June 26, 2009
Paris, France
2009/39

Based on a Transcript

Address by the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway to the France-Canada Chamber of Commerce

It is almost a cliché to say how wonderful it is for my wife and me to find ourselves here in Paris. To you, it may seem like a cliché. But for us, as Canadians, it is an extraordinary experience just to find ourselves in an environment so rich in history and culture, or to be able to jog around the Eiffel Tower, as I did earlier this morning. It is an honour and a pleasure for me to meet with you today. During a teleconference with Canadian journalists last night, I could hardly believe I was really and truly here. My work is absorbing, and I have a very busy schedule, but everything I see around me is amazing. I have to leave this morning for Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but I’ll be returning Sunday, and my wife and I will spend a week holidaying in France.

I would like to talk a bit about the past, the present and the future, especially the economic future, from a Canadian perspective. Part of Canada’s history is linked to the history of France. Our roots are partly French, and France continues to influence us and build our confidence in the future. Let me explain.

France is recognized as a land where democracy has flourished, and an economy that remains healthy despite the current crisis. More than half of the Fortune 500 companies are well-established in France. Your country has had a major influence on countries around the world, including Canada. France has shown us that democratic foundations and a healthy economy are sources of hope on many levels. These democratic and economic foundations are even more important in times of crisis, because they enable us to continue to progress despite many difficulties.

Organizations outside Canada have said that we have the world’s most stable banking system. This is no accident, but rather the result of stringent principles and a system of regulations governing bank loans which imposes a conservative approach to banking operations. The result is that we are not experiencing serious financial difficulties, as is the United States. Canada does not have to bail out its banking institutions. Canada does not have a sub-prime mortgage crisis. In fact, we enjoy the benefits of a relatively healthy and very stable banking system, as international organizations have recently recognized.

We also have what is regarded as the most competitive fiscal framework among the G7countries, as assessed by international financial institutions. We can rely on credit agencies such as Export Development Canada, which can help to finance joint ventures involving Canadian businesses.

Only three days ago, I was in Russia. Canadian businesses in the Russian market are not immune to Russia’s economic problems. However, we can assist them through tax conventions that also benefit their Russian partners.

In a recent report on Canada, the Economist Intelligence Unit stated that Canada was the country best equipped to face the financial crisis and to emerge quickly from it when the recovery gets underway. Obviously, the current crisis will not last forever. Contrary to what the media lead us to believe, this is not the end of civilization as we know it. Canada is ready to take advantage of the first signs of recovery.

We owe this, in part, to the democratic and economic legacy that we have inherited from France. We owe it to economic principles that become even more important in these difficult times. That is why we are concerned about the current rise of protectionism.

Some countries are raising trade barriers in a knee-jerk reaction to protect their market, posing a threat to the global economy. We have an example of this next door to us: the “Buy American” legislation in the United States. Our American neighbours are to us what Germany is to you, a great country that is also a major economic partner. We find it regrettable that a protectionist reflex has resulted in this U.S. legislation.

More recently, less than a week ago, China adopted a similar “Buy China” policy. It is one thing to be proud of your goods and services, but if we start raising trade barriers, as some governments are doing, we will cause serious economic problems. That’s why Canada is vigorously opposed to protectionism.

There is a strong temptation for politicians to adopt such measures in times of crisis, with businesses beating a path to their door to ask for help. In times of prosperity, these same companies advocate free enterprise, rejecting government interference in their affairs. Some regulation is necessary, and there is a time and place for it. But associations like chambers of commerce in Canada, France and other parts of the world need to recognize the potential trap of seeking government assistance, which has its pitfalls.

Winston Churchill described the fundamental difference between capitalism and socialism in the follow terms: “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.” The capitalist system is not perfect, but history shows both in Canada and in France that an open system based on a set of laws and regulations supporting free trade brings greater prosperity than any other system. That is why, even though we are obviously experiencing an economic crisis, we must maintain our confidence in a system characterized by free enterprise, transparency and openness.

Trade is more than just dealing in goods and services. There is an underlying philosophy. In a free trade system, prosperity is measured not only materially but intellectually. I am sure you’ve heard of a man named Voltaire. During his exile in England, he observed and described a unique phenomenon: trade among Muslims, Christians and Jews in what was to become the London Stock Exchange. In other parts of the world, these people of different religions might be at daggers drawn. In London, they did business with each other, peacefully and with confidence. This clearly shows why it is important for us to respect each other’s rights and interests. It is French philosophers and writers who taught us this lesson. It is French authors who were the foremost thinkers on the role of liberty and democracy in trade. Their thoughts continue to be a source of inspiration to all.

Before I was elected to the Government of Canada, I was minister of finance in Alberta. I remember being impressed by the ideas of another minister of finance, a certain Frenchman named Colbert, who I’m sure you’ve heard of. One day, when he was speaking to a business association, he spoke a phrase capable of striking terror in the hearts of business people: “I come from the government and I am here to help you.” That is a fearsome statement coming from a politician. He asked, “What can I do for you?” The answer was, “Leave us alone.” What an answer: it still resonates today.

Our two countries maintain relations that are built on shared values of democracy, freedom and equality. Trade between Canada and France is well established and offers bright prospects for the future. Bilateral trade between Canada and France totals nearly $9 billion, and this figure is expected to increase.

Two months ago, I accompanied our prime minister, Stephen Harper, to Prague to open formal negotiations for a free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. Such an agreement would be of crucial importance to us as Canadians, but also to the Union’s 27 member states, because it would open the door to the Canadian market, and consequently to the North American market as a whole. According to the studies we have commissioned, a free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada could inject more than $26 billion into our respective economies. That is why it’s so important for us to pursue these negotiations.

We want to increase French investment in Canada and Canadian investment in France. Establishing major Canadian companies in France, like Bombardier and SNC-Lavalin, and major French companies in Canada contributes to our mutual prosperity. We must continue on this path. We must keep creating business opportunities and opening our doors to all businesses, big and small, to increase our collective wealth and employment opportunities for our people.

Canada is firmly committed to signing free trade agreements with other countries and to continuing its support for the World Trade Organization. Only yesterday, I attended WTO multilateral meetings with 30 other member countries. We agreed that we must fight the protectionist reflex and defend free and open global trade if we are to return to the path of prosperity.

History shows that crises are cyclical in nature. We know that prosperity will eventually return. Some people wonder when the current crisis will end. If I could predict that, I would be a rich man. I’m not a psychic, but I do know that if we maintain our confidence in the future and defend the principles that enabled us to build strong economies in France and in Canada, we will inevitably see prosperity restored.

I am thrilled by the partnership that unites our two countries, which is based on solid ties that hold the promise of a very bright future.

Thank you.