Address by Minister Ablonczy to the Organization of the American States

Canada and the OAS: A Lasting Relationship for Growth and Security

April 10, 2013 – Washington, D.C.

Check Against Delivery

Excellencies, members of the Secretariat, distinguished guests and colleagues:

Mr. Chairman, thank you for allowing time on the agenda for me to address the Permanent Council today.

For Canada, the Organization of American States [OAS] is a key, central and indispensable venue for cooperation with hemispheric partners. As such, I sincerely welcome the opportunity today to share Canada’s perspective on the Americas, on our shared goals and on this forum itself.

With the global community not yet fully out from under the shadow of the financial crisis, and with our peoples bringing different perspectives to the vision for the future of our hemisphere, there has never been a greater need for a strong, purposeful and well-supported OAS.

The face of the world is changing. In the aftermath of the global recession, traditional economic powers are struggling to regain their market share. At the same time, new and emerging economies, including in our region, are experiencing the bulk of new growth.

In my opinion, in the Americas this rise is among the most impressive in the world. It is clear that the Americas is truly coming into its own, both economically and politically.

Recognizing the economic and geopolitical importance of the Americas, Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper made it a foreign policy priority for Canada in 2007. After all, the Americas is our region. We are neighbours, and this is our home.

Canada’s engagement in the Americas has brought our government together to work with partners in the region to advance shared objectives under three overarching goals:

  • First, boosting mutual economic opportunity by breaking down trade barriers;
  • Second, strengthening security and institutions, with a focus on making the streets safer in all our countries; and
  • Third, fostering lasting relationships by building stronger people-to-people ties.

These objectives are supported by our commitment to democratic values, including respect for human rights.

Canada is convinced that economic growth and opportunity hinges on advancing democracy and security, and we consider the OAS our strong and steadfast partner in achieving those results.

That is why, since 2007, our government has increased our focus and deepened our engagement in the Americas through official development assistance, multilateral contributions and security-focused programming. We have been working hard to create economic opportunities, to bolster security and institutions and to foster lasting relationships that benefit us all.

And we have had some great successes to date.

The Economic Agenda

In terms of the economy, we are fortunate that many of us have built strong networks of free trade agreements and other investment and trade links across the region.

Sustainable investment and trade are creating opportunities that improve people’s lives.

In Canada, we know from experience that increasing trade and commercial-economic ties is the best way to enhance prosperity and growth. With the hugely successful and foundational NAFTA serving as a guidepost, Canada is working hard today to further increase two-way trade and investment with our regional partners. Our results speak for themselves.

In the past six years, Canada has concluded, signed or brought into force more free trade agreements with Latin America and the Caribbean than with the rest of the world combined.

In fact, while in Panama just a few short weeks ago, I had the pleasure of announcing that the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement would be entering into force on April 1.

Viewed in isolation, Panama is a heartening example of a high-growth emerging market: Canada’s two-way merchandise trade in 2011 was $235 million, an increase of 105 percent over the previous five years. But Panama is also emblematic of a hemisphere that is undergoing incredible change.

From a broader, regional perspective, we know that Latin America and the Caribbean has become an economically dynamic region that has experienced significant economic growth, and analysis tells us that there is more to follow.

By recognizing these tectonic shifts and harnessing them for the benefit of our peoples, we are opening markets and making way for greater mutual prosperity.

For Canada’s part, our overall trade with the region has increased by 32.1 percent since 2007. What’s more, over 2,500 Canadian companies are active in the Americas.

Furthermore, new relationships have developed in recent years to respond to the region’s growing economic dynamism.

For example, Canada recently became an observer to the Pacific Alliance. This alliance is showing leadership in the region, promoting good governance and open markets. Member nations are also making great efforts to take down trade barriers between them, with the ultimate goal of reaching out to Asia—pooling their heft and credibility to channel opportunities in the Pacific Rim.

However, the OAS has not been engaged to its fullest potential in supporting such economic initiatives.

Canada believes that the OAS, as the premier political forum in the hemisphere, must now take a more substantial role in building an environment that will support investment, and translate that investment into growth. OAS member states have been mandated by leaders to collaborate for the achievement of economic growth—and the OAS should lead these efforts by playing the important role that only a political body can play.

We believe that the OAS needs to play that proactive role—together with partners at the Inter-American Development Bank, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the OAS member states. The OAS has a great deal to offer and is able to add incredible value to those efforts.

Democracy and Security

A second overarching goal for Canada in the Americas is to strengthen security and democratic institutions.

As a country of the New World and a member of la gran familia de las Americas [the big Americas family], Canada is steadfastly devoted to the democratic values that our countries have endorsed together.

The adoption of the [Inter-American] Democratic Charter is a shining statement—unique in the world—of the shared commitment of the countries of the hemisphere to pursue, support and advance democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and accountability of public institutions for the people of the Americas. No stronger statement of commitment to the principles of democracy exists, and Canada shares this body’s pride in this achievement.

The OAS’s ability to support and advance democracy in the hemisphere is one of its greatest strengths. The stability this has brought to the hemisphere, the support it provides to struggling democracies and governments in transition, and the development of the institutions of governance have set the terms by which countries of the hemisphere have been building independent, innovative and dynamic societies.

Canada has been a solid partner in those efforts. We have supported fair and transparent elections in 17 countries of the region by contributing to 47 OAS electoral observation missions between 2009 and 2011. We will also be supporting the upcoming OAS Observer Mission to Paraguay later this month.

Beyond sound institutions, we know that successful societies also require peace and stability.

The threat of organized criminal networks, including the illicit drug trade and related violent crimes, undermine security and good governance and make it difficult to maintain an environment where trade and investment can flourish.

That is why Canada has increased our efforts to combat transnational organized crime and to strengthen governance in Latin America and the Caribbean: to support our partners’ efforts to strengthen freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We have placed special emphasis on working in partnership with local governments—whether through military, law enforcement or civilian projects—to improve security in Central America, the Caribbean and Mexico, a key transit region for northbound drug trafficking.

In Colombia, for example, Canada has actively supported the country’s quest for peace and security—providing more than $32 million since 2006 to support victims’ rights, improve justice and clear landmines.

Canada has been a lead donor to the OAS Mission to Support the Peace Process [in Colombia], which has played a pivotal role in the disarmament of the paramilitary groups and continues to provide critical assistance to the Government of Colombia as it reintegrates former combatants and tackles land restitution reforms.

Security is improving, and this is creating an environment where individuals and businesses are better able to prosper and grow.

I invite you all to visit The Americas: Our Neighbours, Our Priority to find out more about Canada’s many initiatives in the region. On our website, we have been cataloguing our many partnership projects in the Americas and organizing them by location on a publicly posted virtual map called Panorama-Americas. It’s a project inspired by the pioneering map tool led by the Inter-American Development Bank.

The map currently showcases location and project information for Central America, with details on other regions of Latin America and the Caribbean to follow, bit by bit. It’s an example of how we’re working to coordinate our own efforts and ensure effective results.

OAS Reform

This brings me to another theme this morning, related to institutional strengthening.

It is no secret that the OAS suffers chronic challenges and needs to find a path to long-term stability.

Canada believes that by taking a hard look at our objectives and the structure we have relied upon to date, we will be able to boost the OAS’s credibility and profile as a multilateral organization.

You have no doubt seen that through our own role at the OAS, Canada has been working with many of you to promote budget reform and modernize the organization.

Canada believes that the OAS must make hard choices with respect to its role in the hemisphere. Unnecessary, redundant and obsolete mandates—roles that have simply accumulated over decades and not been considered or examined—need to be eliminated.

The strategic vision exercise initiated by Secretary-General [José Miguel] Insulza offers an opportunity for a frank exchange on the priorities and objectives of member states and will help to establish a more effective secretariat.

As part of that strategic vision, we see a continuing role for many of the OAS’s successful activities, such as election observation missions, human rights, security, efforts to contain transnational organized crime, and excellence in public-sector management. We also see a role for the Inter-American Defense Board as part of a vibrant defence community in the hemisphere.

On this last point, I would like to personally thank Lieutenant-General [Guy] Thibault of the Canadian Armed Forces for his leadership as Chair of the board for the past two years. I know he will bring a wealth of experience and insight on the Americas back to Canada, as the incoming second in command of our military. I also know that his efforts here have been considerable, and I look forward to seeing them continued under Chile as the new chair.

Canada will continue to participate with you as an equal partner in this important process of OAS reform. It is our hope that the process will lead to the renewal of a mature and modern organization that will deliver on the democratic, security and prosperity needs of the people of the hemisphere.

Fostering Lasting Relationships

As I noted earlier, fostering genuine, sturdy and lasting relationships is also at the core of Canada’s engagement in the Americas. In fact, those relationships are the backbone that supports every one of our projects, goals and achievements in the region.

I firmly believe that nurturing and sustaining relationships across borders is the mortar that allows mutual understanding and cooperation to be built in our hemisphere. One friendship at a time—through honest displays of respect, candour and understanding—we can break down the barriers of mistrust that would prevent us from building a better Americas for our peoples.

Those ties are already a reality. For Canada’s part, over four million of us travel annually to your countries for tourism and business. We are proud that our nation is home to nearly one million Canadians of Latin American and Caribbean descent. This population is growing steadily, and the links they maintain to their homelands are an important conduit between the nations of the hemisphere. We are also strengthening people-to-people links between Canada and the Americas through education, art, culture and sport.

In this regard, I am pleased that our Permanent Mission was able to arrange a presentation to you here last month by organizers of the 2015 Pan American and Parapan American Games, which Canada will host in Toronto.

With over 250,000 participants and visitors expected, the games provide an opportunity to build and strengthen ties between Canada and the Americas across all sectors of society. The games also provide each of your governments with a unique opportunity to raise the profile of your countries among Canadians. With Canadians having taken over 59 million trips outside the country in 2011 alone, I think that this landmark event would be an important window for you to appeal to our adventurous spirit—and our love of warmer winter climes.


In closing, I wish to reiterate that Canada is a proud member of the OAS and of la gran familia de las Americas.

But as all of us who are part of families understand, those relationships aren’t always easy.

Families grow and thrive when they face the issues that divide them with tolerance and restraint, and spend as much time as possible expanding those areas where they see positive and productive outcomes, focusing on themes that bring the family together not divide, and to which they return to refuel and rejuvenate.

The OAS is the dynamic gathering place of a very large and diverse family. Every opportunity for discord is matched by a dozen chances for harmony. Regional groupings and member states need to work constructively together. There is more that unites us than drives us apart, but we seem to return to the same past arguments over and over again. This is neither productive nor healthy.

Canada looks forward to every one of our gatherings, summits, general assemblies and special general assemblies with optimism and enthusiasm, knowing we have much to gain together and much to lose apart.

In two months, we will come together in Antigua, Guatemala, to focus on the impact on the Americas of the illicit drug trade and associated violence, corruption and impunity—one of the most serious threats faced by the region. It is Canada’s hope that we will use this meeting to identify opportunities for collaboration, advance where there is agreement and set a positive and constructive agenda for progress on reducing the impact of the drug trade on the lives of the citizens of the hemisphere.

Of course, there are areas where we will disagree. As the largest democratic region in the world, every one of us recognizes and respects the rich diversity of opinion we will encounter. This, too, is one of our strengths, although it may not always feel like it.

Canada will work with Guatemala, as we will with every member state to ensure that the assembly is a success. We are confident that they will put on an event worthy of the best of every delegation that participates.

We will work with you all to move forward as a region to the next Summit of the Americas, hosted by Panama. The summit process has resulted in some of the most important initiatives this hemisphere has pursued collectively, as I have outlined this morning, and with a collective commitment to succeed, we look forward to great things to come.

We understand the challenges we face, but we embrace them openly, respectfully and with determination.

Canada is and will remain your very willing partner in the ongoing evolution of the Americas. And we look forward to working with you to build a bright future for our hemisphere.

Thank you.