Based on a Transcript
Ladies and gentlemen, trade is not a zero-sum game. Trade, skilfully handled, yields prosperity for all involved. Canada is as prosperous as it is because it has historically been a trading nation, and we hope others will continue to find our example encouraging. So I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the fine work done by our diplomatic and trade services teams around the world—and the value provided by our diplomatic officers, our missions and our trade commissioner service.
At the recent Summit of the Americas, Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper outlined some very significant steps we are taking to double the amount of lending capital we will make available, through the Inter-American Development Bank, to those countries with which we will be engaging in free trade agreements. For example, over the next five years we intend to increase our funding for electoral assistance and enhance our two-way relationship in education. To that end, we will be adding another 1,600 scholarships to assist students coming from Latin America to Canada.
So, these are among the positive steps that will advance not only our interests, but also those we share with Latin America. And these steps are worth taking: last year, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and Latin America and the Caribbean reached over $22 billion, and Canada’s stock of direct investment in the region reached nearly $132 billion. These are substantial figures, and they indicate where our interests lie.
My first visit as Canada’s trade minister was to Brazil, to Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and my second official visit was to Peru last November where, along with Prime Minister Harper, I attended the Asia-Pacific Economic [Cooperation] conference. My next visit was to Panama. So, as you can see, I enjoy the warm receptions I receive in Latin America, which are a welcome alternative to our Canadian winter!
But of course, these visits are helping us make good progress on a number of trade-related fronts. As I’m sure you’re aware, our position in this global economic downturn—a time when we are surrounded by fiscal challenges—is that we must continue to do all we can to open the doors to opportunities, not close them. Protectionism worries us. And that is why we will continue with our strong initiatives related to trade legislation and free trade agreements.
For example, I am pleased to report that our free trade agreement with the states of the European Free Trade Association—Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein—has finally received Royal Assent and will come into force this July. This is exciting, the culmination of about 10 years of effort by many people (including me), and it will open a lot of doors for us. Next week, I will be with the Prime Minister in Prague where he will be making another important announcement. I’m not at liberty to provide any details, but I can tell you it represents the start of free trade negotiations with the EU.
So it’s our need to open the doors to opportunity that keeps us moving forward. That is why we also have on our legislative agenda in the House of Commons free trade agreements with Peru and with Colombia. Of course, I want to see both of these move toward conclusion but I’d also like to comment vis-à-vis some concerns that have been expressed about the agreement with Colombia. I think it’s important to keep those who oppose the agreements informed about what we are doing with respect to accords pertaining to labour issues and to the environment that have been written into the articles of both agreements. These articles bind the parties—Canada, Colombia and Peru—to the standards of the International Labour Organization. They deal with everything from the minimum age for employment and child labour, to health and safety. In other words, they deal with the full range of issues that are important to us and important to the people of Colombia and Peru.
In fact, a number of similar agreements between certain European countries and Colombia, for example, don’t even include these accords. So I am very proud of what our good friends in Colombia and those of us here in Canada have agreed to. Because I think progress of this kind must be acknowledged and acted upon to keep up the momentum that will result in better working conditions, increased prosperity, and improved management of the environment. Naturally I can’t guarantee the speed with which either one of these agreements will proceed through our democratic process in the House of Commons but, in the meantime, I encourage anyone with concerns to please inform themselves about what we are doing.
Along with labour and the environment, we are also pleased with what we have accomplished in terms of strategies to improve corporate social responsibility. We’ve received input from enterprises, non-governmental organizations and civil society groups. I believe we lead the world when it comes to best practices within the extractive sector. For example, we’ve put in place a counsellor who will be responsible for corporate social responsibility across the sector. This individual will mediate between various parties in a dispute and help them move toward a resolution. I think that for the vast majority of cases and situations, Canada’s extractive sector is a good example of corporate social responsibility yielding mutual benefits, for everyone involved, and I would say most Canadian companies in the extractive sector take real pride in making that happen.
We are also advancing our global capabilities by extending the reach of our Canadian trade commissioner services. Canada now has trade offices in over 150 cities around the world and some 964 trade commissioners. We want to make sure that the network of operations we have out there is equipped to handle your needs, to meet the needs of people in the countries in which we serve, and of course to meet the needs of Canadians wanting to do business in those areas.
My friends, we are sharing challenging times. But in a world economy that is encountering its difficulties, Canada has been acknowledged by organizations outside of Canada for having the most stable banking system in the world. That didn’t happen by accident. It is because of provisions, laws and restrictions we applied to our financial institutions. Those lending money must maintain a certain capital asset base with a high degree of transparency. It used to be said that the Canadian banking system was boring. But I think our financial institutions have demonstrated that “boring” is the new “exciting.” We have also articulated a program, to be phased in over the next five years, that will see continued downward movement in terms of personal and corporate tax, and capital allowance reduction. So I’m not surprised that in January the Economist Intelligence Unit said Canada was in the best position going into this downturn and will be in the best position coming out of it.
I’d like to leave you with that thought—as a reminder that economies throughout history have gone through cycles. Some well-respected economists back in the year 2000 were writing books warning that the business cycle was over, that prosperity would rise forever. Well, we now know that’s not true, that in fact economies move up and economies move down. And it’s no secret that the global economy will move up again. You can take that one to the bank. Of course we don’t know when that will happen, but when it does we will be in an excellent position because of where Canada is in terms of its financial stability.
Because of the increased credit we are making available through agencies such as Export Development Canada, because of the work we are doing in the Americas and in other countries, and because other countries are responding to our call to push back on protectionism, we will all reap the benefits. Opening doors to opportunities is how we will create jobs for our people, and how we will revive their hopes for the future.