Based on a Transcript
It is an honour to be here in this marvellous country. Our government’s goal here is to open doors—to open doors for Canadian firms and to do what we can to remove barriers to business, be it on the tax side or the regulatory side. We want to limit obstacles so that business can do what business does best.
I had an excellent meeting with Prime Minister [Yulia] Tymoshenko. I know that we are always very careful not to intervene in the political processes of other countries. Let me say, though, that I do travel around the world—meeting with many leaders and ministers—and I find this prime minister very impressive in her grasp of the issues of the day. She has a very, very clear understanding of the things that matter most to her constituents, and she’s very effective and persuasive in dealing with current issues. It was an honour to meet with her, and it’s been an honour to meet with a number of ministers and people in key positions here in Kyiv.
Our relationship with this fantastic country goes back many years. People from Ukraine and people of Ukrainian descent in Canada now number about 1.2 million. That probably had some bearing on the fact that we’re proud to have been the first western country to recognize Ukraine and its independence in 1991. We were very pleased to do that.
We also are very mindful and watchful of the issues that face this country. As you know—those of you who were in Canada during the Orange Revolution—Canadians sat glued to their television sets and their Internet sites, watching on the edges of their seats as things unfolded. In many ways, we have been cheering for this country for decades, and we continue to do that.
This morning I was out early, and I got to the famous square that we all watched on our televisions in Canada where those dramatic events were taking place. I took a picture of that beautiful monument, which reaches high into the sky. Then I sent the photo home so that my wife could see, and I said, “This is the place that we watched night after night after night, as those dramatic events unfolded. And it’s a place to remember.”
We have been impressed to see this country, including its ministers, prime minister and president, reaching out when it comes to trade. Especially in a time of global downturn, there can be a real temptation for countries to fall back into protectionist activity. But Ukraine and the people of this country know their own strengths. They believe in themselves, and so they are reaching out and opening doors of opportunity through trade. When you really want to protect your workers and you really want to protect your industries as a country, you open up the doors of opportunity. And it’s been so encouraging to see this country doing that and not slamming those doors shut.
There are many areas that we’ve identified where we can be working in cooperation. The Canadian nuclear industry, as you know, is a great industry—a mature industry with its products and reactors all around the world. When Ukraine contemplates the growth that it’s anticipating in years ahead and also its desire to have a minimal impact on the environment, it could consider turning the lights down to save electricity. But Ukraine also knows that nuclear energy can go a long way in allowing for growth while reducing the economic and environmental impact in the world around us. And we congratulate them for that. We know that our industry can be of assistance, and we want to be able to collaborate with Ukraine in that area.
We also know that some great things have been happening on the agriculture front. We were looking at some of Ukraine’s figures today—production figures for this year that the Prime Minister shared with us. These were very impressive. We believe that, through companies such as SNC-Lavalin and others, there could be some cooperative work on agriculture infrastructure, such as on grain elevators or the challenges of distribution in the dairy markets. Each area, actually every challenge, presents an opportunity. And so Canadian businesses and others, including Canadian agencies that are engaged with Ukraine, could work with Ukraine’s agriculture, business and government sectors to help meet the challenges of the agriculture industry.
The oil and gas industry is something we know a little bit about in Canada. And again, there are things we can do cooperatively in that particular field. It was last year—I don’t have to remind those of you who were living here—that there was what you might call an “issue” related to energy transmission from Russia through Ukraine to other countries. I was in Lithuania, Latvia and Romania through part of that time, and certainly we heard how acute that issue was. And this government in Ukraine is quite rightly focused on energy, on providing energy and on increasing independence in those particular areas.
Just as agriculture and energy, the things on the ground and the things under the ground, have got our attention, so too have things above the ground. Here there is another sign of an aggressively entrepreneurial, innovative country, one that is looking to space communications and space communications satellites. Once again, Canadian industry can be there in a cooperative way. Ukraine has a proud history in the space industry, especially in the area of launching satellites, with some 200 successful launches over the last 20 years or so. Combine that experience with the satellite communications expertise of Canadian companies such as MDA [MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.], and together our countries could work on projects that could benefit not just Ukraine—as Ukraine moves ahead with the development of its communications satellite capabilities—but also Ukraine’s neighbours and even the planet itself.
We congratulate Ukraine’s government on its forward-looking, innovative approach when it comes to that particular area. It’s so gratifying that again Canadian expertise can combine with Ukrainian expertise and produce something that’s going to be beneficial for all.
These are some of the amazing ways in which we’ve been able to cooperate, and we’re going to cooperate further in the future. The evidence is right here in this room: those of you who are here and invested here, as well as those of you who are here and invested in Canada, clearly recognize the advantages of doing business back and forth between our countries.
As you’re probably aware, when it comes to the Canadian economic situation, the World Economic Forum has much praise for Canada’s banking system. This body, which evaluates the banking systems of countries around the world, has said that Canada has the most stable banking system in the world. It’s always gratifying when an agency outside your country is saying those things: We can say those wonderful things about ourselves, and people would be impressed. But it’s even better when it’s other people saying those things about us.
Along with comments from the World Economic Forum, we have had evaluations by the OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], which looked at G8 countries and their tax structures, and said that Canada’s business and corporate tax structures were the most competitive among the G8 countries. And the International Monetary Fund recently put out a global report that said that Canada was in the best position going into this type of downturn and will be in the best position to recover. So we add all these things together, and we can conclude that there’s good reason for Canadian companies to be investing abroad and good reason for foreign companies to be investing in Canada.
I had excellent meetings with Minister of Economics Bohdan Danylyshyn, and I can tell you that he is very focused and very determined when anyone talks about concluding trade agreements by the end of the year. That’s an aggressive timetable. I am grateful to the Minister for reflecting the ambition level of Ukraine. And I can give him my commitment that I will work hard and instruct my officials to work with industry on this matter. We would like to see this move along as quickly as possible for the mutual benefit of our citizens. I appreciate the high level of pressure that he has put on us to do that.
In Canada, we’ve been pursuing a very aggressive free trade path. On August 1, we brought into effect our free trade agreement with Peru. Also over the summer, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the conclusion of agreements with Panama and Jordan, and we are currently working on getting our free trade agreement with Colombia through Parliament. In early May, Canada and the European Union announced the launch of formal negotiations toward a Canada-EU economic partnership agreement. The Europeans said they’d like to wrap up in two years. I thought that was impressive. But Minister Danylyshyn has said, “We can do this here in Ukraine by the end of the year.”
So that’s going to be a positive pressure on our EU negotiations, and we’re going to treat it that way. We’re going to tell the EU we’re moving quickly. And if we get the one done with Ukraine, business people here will have an advantage over 27 other countries in the EU.
We are still in the global recession, but there are signs of fragile recovery. It is a time to focus on these economic issues, and we want to continue to do that. I do believe that history shows that when the people of Ukraine, with their indomitable spirit, say they want to accomplish something, it is not just empty words but a commitment—a commitment based on their experience and on their capability. I believe that we are going to see this marvellous country move ahead on the goals it has set for itself. And, as Canadians, we are so honoured and proud to be part of that.
I want to invite each of you—Canadians here don’t need the official invitation—to join us at the Olympic and Paralympic Games coming to Vancouver in February 2010. What the athletes of our countries are doing at the Games reflects the spirit of cooperation and the spirit of freedom. It shows that competition always raises the level of excellence among all participants and delivers the best product—and this applies in the world of business, as well.
We want to work with businesses here in Ukraine, and we want to work with the Government of Ukraine to see the mutual progress of our citizens in a time of global economic downturn. Others might be timid and say now is a time when we should hold back, but I say the people of Ukraine have never showed that lack of confidence. They have always believed in themselves, and they believe they can have the things they hope for. We want to be part of that—working with them, seeing them fulfill dreams and in the process fulfilling ours also.