustainably.

And for Canadian businesses operating abroad, we are continuing to promote voluntary performance and reporting guidelines that are internationally recognized.

Canadian companies play an important role in bettering the lives of people in communities around the world, including in the Americas. They’re creating jobs, prosperity and opportunities. And thanks to initiatives like these, they’re doing so in a responsible and sustainable manner.

At the same time, the government fully recognizes that its foreign policy objectives cannot be achieved without significant Canadian presence in these markets.

We advocate for the principles and practice of democracy and human rights, which require regulation of open markets and policies promoting social cohesion. In addition, security from crime can best be achieved by striving for greater social equity and justice.

Canada’s trade commissioners are active throughout the region, building trade, investment and innovation links with Canadian partners. This includes expanded services in Brazil: Canada is adding trade resources in Rio [de Janeiro] and São Paulo, opening a new office in Porto Alegre and expanding its mission in Recife to include trade resources.

Export Development Canada also maintains a strong presence in the region. And Canadian missions in the region are working closely with Citizenship and Immigration Canada to address critical issues such as visas and labour mobility.

Keeping the human links strong between Canada and its partners in the region is absolutely critical. Our government is taking the steps necessary to do exactly that, and to ensure that Canada builds productive, prosperous partnerships with its friends throughout the region.

Canada’s economy was built on trade. Its jobs and quality of life in communities such as this one depend on it. And its ability to ride out the current economic storm is directly tied to its success in opening doors to commercial cooperation with partners around the world.

Latin America and the Caribbean are at the centre of the government’s efforts to help create opportunities for Canadians through—and far beyond—the current crisis.

Let’s work together to translate these opportunities into jobs and prosperity that will benefit us all.

Thank you.