Based on a Transcript
Thank you for that wonderful introduction.
I would like to thank the members of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal for offering me this wonderful opportunity to speak today to the businesspeople of the greater Montreal area.
As you are aware, the global economy is going through an extraordinary period. For companies like yours, there have been major consequences. Our government shares your concerns. That is why we have taken the necessary steps to address those concerns.
Our economic action plan contains stimulus measures of approximately $40 billion. They involve five key elements:
Our plan helps create a better environment for our businesses. It is a balance between investing in infrastructure and easing the tax burden on taxpayers.
With regard to the financial sector, we have remained cautious. We have the most stable banking system in the world, and we want to keep it that way.
Our prosperity is directly linked to our success and to your success in global markets.
Canada’s capacity to work through this crisis will depend in large part on the partnerships we establish. That means looking beyond our own borders and keeping the doors open to global cooperation.
G20 Summit: Resisting protectionism
As you are aware, the G20 Summit wrapped up yesterday in London. During the London Summit, Canada sought to draw the attention of its G20 partners to the following four concrete strategic priorities:
1) Rectifying the financial system (“fixing the banks”)
Countries must take action on financial system assets that have depreciated, and on rectifying banks. Financial institutions must have capital and access to financing in order to support lending activities.
2) Implementing a coordinated stimulus initiative
This is essential to get us out of the global recession. Canada has done its part, and now it is up to other countries to do theirs. Accelerating the implementation of fiscal stimulus measures is crucial to stimulating the global economy. Canada would support an IMF [International Monetary Fund]-led supervisory framework to ensure the effectiveness of fiscal stimulus measures.
3) Avoiding protectionist measures
Canada will make every effort to protect the gains made over the last five decades through trade liberalization, and will take concrete measures to further global trade liberalization.
4) Reinforcing capital market regulation
The G20 members must correct the domestic regulatory failures that contributed to this crisis. Although regulation begins at home, it must include international guidelines and principles and should look forward, if possible, to international monitoring and early-warning systems.
These are the measures we favour.
Allow me to come back to an important point: protectionism. From the very beginning of this crisis, our government has been very clear: adopting protectionist measures will make the crisis even worse. History has shown that we are right. The financial crisis of 1929 was a lesson for the entire world on the negative consequences of protectionism. That is one of the reasons why our government is strongly opposed to the “Buy American” provisions contained in the U.S. stimulus plan.
I was pleased to learn that the Americans have modified their plan, adding a provision about respecting international rights. It is a step in the right direction, and we will continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that those measures are implemented without affecting our trade relations with the United States.
Free trade agreements: Opening doors for Canadian companies
On the international scene, we are saying loud and clear: the temptation some countries may have to adopt protectionist measures must be resisted. That also means that we need to work together to create opportunities for our companies in new markets. In a context of global economic instability, free trade is more important than ever.
As Minister of International Trade, my top priorities have included opening new markets since the beginning of my mandate.
Colombia and Peru
I recently introduced in Parliament free trade agreements with Colombia and Peru. These accords will open more doors for Quebec companies. They will give them greater access to key sectors like pulp and paper, aerospace, engineering, printing and information and communications technology.
In 2008, trade between Quebec and Colombia totalled over $207 million, and trade with Peru totalled over $526 million. Those figures will be even higher with these agreements.
States of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)
The free trade agreement between Canada and the States of the European Free Trade Association—Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Sweden—has been passed by the House of Commons and is now before the Senate.
This is the first such agreement between Canada and European countries. I hope that the Senate will fast-track implementation of the agreement and that Canadian businesses can expand their presence in these markets. Canada already exports over $5 billion a year to the states of the European Free Trade Association. That figure will increase considerably under this agreement.
The free trade agreement provides for the elimination of customs duties on all non-agricultural products, including aluminum, cosmetics, prefabricated buildings, shrimp and clothing.
It will also eliminate or reduce customs duties on some agricultural and agri-food products, including durum wheat, frozen blueberries, frozen french fries and Canadian crude canola oil.
So this agreement is good news for our exporters and producers, because it will reduce trade barriers.
At the same time, Canadian consumers will have access to a greater range of products from the states of the European Free Trade Association, and at a much better price.
Our government has also reached a new stage with the European Union.
I recently announced that we had reached agreement with the European Union on sectors that will be included in negotiations on an eventual free trade agreement with the European Union.
The EU is our second-largest trading partner, so this agreement means a lot to us. This agreement could boost annual GDP [gross domestic product] by an estimated $12 billion in its first years.
In May, Prime Minister [Stephen Harper] will attend the Summit between Canada and the European Union in Prague. I hope that we will be able to deliver more good news on this agreement.
Trade mission to India
Our government’s efforts to forge good business opportunities for you on international markets don’t end there. I travelled to India in January, where I met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath and many Indian business leaders.
I also saw how well some home-grown Montreal companies are doing in India, such as Bombardier [Inc.] and SNC-Lavalin [Group Inc.]. In fact, I believe some representatives of those companies are here today.
I was accompanied by a high-level delegation of representatives from the nuclear sector, so I had a good opportunity to drum up interest in our nuclear-energy production capacity. India is very interested in what we can offer in that sector as the country seeks to develop efficient, safe energy resources for the future.
To help companies capitalize on these types of opportunities, I also took part in an opening ceremony for the official launch of our new trade offices in Hyderabad and Kolkata.
The collaboration between Canada and India has reached a new stage, where we are working together toward a possible economic partnership between our nations.
All of this complements other initiatives our government has put forward, such as:
Next step: Trade mission to Japan and China
As you may already know, my next goal is to develop business opportunities in Japan and China.
I will return to Japan next week, and will then go on to China. In Japan, my priority will be to promote the Asia-Pacific Gateway as a key access point for the North American market. I will also be promoting the competitive advantages of investing in Canada—for example, our skilled workforce.
In China, I will head up a trade mission focused on construction lumber. Canadian technology in this sector is well known in China, and there are excellent opportunities for our enterprises. China is a growing market. That is why I will also be opening two of our six new trade offices there. The excellent advice provided by our trade commissioners is invaluable for companies looking to break into the Chinese market. That trade mission will be very productive indeed, and my schedule is completely full!
All these examples demonstrate our government’s determination to keep the door wide open to trade cooperation with our partners. This also demonstrates our commitment to create excellent business opportunities for Canadian enterprises.
By helping you develop new markets, we are also helping you to create jobs at home. And that allows you lower prices for our consumers.
The message is clear: we are prepared to lead by example in these tough times. We know that Canada’s capacity to compete in global markets will be a key factor in weathering this difficult period.
After all, Canada’s history, like Quebec’s, is the history of a people that breaks into international markets and cooperates with partners from around the world to create value, prosperity and opportunities.
The companies represented here today are all a huge part of our success: companies like Bombardier, SNC Lavalin, Power Corporation, the Bank of Montreal and many other global players.
We are well positioned to be an international business leader, thanks to:
Ladies and gentlemen, Canada will emerge from this crisis. And with your help, we’ll emerge stronger than before, with our proud heritage as a trading nation intact—and continuing as a key player in the global economy.