Address by Minister of State Kent at Panamanian Business Executive Association Meeting

No. 2010/59 - Panama City, Panama - August 18, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It is a great pleasure for me to be here, and I wish to express my appreciation for the invitation to speak today at the Panamanian Business Executive Association’s monthly meeting.

Today, I will speak about Canada’s engagement in the Americas, and, more importantly, about the growing bonds between Canada and Panama.

Canada’s engagement with Panama is part of a larger commitment to reinvigorate our historic ties with all of our partners throughout the Western hemisphere. We have recognized that Canada’s economic prosperity, the robustness of our democracy and the security of our citizens are linked with those of our neighbours. It was with this in mind that Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in 2007 that the Americas would constitute a key foreign policy priority for the Canadian government.

At that time, he stated that Canada’s vision for the region—or our strategy of renewed engagement in the Americas—would be based on three connected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere, and enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

We all know that greater prosperity cannot take hold without security, or without the freedoms and legal protections brought about through democratic governance. Similarly, democratic governance cannot be consolidated in the context of persistent poverty and social exclusion, or when personal security is threatened by crime and violence.

Now in the third year of our strategy, we can see that Canada’s decision to strengthen engagement in the Americas has been noticed, and I believe our partners, including Panama, are increasingly realizing that Canada is present and committed to supporting all of our joint efforts. We intend to continue to work together to build on our successes.

On the democracy front, Canada, working with like-minded countries in Latin America, has been a leading proponent of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. We have also supported the efforts of the Organization of American States [OAS] to promote democracy, including by consistently supporting electoral monitoring missions.

This year, we celebrated our 20th year as a full member of the OAS, an institution we see as a key political forum in which to address hemispheric challenges. Indeed, we will continue to work hard to strengthen the capability of the OAS in the area of supporting democracy.

Canada also provides assistance to non-governmental partners in the region. By doing so, we support local efforts to strengthen citizen participation and help maintain a strong and vibrant civil society, free and open media, and research networks focused on democracy issues in the region.

Canada has also been strengthening its diplomatic capabilities in the region. This past fall, we launched a new Andean Unit for Democratic Governance in Lima, Peru, to support regional efforts to enhance democratic practices, transparency and good governance.

In personal terms, I have been honoured to represent Canada within the group of OAS foreign ministers in support of Honduran efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the political impasse in that country. It was a particular pleasure for me to work closely with Panama’s Vice-President [Juan Carlos] Varela on this issue.

With regard to security, Canada’s main objective is to enhance regional stability by addressing threats posed by drug trafficking, organized crime, health pandemics and natural disasters.

Our efforts are focused on Central America and the Caribbean, two areas where security has deteriorated considerably in recent years and where criminal activity has significant links to Canada. Last year, we launched an Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, through which we are providing up to $15 million per year to projects that seek to strengthen the capacity to address illicit drugs, corruption, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, money laundering, security-system reform and crime prevention. For example, Canada is supporting the training of and purchase of equipment for local police, and the provision of technical and legal expertise.

In addition to these efforts, we enhanced our diplomatic resources in the region by launching a regional office for peace and security based right here in Panama. This office provides high-quality regional-level strategic analysis, assessment and advice on security issues in the Americas, with a focus on Central America and the Caribbean. With its policy contributions, the office helps to advance Canada’s efforts to address public security concerns in the Americas.

Our commitment to this region was demonstrated by our rapid and comprehensive response to the earthquake in Haiti. On January 25, to facilitate international coordination of a response to the crisis, Canada hosted the Montreal Ministerial Preparatory Conference on Haiti. This conference achieved consensus around a set of key principles that are serving to guide international efforts going forward. During the subsequent pledging conference held in New York City, Canada confirmed its long-term commitment to Haiti and announced a contribution of $400 million for humanitarian and reconstruction programs there. Canada is committed to supporting Haiti for the long term. Recovery and reconstruction efforts will take years, and Canada will stand by the Government of Haiti and the Haitian people to build a better Haiti.

Under the prosperity pillar, Canada has worked hard to encourage free trade throughout the global economic crisis and continues to do so as economies around the world recover. We did this by encouraging open markets at a time when many others considered isolationist policies. Panama took the same approach as Canada, proving that choosing cooperation with your neighbours and partners is the best way to create jobs, prosperity and hope for our citizens.

For Canada, the commitment to further trade liberalization is a key component of our engagement in the region. Over the past few years, we signed free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and of course, most recently, with Panama. We are also negotiating trade agreements with the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic and the Central American Four countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Once implemented, the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement will benefit both of our countries. It will eliminate tariffs for the vast majority of products traded between our two countries and provide better access for service providers.

It will secure market access in the area of government procurement, opening more doors for businesses to participate in government procurement projects in both our countries. Through the investment obligations, Canadian and Panamanian investors will have greater transparency and protection.

And the free trade agreement will give our Panamanian partners access to the Canadian market, and all of our business advantages, including our open business environment; our strong fiscal position; our sound banking system; and our skilled workforce, with the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates among countries of the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development].

It is also important to note that in addition to the free trade agreement, we have signed parallel agreements on labour cooperation and the environment. These agreements commit our countries to high levels of environmental protection and labour rights, and show that free trade can go hand in hand with these principles.

In short, with the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement, our two countries are joining forces to expand market opportunities and promote prosperity and job creation in both Canada and Panama. And it couldn’t have come at a better time. Canadian businesses have long called for closer ties to Panama, recognizing the immense opportunities that exist. Panama is a dynamic, innovative economy.

We believe that Panama can benefit by tapping into the Canadian marketplace, and that Canadian businesses can play an important role as Panama continues to expand its economy in many key areas.

Canada is excited by the wealth of business opportunities. From Panama’s growing services sector, to its modern ports, its booming construction and tourism industries, not to mention its traditional position, Panama is one of the most important distribution and manufacturing hubs on the planet.

Canadian companies have a long history of expertise in these and other sectors. And we can offer Panama a lot as this country continues its incredible economic expansion.

The free trade agreement will build on Canada’s already significant trade and investment presence. We are the third-largest national investor in the Americas after the United States and Spain. Our investment presence is particularly strong in the financial and extractive sectors, and in recent years, Canadian banks have increased their presence throughout the Americas.

We know this is in part due to the reliability of an established presence in the region. Scotiabank, for example, has been active in Panama since 1973. Canadian mining companies also have substantial operations in many countries throughout the region, and some of these companies have already become significant contributors to the national revenues of host countries.

A broad range of Canadian companies and institutions are committed to maintaining and expanding ties with the region. Here in Panama, in addition to Scotiabank, we note the presence of SNC Lavalin and Inmet Mining Corporation, among others, and important Canadian institutions like McGill University. We see the widespread use of the BlackBerry, which was developed by Research in Motion, a Canadian company. We also note the use of coins minted in Canada, in particular specially minted coins in support of the fight against breast cancer and commemorative coins for the Panamanian children’s hospital.

This close relationship with Panama is driving some solid trade and investment figures. Last year, two-way trade reached $132.1 million and Canadian companies are demonstrating a heightened interest in Panama as an investment destination.

There are also many other benefits to strengthening the partnership between Canada and Panama. For example, our investment presence in the region serves as an example of the best practices of corporate social responsibility.

The Government of Canada encourages all Canadian companies to respect applicable laws and international standards, to operate transparently and in consultation with host governments and local communities, and to conduct their activities in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

Our corporations in turn have become global leaders in ensuring that environmental, social and economic benefits accrue through responsible business practices.

And Canada can offer much in terms of helping to develop Panama’s human capital—a fundamental part of combatting poverty and security sustainable economic growth. Canada is a world leader in education, as well as in developing professional and technical talent in the private sector.

Canada views Panama as an important partner, and values Panama as a like-minded ally. With strong growth forecast throughout the Americas, there are clearly many opportunities for Canada and Panama to work together and benefit from each other’s strengths and experience. In fact, we see this as a particularly productive time in our relations, given the expanded opportunities that are expected to follow once our free trade agreement comes into force.

As I began, Canada’s Americas strategy incorporates three connected and mutually reinforcing pillars: strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance, building a safe and secure hemisphere and enhancing the prosperity of citizens. Canada looks forward to continuing to work with partners like Panama throughout the hemisphere. Partners who share our values and actively promote democracy and economic inclusion for all citizens.

By working strategically with like-minded partners such as Panama, we believe we can build a stronger, safer, more democratic and more prosperous hemisphere in which all will benefit.

Thank you.