Address by Minister Van Loan at Canadian Association of Importers and Exporters’ 19th Annual Conference and Trade Show

No. 2010/20 - Toronto, Ontario - April 19, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It’s a pleasure to help you kick off this year’s annual conference and trade show.

Since 1932, your organization has been a strong and active voice for Canada’s business community.

Over the decades, your members have seen good times and tough times. But your commitment to reaching beyond Canada’s borders for opportunities has remained strong and steady.

You recognize—as our government does—that Canadian workers across the country depend on businesses like your own tapping into new markets around the world and generating the prosperity we all rely on.

In other words, you understand that Canada’s prosperity and the quality of life of Canadians hinge on the business we do beyond our borders.

But you also recognize that our job is never done when it comes to trade.

Your conference’s theme is a great example. “Emerging issues in customs and trade compliance” might not make headlines. But as we’ve seen recently, even the most successful trade relationships require constant care and attention, at every possible level.

Strengthening Canada-U.S. trade flows

Just look at the challenge we faced with the “Buy American” provisions in the U.S. stimulus plan.

Here was our top trading partner in the world—representing a critical relationship for businesses on both sides of the border—turning inward and protectionist at a time when our workers and businesses need more opportunities, not fewer.

Working together, and with the support of organizations like your own, we were able to successfully negotiate a waiver of these provisions, and keep the doors of opportunity open for Canadian jobs and the growth we need at a time of fragile recovery.

We need to remain vigilant about protectionism and threats to our trade flows, even with our top trading partner.

Look also at our efforts to constantly improve the Canada-U.S. border.

Trade and security aren’t mutually exclusive. But in recent years, we’ve seen a gradual thickening of the border.

That’s why we’re working closely with our American friends on a coordinated approach for a border that works, one that enhances security and facilitates trade.

We’ve made some excellent progress in this area.

We’ve seen an increase of enhanced driver’s licences, for example. The provinces of Quebec, Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba have issued over 115,000, while more than 535,000 have been issued in the states of Washington, Vermont, New York and Michigan.

Over 390,000 NEXUS cards and 80,000 FAST [Free and Secure Trade] cards have been issued.

We’ve established four dedicated FAST lanes at key crossings in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

These are just a few examples of how even the most time-tested of trade relationships can—and must—evolve over time.

Our government is working with our American partners to ensure that your businesses have the tools, access and smooth border procedures you need to succeed in the U.S. market.

This is important because, as we’ve learned through our experience here in North America, free and open trade is the single best way to create opportunities, jobs and prosperity in the global economy, and to move us along the path to lasting recovery.

Moving toward economic recovery

Canada was the last G7 nation to enter recession, and we’re already seeing signs that we are far outpacing the rest of the G7 in economic growth this year.

But while we may be turning the corner, our economy is far from fully recovered.

That’s why our government is putting such a strong focus on Canada’s Economic Action Plan—to protect incomes, create jobs, ease credit markets and help workers get back on their feet.

Our Budget outlines our plan for returning to budgetary balance over the medium term, and well before any other G7 country.

We’re helping our manufacturing sector boost its productivity by making Canada the first country in the G20 to become a tariff-free zone for machinery and equipment imports.

We’re creating jobs, and investing in the skills and education of Canadians to build the jobs and industries of the future.

And our Economic Action Plan is working to help ensure that, from coast-to-coast-to-coast, we’re emerging from this economic downturn better and faster than nearly every other industrialized country.

But I’m sure you’d agree that an aggressive free trade agenda must also be part of our strategy to help Canada build a lasting recovery.

Expanding markets

That’s why we’re looking far beyond the U.S., and even the North American, marketplace for trade opportunities.

Canadian businesses and Canadians can’t wait for opportunities to be opened. So we’re proactively moving forward to open doors around the world for our businesses.

For example, we’re moving forward legislation in Parliament to implement our free trade agreements with Colombia and Jordan. And we’ll soon introduce legislation for a similar agreement with Panama.

These agreements hold a lot of potential for key Canadian sectors—from agriculture to manufacturing, to financial services and beyond.

But we’re also engaged in what is by far the biggest set of negotiations since those of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

I’m talking about negotiations toward an economic and trade agreement with the European Union.

I know your group has been very supportive of these negotiations, and that you’ve invited our chief negotiator to update you after each round so far.

As he no doubt told you, once an agreement is in force, it has the potential to boost Canada’s economy by $12 billion.

We also predict at least a 20-percent increase in our bilateral trade with the European Union—an increase of $38 billion.

This is a clear opportunity for Canada during these tough economic times, and it’s a priority for the government to ensure that our businesses can compete and succeed among the best.

Sectors like aerospace, agriculture, engineering and high technology all stand to benefit from greater transatlantic trade. Canadian businesses have been calling for it, and our government is listening.

And our European partners have told us that they’re excited about what Canada can offer as an economic partner. Canada has:

  • the soundest banking system in the world;
  • an open and attractive business environment;
  • the best public finances in the G7;
  • low corporate taxes—on track to being the lowest in the G7;
  • a skilled workforce, with the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates among countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development;
  • a strong commitment to the rule of law; and
  • a high quality of life.

Let me also remind you that KMPG confirmed last month that, among industrialized countries, Canada is ahead of the pack in terms of competitiveness.

In fact, we enjoy a 5-percent competitive advantage over our U.S. partners.

I can tell you that there’s a lot of interest from Europe and elsewhere in Canada’s economic stability, our commitment to innovation, our position in the North American marketplace and, certainly, the excellence of our private sector.

So both Canada and Europe see the great potential of a trade partnership.

That’s why we’re moving so quickly on negotiations. This week, we’re holding a third round of talks in Ottawa. We’re looking at a broad range of issues, including:

  • breaking down tariffs and non-tariff barriers to goods and services trade;
  • enhancing investment relations;
  • cooperating on issues like science and technology; and
  • aligning our regulations to ensure the smooth, efficient flow of trade across the Atlantic.

We’re working closely with the provinces and territories, given their stake in the process.

I’ve been very clear that I want these negotiations completed within the next two years. And I’ll be taking every opportunity over the coming months, including when I visit Europe next month, to push these negotiations forward at every level.

But I need your help to do it. We need you to take every opportunity to advocate for a successful agreement with your suppliers and your partners, both here in North America and in Europe.

The U.S. market will always be a cornerstone of our prosperity. Our geography, history and commerce are too closely bound, and we have too many values in common, for that to change.

But our government also sees incredible opportunities beyond North America, including in Europe. We think that Canadian businesses and workers can compete with the best in the world.

A successful agreement with the European Union, the largest single market on the planet, will help them do it.

Conclusion

Since your organization was founded almost eight decades ago, Canada’s business community, made up of people like you, has made enormous efforts to put your products and services to work in North America and around the world, and to invest in global operations that make Canada more competitive.

You didn’t run away from the global economy; you reached out to it.

Today, your efforts are more critical than ever as we move along the path together to a lasting economic recovery for Canada.

Our government is committed to supporting you in North America, in Europe and elsewhere, whether it’s through trade negotiations, or through the work of our trade commissioners in Canada and around the world or through our many efforts to create a business-friendly environment.

Let’s work together to pull Canada through these challenging times.

Let’s create the opportunities for a strong, diverse and resilient Canadian economy that will ensure jobs and opportunities for years to come.

Thank you.