February 24, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Address by the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway to the Canada-Arab Business Council Annual Gala Dinner

Based on a Transcript

It is really exciting when you look at what has happened, even just over the last 25 years, with the countries that are represented here—if you can talk about the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council group and expand that to the larger Middle East and North African groups. We have seen some tremendous growth, and as I’m now involved in the area of trade, I’d like to focus on that a little bit. But it’s been exciting to see the six-member group expanding and reaching out for other trading relationships with the EU, the United States, with China, and the broader grouping in terms of relationships with Canada alone. The 2007 two-way merchandise trade between Canada and the countries which many of you represent, in which many of you are doing business, is over $21 billion in two-way trade, $5.6 billion of that just from the six-nation grouping.

These are tremendous and encouraging growth numbers. We want to see them grow even more beyond that. When we consider the companies that are involved within the various nations that are represented here, certainly we know the importance of the energy sector and we can reflect on companies like Talisman [Energy Inc.] and companies like Nexen [Inc.] and other, similar, energy-related companies. Or in the broader sphere, when we consider the amount of tremendous possibilities in the development of infrastructure alone and we consider companies like Bombardier [Inc.] and SNC-Lavalin [Group Inc.] and others, we see tremendous opportunities to go beyond what we’ve already seen established in the trading relationships up to now, and how important it is that we continue those, especially in this time of economic downturn. It’s encouraging to hear the numbers we’ve heard tonight that are, believe it or not, somewhat better than our growth projections.

It was just in 2007 that King Abdullah [II] from Jordan visited here and really set things in motion for what we now have, which is a signed free trade agreement with Jordan. As you know, the political things sometimes aren’t the hardest to settle. The agreement is now in what they call the “legal scrubbing” stage, in which the negotiations are over and the lawyers take the political will and do something called scrubbing. I’m finding out these terms in international trade, and with no sense of animosity towards anybody who’s involved in scrubbing, I have a sense that the meter starts running on these issues, and so I have said to my officials, “Look, the process has been going on for some time because I was getting asked over the last few days, ‘How is it going with the scrubbing?’” And I said “I’m not pointing an accusatory finger at all, but I do want the names of our lawyers who are involved on the scrubbing just so I can be in communication and find out some of the fine details of that and how that can be expedited.”

But it’s an exciting thing when you consider this free trade agreement. We’re pursuing a similar one with great hope with Morocco. We also have foreign investment protection agreements with a number of countries, with Saudi Arabia, with Qatar, with Bahrain and with Tunisia. These are agreements that are moving on. These are agreements that will bear positive results mutually for our citizens. And it’s with a great confidence and great excitement that we look forward to these continuing to develop.

Certainly you know that we are moving in the direction of open skies and air agreements—“Blue Sky,” if you want to refer to it as that. I know that we have one situation where there’s a strong appeal to see flights move from more than three a week, and I happen to be a proponent of that. And we are saying, “Let’s move ahead with these.” If we have three and we’ve satisfied all the concerns and the questions with three, then we should be able to expand and move beyond that. Certainly there are a variety of considerations that have to be looked at, but these are not insurmountable.

It’s also an honour for me tonight that my colleague, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney is here, very focused on how immigration and visa policies can be a real factor in terms of enhancing trade. And I’ve been pleased to see his focus and how he’s moved along aggressively on this particular score.

We face a time where, in an era when people worry about their economies, the impulse to protectionism can kick in.

In our opinion and the Government of Canada’s—the Prime Minister—we’re a little worried when we see the possibility of a growth of protectionist policies in other countries around the world. But it’s not a good time to have that kind of situation, because if we want to protect our own industries, if we want to protect our workers, it’s important to open doors for them, not build obstacles.

And our prime minister has made that very clear. You saw in recent diplomatic exchanges that took place over the last few weeks, when we saw the so-called Buy America package moving forward in legislation in the United States. And our prime minister was the first world leader to stand and say that we expect the United States to live up to its trade obligations. And that began to be reflected around the world: different world leaders in the days following that standing up and also said it’s important that the United States live up to its trade obligations. We were very encouraged to see, a few days after, [U.S.] President [Barack] Obama make a clear statement that notwithstanding the provisions of the Buy America Act—and he almost used the identical words that our prime minister had put out on the public stage—the United States must live up to its trade obligations.

And then to see that manifested in an amendment to the legislation in the United States going forward. That is, I would suggest, a rare bit of diplomacy where not in an offensive way, but in a clear way, a respectful way but a strong way, we made our diplomatic concerns clearly known and actually had effect and influence on legislation that was coming forward. And that particular statement by our prime minister was far more than just a statement. It’s a reality, in fact, in Canada and in the history of our country. We are as prosperous as we are because we have believed in the necessity to be open to trade and to be free traders.

We also, through our history, have put in place those fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law, the capability of people to have private property and to be able to contract and do business in private business ways. These are lessons that we have learned and these are fundamentals which we, even in a time of economic pressure, we don’t want to step backwards into an era of protectionism. That’s one of the last things that needs to happen in this particular era.

And so as we look at the great trade that has already developed between Canada and between the nations that are represented here, and we see these as partnerships and we hope that as many of you have realized the advantage of doing business in Canada, and, as we encourage Canadians to do business in your countries, that you will also talk about the advantage of doing business here.

But I hope you will take the message around to those who are interested in investment in Canada, just as we share with our counterparts the importance and the opportunities of investing in your countries. It’s been gratifying for us to have outside observers, outside fiscal observers—and I’m sure Mr. Dodge will talk about this in more detail—but when economic evaluators who grade the world literally say that Canada has the number one banking system in terms of stability, that’s not just a great compliment, it’s a great, attractive statement that we are, quite frankly, touting around the world. There’s a lot of capital sitting out looking to be invested. It’s looking for places to go. Much of it is finding a home in many of your countries. But as people are looking for those secure investments, we know that you’ll also, as you talk about your countries, talk about the advantage of looking toward Canada.

Our tax structure has also been pointed at as one that is very competitive, and we are on track to see the lowest and most competitive tax structure in the entire OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] by the year 2011. It’s already ahead in many areas and in our recent comprehensive economic package—which we used to call a budget; we now call it a comprehensive economic package—we make that point very clear, that there are advantages to doing business in Canada, such as the fact that we have long-established labour laws; that money and investment can arrive here with some sense of predictability. We have great opportunities on the infrastructure side of things, having put the largest sums of infrastructure from a federal basis ever in the history of our country, to work to help mitigate the effects of the downturn in which we now find ourselves.

These are some of the advantages which we are proud to talk about; these are some of the advantages which we hope you will also talk about as we continue this aspect of getting more comprehensive trade agreements, as comprehensive as we can with each of the nations that are represented here.

When I speak sometimes to students, either university or high school, they are sometimes surprised by the notion when—because we all want world peace, especially young people—you say, “What do you want more than anything?” It’s always world peace, and that is something that we want, and when you talk about the fact that down through history, we can see that one of the means of establishing peace and having peaceful relations is having good trade relations. If you’re trading well with your neighbour, there’s a lot less likelihood you’re going to have conflict with your neighbour.

It’s been historically said that if goods don’t cross borders, then soldiers will. And the thoughts, the principles, the friendships, the human bonds that go with products and services serve literally to advance the notion of peace and prosperity, not just in our own countries, but in those around the world.

And so I thank you for not just this evening being able to address you, but for the obvious commitment that you are demonstrating by the fact you’re here, by the fact you want to see ongoing growth, prosperity, happiness in your own countries and in our country, which is a tremendous thing that we can share together. We measure things economically these days in such hard numbers and cold facts. And there’s a little country—I’m not suggesting I endorse all of its policies, because I’m not familiar with them all, so I have to hold myself back a little—but I became more familiar with it when I was recently in India. It’s the country of Bhutan.

An amazing thing has happened there in the last couple of years. Their king has recently divested some of his kingly powers. That’s a rare thing in any form of political set-up, as you know. And he has seen the value of democracy and has begun to divest some of those powers to what is the beginning of a democratic process. The reason I talk about that country is because they don’t measure their sense of well-being in GDP. They have what is called a happiness index.

Now, I am not so Pollyanna-ish as to suggest we should be doing that. But we should be looking at the factors within our own countries that actually bring happiness to our people and can spread that sense of well-being from one country to another. And I would suggest that freedom and openness when it comes to trade is a vital factor in that upward movement of our mutual happiness index.

Thank you for your attention tonight and thank you for honouring me and thank you for understanding.