It would be a positive and lengthy discussion when we talk about the wonderful relationship between Canada and Korea. The fact that the very fabric of Canadian society has been so enriched over the decades and the generations by the wonderful Korean people who have moved here and who have called this their home. We do have much in common, and if we can reflect just for a few moments tonight on our history and our present, that might have something to say about our future.
When I was in Washington, D.C. yesterday, I went by a statue I hadn’t seen before in front of one of the archives buildings, and it said, “History is a prelude.” From history we can get a sense of what the future holds for us if we’re willing to learn from the past. Haven’t we learned from history as Canadians and Koreans? When I think back to the early 1950s, I can remember clearly my uncle joining allied forces and joining the Korean people in their conflict. After such a time of devastation, people have a tendency to want to write history and ask what could emerge from this ravaged economy with a neighbour to the north who was far less than friendly? What can emerge from this? We see the fourth-strongest economy in Asia, the eleventh-largest merchandising nation in the world—a vibrant democracy. That’s what can emerge when people have it in their hearts not just to survive, but to follow a dream and make it happen. And that’s the past that we share and that we can reflect on in a positive way as partners.
And now we find ourselves in a different type of a challenge with a global crisis, a global economic downturn that has hit every country and will be with us, we understand, for a while yet.
When I’ve met with my colleagues and counterparts from Korea, I’ve seen the similarities in many ways that we have in terms of how we’re weathering the storm. No country will be immune, no country is immune, and it’s very pleasing—and I share this in every country to which I travel—it’s very gratifying to know that the world banking systems, the World Economic Forum and the International Monetary Fund have said that Canada has the most stable banking system in the world. That’s a real positive to talk about when we’re travelling around, as people who control investment funds and pension funds are looking for safe environments. And Korea also has conservative, if I can use that word, banking practices. The laws and regulations that govern Canadian financial institutions force them to have a certain asset base before they’re allowed to lend out a certain amount of money. And our banking system in Canada used to be called boring. I would venture to say that boring has become the new exciting, wouldn’t you say? It’s a great thing to see.
And we see some of those similarities in terms of Korea and how it approaches its financial issues, and how it was one of the first nations to emerge from the 1997 financial crisis in Asia. And so we see, we share similarities there. Korea’s appreciation for a low tax regime is a course that we’re following in Canada—the lowest of the G-8 countries in terms of personal and business tax. We understand the importance of doing this and in a time where we’re going through some contraction, even with stable banks, we have credit facilities that can and will expand those initiatives.
So we will weather these storms with some negative effects, but the Economist Intelligence Unit in January said that Canada, of all nations, is the best positioned going into this downturn and coming out of it.
You know it’s an important thing to remember—and I say this with great respect to the media because the media has to report everything, which I appreciate and support—but when you have such a proliferation of media, so many news agencies that are all competing for ratings, there is, of course, a tendency for them to do their job with vigour and with energy. And I appreciate that. Am I keeping this positive? The fact is that people around the world, people in Canada, people in Korea, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when they turn on their radios, televisions and computers, log in to Facebook and Twitter—whichever medium they use—they get the sense that civilization as we know it has pretty well ceased to exist, that it’s the end of the world, at least financially. We need to keep in mind that just as economies turn down in cycles, they also move upward, and the economic cycle will move upward again. And we are well positioned for that, and actually so is Korea because of many of its practices.
Korea and Canada share an appreciation of the dangers of protectionism. In meetings that my colleagues and I have had with our counterparts in Korea, we agreed not to fall back, not to allow protectionist activity, which tends to close doors of opportunity and not open them. And Korea again is a great partner in articulating that and demonstrating to the world the dangers of protectionism and the importance of having open trading relationships and partnerships.
But in partnerships, there are times of challenge, though they don’t mean the partnership is not a good one. In our great partnership with Korea, we have recently announced that we are going into a WTO process with them, related to our beef.
Some people would consider this as a negative. The wonderful thing about trade deals—through the WTO, NAFTA or other arrangements—trade deals are structured in such a way that there is the possibility of disputes between the partners or participants. And these deals have mechanisms in place to handle disputes, much like a hockey game. A hockey game can’t be played without the referee, and players agree before the game starts that they’ll live with what the referee rules. They might not like it, but they will live with it. And when one side deems the other to be offside, it brings it to the referee’s attention. And so we are bringing the issue of beef to the referee’s attention, and we’ll live with the decision. The dispute mechanism is actually a positive thing—a kind of structured form of mediation or consultation.
And so we’re involved in the WTO consultation process right now.
Canada is also pursuing a free trade agreement with Korea. We have completed what is our thirteenth round of negotiations. That may sound like a lot to you, but it’s fairly normal for free trade agreements. We’re kind of getting down to what they call the short strokes now. We’ve agreed on a lot of the bigger items and now we’re kind of grinding into some of the smaller ones. But I do believe we will make progress. And, again, this freedom of trade opens doors of opportunity for people on both sides. We want the doors for beef to open up. Asia has been our fourth-largest export market for our beef, so the market is significant, about $50 million a year. That’s a lot of burgers. And we want to see that continue. We want to see free trade continue to work out.
We’re also in discussions on the open skies air agreements. And we hope to see those progress.
So it’s this historic past and present partnership that I believe bodes very well for the future. There are about a quarter million Canadians of Korean descent. You know we’ve got 30,000 Korean nationals in our universities and colleges right now. That’s incredible. Whether they decide to stay here and make Canada their home or return to Korea, the relations that are built lead to ongoing and future trade relations, academic associations, science and technology—and so it goes and so it will continue.
My friends, I would like to thank each of you for participating in the relationship between our two countries. We are great partners and we have been through some tough times together. We have helped each other in the past. And we recognize that together we can accomplish great things.
Thank you very much for being here this evening. It’s very encouraging for me and my colleagues to see a community dedicated to improving prosperity and achieving our dreams.
Achieving our dreams, helping one another, that’s what Canada’s all about. That’s what we’re all about working together.