July 27, 2009
Ottawa, Ontario

Based on a Transcript

Address by the Honourable Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway at the Second Annual Canada-China-Israel Roundtable on Trilateral Agricultural Research and Technology Development

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s an honour for me to be here with you this evening to talk about a subject that’s not only important to Canada and to our partner nations here with us but to the world. This is a very exciting time, which leads to exciting discussions. I welcome our friends from China and from Israel and I understand we also have friends here from New Zealand and India and I’m sure from other parts of the world also.

I am somewhat intimidated when I hear from the two other nations with whom we are partnered about their long agricultural histories. China and Israel, you definitely have more history than Canada, but we have more geography. And it’s in contemplating that history that we realize the importance of working together. Part of a long history for Canada goes back to 1903, when Charles Saunders, grappling with the issue of how to develop wheat products that could survive our beautiful winters, developed Marquis wheat. Meanwhile, I hear Vice Governor Yao Zhongmin talking about agricultural practices in China going back over 4,000 years.

And it was just a few weeks ago in Jordan, where we were signing a free trade agreement, that I was invited to Mount Nebo, and while there I stood on the same spot where Moses supposedly stood looking out over the Promised Land—and that was more than a hundred years ago. I must say to my friends from Israel the view is fantastic; on a clear day you can actually see all the way to Jerusalem. But you can also see an awful lot of barren land and so it must have crossed Moses’s mind to wonder, “Where’s the promise?”

But the promise was just over that horizon, hard to see if the horizon was somewhat hazy. Again, just as China discovered many agricultural breakthroughs and secrets over 4,000 years ago, so has Israel. We’ve already heard of incredible breakthroughs in a land once virtually barren and now blossoming in ways beyond imagination.

What these three histories have in common is that those agricultural practices were initially developed in virtual isolation and now we have this amazing cooperative venture here—three great nations, three great peoples responsible for discoveries that are actually leading to, and will continue to lead to, breakthroughs in food production, breakthroughs in areas of science and technology, and biotechnology. And we’re all very familiar with the many applications for these type of breakthroughs.

Indeed, the scientists and the innovators who have worked on the future of agriculture have, in my view, proven Mr. [Thomas] Malthus wrong. It was about 200 years ago he predicted we weren’t going to be able to feed ourselves; but of course we see now that feeding ourselves in abundance is something that really can happen. There are challenges with that, however, as we’ve seen in the last century. Challenges to the environment; challenges of cost. Not all nations and not all people can take advantage of the developments that take place, but it’s through these types of cooperative ventures that the great hope for tomorrow—in terms of feeding the world in a healthy and environmentally sustainable way—becomes a reality. [The talks we participated in] at Yangling about what will take place tomorrow in agriculture gave us a real sense that discussions at any level can lead, literally, to improving the health of the planet.

We’ve heard what other nations are doing. Canada is doing much as well. I could go on at length about what we’re doing on the agriculture side alone, but I do want to finish my speech so we can move on to other topics. I will mention, however, that just this year Minister [of Agriculture and Agri-Food Gerry] Ritz announced a $158-million agriculture innovation program. We have invested some $2 billion in developing different types of fuels from agricultural products; this last year we produced some 800 million litres of biofuel and we’re moving toward one billion litres.

So many initiatives are taking root. We have introduced a $20-million science and technology program, the demand for which is enormous. And I would like to see that grow because the demand for joint science and technology agreements with other countries is huge, but the promise is even greater.

And when I think back on the science and technology agreements that we signed with China on my last trip there just a couple of months ago, I find it incredible that so many great minds were brought together, individuals who have literally spent their learning years in this particular area. And the products being developed are fantastic, so I’ll be asking for more funding for that particular program.

Meanwhile, when I visit Israel or China, I marvel at how innovative people facing what seem to be, in many cases, insurmountable odds and challenges have come up with solutions that have literally changed the lives of their fellow citizens. A good example of the cooperation that is going on in China today is what took place last week at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum—discussions among 21 economies on the Pacific Rim—where I met again with my colleague from China, Minister [of Commerce] Chen Deming to look at ways to surmount the challenges our countries face.

And it’s the same with Israel. Israel was one of the first countries with which we signed a free trade agreement in that part of the world, and now others want similar agreements, of course, because they see the benefits. We look at the challenges that Israel has faced in this area, challenges to which they applied their best minds, and we are impressed by the almost innumerable innovations that they have brought about—from unique ways of irrigating, to biotechnology, to biomass applications.

And so I’m hoping that this second round of talks will generate new ideas and agreements that will benefit not only our three nations but the entire world.

I’ll close by congratulating those of you who have spoken, those of you who are committed to moving what we accomplished at the Yangling talks ahead. You are truly changing the face of the planet for the better.