Address by Minister Van Loan to Canadian Council for the Americas

No. 2010/71 - Toronto, Ontario - September 17, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Year after year, link by link, your group has helped bring us closer to our neighbours and friends in the Americas. When Prime Minister Stephen Harper outlined our government’s commitment to more deeply engage our partners in the hemisphere three years ago, it marked an important new chapter in Canada’s relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. But all along, we knew we were able to do so thanks to the efforts of people like you.

We’re proud of our accomplishments in the region, from supporting development and security, to helping our friends in Haiti and Chile respond to devastating natural disasters, to boosting trade and investment through a range of free trade negotiations and commercial successes in the region.

Also, Canada welcomed Haiti, Jamaica and Colombia as outreach participants at the recent G-8 meeting held in the Muskokas.

Accomplishments like these have been a real team effort—one in which we can all take great pride.

Recent visit to the region

I have just returned from a visit to Central and South America, where I had a number of opportunities to measure our progress.

In Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica, I met with a broad range of government and business leaders. I saw first-hand some of the great work being done by Canadian companies in the region. This includes the incredible support Canadian companies are providing in Chile as that country deals with the situation at the San José copper mine near Copiapó. Working with Chilean authorities, they’re providing a range of support including airlifts, drilling teams, generators and on-site satellite communications. It’s a good example of Canada’s commitment in the region, in good times and challenging ones.   

I also learned more about each country’s efforts to strengthen its economy in the wake of the recent recession and to plan for the future. On many fronts, these countries are aggressively moving their economies forward, embracing science, technology and innovation as never before, and reaching out to the world for business opportunities.

Look at the Brazilian “miracle,” for example. Without a doubt, this is one of the most important and exciting economies of the 21st century. Look at the efforts of the Caribbean Community countries to join forces and become a powerful, collective magnet for global business and investment. Look at Argentina’s efforts over the last decade to increase exports and business activity following its 2001 financial crisis, and at its aggressive economic recovery efforts following the recent downturn. Or look at Colombia, a country doing an impressive job of tackling problems such as crime, corruption and instability while developing an innovative, diverse economy that’s attracting global attention.

These countries, as diverse as they are, understand the importance of an effective response to economic recovery. They’re taking steps to create welcoming business environments. And they’re building links to the world through free trade and investment.

Chile alone has trade agreements with some 57 countries—agreements that cover countries that make up more than 85 percent of global domestic product and account for about 90 percent of Chile’s international trade.

As I made clear in my meetings with leaders and officials during my visit, Canada also understands the importance of free trade and global partnerships. In fact, free trade is a key ingredient in our recipe for economic recovery.

Canada leads the recovery

Canada’s approach to recovery closely matches the goals set out by world leaders during the G-20 Summit held in Toronto in June. At the Summit, leaders established firm debt-reduction targets for the coming years. They underscored their commitment to reforming international monetary institutions. And they agreed that targeted and timely stimulus is needed, as well as deficit-reduction measures.

On all counts, Canada has been a leader. Our economic action plan included measures to maintain and create jobs, reduce taxes, build infrastructure, and invest in skills and training for long-term prosperity.

And we’re taking steps to ensure that Canada emerges from the downturn stronger and in better fiscal shape than nearly every other industrialized country.

In year two of Canada’s Economic Action Plan, the government set out a three-point plan to bring the budget back into balance. That includes following through on the Plan’s exit strategy and limiting the growth of program spending and government costs. Thanks to efforts such as these, our deficit is projected to decline by about one half between 2009-10 and 2011-12, and to be virtually eliminated by 2014-15.

Our efforts are being recognized. The International Monetary Fund expects that Canada will be the only G-7 country to return to balanced budgets within the next five years.

Another key to Canada’s economic success is our commitment to free trade. And here again we’re leading by example. For instance, we eliminated all tariffs on imported manufacturing inputs, equipment and machinery, positioning Canada as the first tariff-free zone for manufacturers in the G-20.

And, inspired by our great success with North American free trade, we’re moving forward on an ambitious agenda to open more doors for our businesses around the world. Most of the public’s attention focuses on our negotiations with economies such as the European Union or our exploratory discussions with India. But the fact is, we’re building a great track record of success here in the Americas, too.

Free trade in the Americas

From the resource-rich Andes, to the vast agricultural lands of the Southern Cone, to the well-developed tourism and financial services industry in the Caribbean and Central America, the Latin American and Caribbean region has a true diversity of opportunity for Canadian firms.

Our businesses have seized the opportunity, forging commercial ties in the region for decades. Today you can find Canadian businesses, goods, services, expertise and investment dollars at work throughout the region.

Many products manufactured in the region are using Canadian inputs, before being sold domestically, across Latin America and around the world. That’s a great accomplishment—one that speaks to the depth of Canada’s presence in the region.

We’re also one of the largest investors in Latin America and the Caribbean. So when it comes to business in Latin America and the Caribbean, Canada matters.

Our government is building on this success:

  • our new free trade agreement with Peru is now in force;
  • in June, the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement was passed by Parliament;
  • in May, we signed the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement and celebrated that milestone with your group here in Toronto; and
  • two weeks ago, I announced our government’s intention to table a bill during the next session of Parliament to implement that agreement.

Panama is an important market for Canada, one that occupies a unique place in the global trading system, thanks to the Panama Canal. This vital gateway is currently under expansion, representing a great chance to generate jobs and opportunities for Canadian companies.

I look forward to parties from all sides studying and passing the legislation as soon as possible during the upcoming session of Parliament—and unlocking these benefits for Canadians.

And we’re not stopping there. We’re also engaged in free trade negotiations with the Caribbean Community, the Dominican Republic and the Central America Four—El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.

We’re also constantly exploring ways to make our existing trade agreements more effective. For example, we’re working with Chile to update our highly successful free trade agreement, including through a new chapter on financial services that will create more opportunities for Canada.

We’re undertaking similar efforts with Costa Rica. An updated free trade agreement with Costa Rica stands to lower remaining tariffs on goods and remove trade barriers in a broad range of sectors, creating new opportunities for the Canadian construction, manufacturing and agricultural industries.

We also hope to see expanded market access for cross-border trade in services, financial services, e-commerce, telecommunications and investment, and to help Canadian companies secure access to the government procurement market.

The benefits of these free trade agreements are clear. These agreements give our companies and producers a clear competitive edge, whether by lowering tariffs for producers and manufacturers or promoting investment and commercial cooperation. Canadian companies can count on our government to continue supporting their efforts in global markets. 

Supporting Canadian businesses

Canadian companies can also count on the excellent support of our team of trade commissioners across Latin America and the Caribbean. They’re out there, each and every day, making trade, investment and innovation links with our partners in the region.

The Trade Commissioner Service is one of the government’s most successful services. A recent study shows that exporters receiving assistance from the service enjoy 18 percent higher export values than comparable exporters that don’t use it.

Recognizing this, our government is committed to opening new trade offices in high-growth markets. For example, we will be expanding our services in Brazil, where our government is opening two new offices in Recife and Porto Alegre.

We’re also moving forward on a range of science and technology cooperation agreements, like the one we have with Brazil, as well as air services negotiations in the region.

And we’re committed to helping emerging economies access financing and development tools through the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In fact, Canada will be hosting the next annual meeting of the Inter-American Development Bank in Calgary in March. We’re working on a comprehensive program that will be sure to appeal to business, government and non-government groups alike.

As the Prime Minister said when he announced that Calgary would be the host city for this event, the meeting will “help open doors for all Canadians to do more business in the Americas.” It’s a great opportunity to showcase Canadian best practices and expertise in a number of key areas. I hope you can join us and, of course, take advantage of Calgary’s legendary hospitality.

Conclusion

Throughout these efforts, Canada will remain an active, steadfast partner to countries across the region. And we’ll continue counting on the support of groups such as yours to help us do it.

Canada’s history, like that of so many of our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, is a story of cooperation, not isolation. Our efforts in the Americas provide a sound, proven alternative to the pockets of isolationist thinking in the region. As more nations in the region adopt an open, cooperative approach to global relations, Canada will be there, as a partner, a friend and an example. 

Let’s work together to create a stronger, more cooperative hemisphere, one that benefits people from the Arctic to Argentina, from British Columbia to the Caribbean.

Thank you.