Address by Minister of State Ablonczy at Ministerial Dialogue on the Americas

No. 2011/41 - Ottawa, Ontario - December 6, 2011

Check Against Delivery

Good morning, and welcome to this ministerial dialogue on the Americas. Thank you all for coming. It is wonderful to see so many accomplished people gathered here from such a variety of sectors.

I am greatly encouraged by your obvious interest and commitment to strengthening Canada’s relationship with its neighbours in the Americas, and I know that our discussions today will inform our strategic engagement with the hemisphere.

Since I was appointed in January 2011 as minister of state of foreign affairs with responsibilities for the Americas and consular affairs, I have travelled throughout our hemisphere and across Canada, to El Salvador, Peru, Brazil, Honduras, Costa Rica, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Montreal, Fredericton and Halifax.

I have met with most of my counterparts, many academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society.

And I have learned a great deal.

But I still have much to learn and I have a lot of questions. After all, this event today is called the Ministerial Dialogue on the Americas. It is about exchanging ideas, and so I want to hear from you, the experts and practitioners.

Today’s dialogue is part of a series of consultations by the Government of Canada that seek to stretch our thinking on Canada’s engagement in the Americas.

It has been four years since Prime Minister Stephen Harper first made engagement in the Americas a key foreign policy initiative for Canada, and it is essential that we continually review our strategy and keep it current so as to take advantage of the growing opportunities the hemisphere has to offer.

Canada’s whole-of-government engagement was most recently reaffirmed by the Prime Minister’s trip to the region last August. This extensive visit resulted in 25 forward-looking, results-oriented initiatives touching on a broad range of issues.

And I welcome the chance to hear your informed views and insights on some of the key trends that affect this evolving and multi-faceted engagement.

So I would like to launch today’s dialogue by asking you a few questions:

  • How is Canada doing in the Americas? How can we do better?
  • How can we make Central America a partner in dealing with security?
  • Given the very different perspectives Canada and Brazil have on the world, how do we engage Brazil?
  • And what is the future of multilateralism in the region?

Each of the four sessions that make up this day-long conversation will explore a different aspect of emerging political and economic trends in the Americas.

The first panel, touching upon economic trends in the hemisphere, will deal with some interesting questions.

The Latin America and the Caribbean region is an economically dynamic area, with significant and sustainable opportunities in trade and investment. Since 2005, our two-way trade with Latin America and the Caribbean has grown by almost 45 percent, faster than with any other area in the world.

Most of Latin America avoided the worst of the 2008 financial crisis, but given the continuing turmoil in Europe, the weak recovery in the United States and signs of a slowdown even in China, can the region continue its positive economic trajectory?

What are the elements of the region’s success?

Canada has more free trade agreements in the Americas than with the rest of the world combined. We have free trade agreements in force or pending ratification with Mexico (through the North American Free Trade Agreement), Chile, Peru, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras and Panama. We are also pursuing negotiations with CARICOM [the Caribbean Community] and the Dominican Republic, and we are in exploratory talks with MERCOSUR [the Common Southern Market].

Through our trade commissioners in Ottawa and across our network of missions, through trade missions and trade fairs, as well as through ministerial visits, the Government of Canada helps Canadian companies and investors take advantage of the opportunities presented by our various free trade agreements and the Inter-American Development Bank throughout the hemisphere.

But while these bilateral trade agreements have thrived, do they provide an adequate mechanism for integration or community building?

Signing free trade agreements is one thing, but promoting them is another. Are we doing enough on the latter?

Canada’s free trade agreements in the region eliminate obstacles to trade, but will this result in increased competitive standing?

With so many competitors in the wings, what more is needed to increase our standing?

A recent article in The Economist noted the growing importance of diasporas, and the contribution they can make to a country’s economic growth, notably in terms of intellectual and financial resources.

There are more than 70 Latin American and Caribbean diaspora organizations across Canada, and more than 29,000 students from the region studying annually in Canada. The three largest diaspora communities in Canada are from Jamaica, El Salvador and Haiti.

In turn, more than 4 million Canadians travel each year to Latin America and the Caribbean, making the region a top destination for our citizens.

So, how can Canada make better use of its large and vibrant Latin American and Caribbean diasporas and student links?

The second panel will focus on Brazil, which has emerged as a rapidly developing and influential power. Brazil is a country that is currently asserting its leadership both regionally and multilaterally. It is an economic powerhouse that will soon replace the United Kingdom as the world’s sixth-largest economy. In recent years, the Canada-Brazil relationship has reached a new level of maturity and positive engagement. This is reflected in the successful trade mission that International Trade Minister Ed Fast conducted in June and the fruitful visit in August of Prime Minister Harper.

Brazil is now Canada’s 10th-largest merchandise trading partner and eighth-highest source of foreign direct investment, as well as one of our key innovation and education partners.

When we speak of successful cooperation with Brazil in innovation and education, how do we measure that success?

What does Canada have to offer Brazil, and what do we, in turn, have to gain?

So, the bottom line is, how and where to engage with Brazil?

The third panel will cover justice and security-sector reform in Central America, a topic of great interest to Canada. In the last few years, Central America has become one of the most violent regions of the world outside of active conflict zones.

As Canada deepens its commercial ties to the Americas, we recognize that economic objectives cannot be met without security, or the freedoms and legal protections that come with strong democratic governance.

While there have certainly been improvements in parts of the hemisphere, the region continues to be affected by persistent poverty and inequality, social exclusion, crime and violence.

Canada’s international development assistance to the Americas is more than $800 million per year. This assistance is achieving solid results in reducing poverty and inequity in the region. The Canadian International Development Agency’s countries of focus include Peru, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Bolivia and those in the Caribbean region.

Canada is equally committed to advancing security throughout the hemisphere, particularly in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and has made tangible investments to that end through anti-crime and counterterrorism capacity-building programs. Funding to these programs stands at $17.9 million for 2011-12, and we have invested more than $22 million through the Global Peace and Security Fund.

Our initiatives, coordinated with our friends, are intended to increase the capacity of partners to strengthen justice and security institutions, combat transnational crime and advance defence cooperation.

In 2010, Canada joined other nations and international organizations to form the Group of Friends of Central America. In my last intervention with this group, I urged our Central American friends to implement fiscal reforms to better fund their own security. What prospects do you see for such reforms?

Is Canada on the right track in our efforts in Central America?

And are Central American countries doing enough themselves?

The last panel will discuss competitive realities in the Americas. Our hemisphere is undergoing rapid and profound transformation, and is attracting greater interest from external actors such as China and the European Union.

What are the positive and negative aspects of this greater attention to the region?

How can Canadian companies, whether multinational or small or medium-sized enterprises, compete in the region?

Finally, while we are discussing economic opportunities and challenges in the Americas, we must not forget that prosperity cannot flourish without the freedoms and legal protections that come with strong democratic governance.

Canada is working with governments and democratic actors to build strong, effective and accountable democracies in the hemisphere. We are focusing one third of our democracy-support programming on the Americas. This is intended to help strengthen and deepen citizen participation in political and electoral processes, in the development of political parties, in independent media, in legislative assemblies and in civil society.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and I had the pleasure of attending the commemoration in Chile. The region has made great strides in democratic governance over the past two decades, and we applaud this progress. However, challenges remain.

Ten years after its adoption, is the Inter-American Democratic Charter a strong enough insurance policy to safeguard democracy in the Americas? How can we strengthen the charter’s implementation?

One thing is clear to me: we all have a vested interest in the prosperity, security and stability of our region.

That is why it is so important for us to build and sustain relationships with our hemispheric neighbours.

Through our strong bilateral relationships with the countries of the region, our multilateral work with the Organization of American States [OAS] and the Inter-American Development Bank, and the wealth of business and people-to-people networks that link Canada to our southern neighbours, our ties in the Americas are growing stronger every day.

In terms of hemispheric architecture, what are the challenges confronting the OAS, particularly given the rise of sub-regional organizations such as the Union of South American Nations and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States?

How can we make the best use of the OAS to advance our priorities in the region? Could Canada better leverage its substantial financial contribution? If so, how?

And more generally, how should Canada navigate these turbulent hemispheric waters?

I am eager to get this discussion under way, and I look forward to future opportunities to continue this dialogue. Thank you again for your interest and commitment to this whole-of-Canada discussion. I know it will be a worthwhile conversation.

Thank you.