Address by Minister Van Loan to Canada-Arab Business Council

No. 2010/13 - Ottawa, Ontario - March 24, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Good evening, everyone.

Canada is proud of the many ties we share with our Arab partners.

And you’re the people who keep these ties strong, year in and year out—business people, members of your Council, and certainly the Arab ambassadors here tonight.

Our government appreciates your efforts.

As the global economy continues to recover, one thing is clear: free trade and partnerships, not protectionism, hold the key to long-term prosperity.

Canada’s approach—and, I know, your organization’s approach—has been to keep the doors to diversifying global trade open.

For more than 25 years, your group has opened a number of doors and built countless bridges between Canada and nations across the Middle East and North Africa.

Along the way, you’ve helped to build a greater understanding here in Canada about the Arab world—a region rich in history and innovation.

Your group has also been a close, valued partner of the department of international trade over the years.

With politics, security, trade and investment so closely intertwined in the Middle East and North Africa, we need to be working together, at all levels, to maintain and deepen our relationships.

This includes our trade and investment ties—a top priority in our government’s efforts to help Canada’s economy down the path to recovery.

Helping Canadians compete

After all, Canadian jobs, prosperity and quality of life are directly tied to our ability to trade and invest.

Canadians are counting on our businesses to succeed around the world—and our government is active in helping them do it.

That’s why we’re focused on supporting them in global markets—and on creating the right conditions for our businesses to spark more opportunities at home.

Look at our Economic Action Plan, which is making significant investments in our national innovation strategy and helping businesses get the financing they need to support their recovery and long-term growth.

We’ve also cut corporate taxes to make Canada more attractive to business.

And we’ve made Canada the first country in the G20 a “tariff-free zone” for a broad range of machinery and equipment for Canadian manufacturers.

Eliminating tariffs on new equipment, parts and machinery will help make our manufacturers more innovative, more productive and more cost-competitive.

We’re sending a clear message to the world that Canada is open for business.

But creating winning conditions for Canadians also means working with our business community to help them capture global opportunities—including those throughout the Middle East.

Which is why it gives me great pleasure to tell you—the foremost organization dedicated to business affairs between Canada and the Arab world—that earlier today, we introduced in Parliament legislation to implement Canada’s Free Trade Agreement with Jordan.

Many Canadian companies already have a solid presence in the Jordanian marketplace.

Our two-way trade is very diverse—everything from forestry to agriculture and food, machinery, communications technologies and apparel.

The agreement will eliminate tariffs on the vast majority of our exports to Jordan.

And it will give Canadian sectors like manufacturing, forestry, and agriculture and agri-food a leg-up on the competition in Jordan.

We’re joined here tonight by His Excellency Ambassador Nabil Barto, Jordan’s Ambassador to Canada. I’d like to thank him for his invaluable support for this agreement, which will benefit both our countries.

In short, with this agreement, Canada is demonstrating its keen interest in improving and deepening our partnerships in the Arab world.

The economic transformation under way in many of these countries is nothing short of remarkable.

They’re reaching out to global opportunities.

Opening their doors to business and foreign investment as never before.

And expanding trade with key partners like the United States, the European Union, China and—most certainly—Canada.

The efforts are key, because we know—through our own history—the benefits of reaching beyond our own borders for business opportunities.

Canada’s commercial relations in the Arab world

We’re also very optimistic about trade in the region—a region of 280 million consumers, and a combined gross domestic product approaching $2 trillion.

Thanks to your members, our trade relationship is strong.

Two-way merchandise trade between Canada and the Middle East-North Africa region reached $12.8 billion last year.

Including a record $3 billion in Canadian exports to the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council alone.

Add our growing trade in services to the picture and you get a good sense of the true depth and diversity of our relationship.

The real story here is the sheer diversity of Canadian businesses at work in the region.

Yes, oil and gas is a big part of our success—with Petro-Canada, Nexen, Talisman and many others active there.

But infrastructure firms have a deep presence there too: Cansult, MMM Group, Dessau, HOK and SNC-Lavalin, for example.

Our education sector has also done a great job of creating opportunities—with the University of Calgary and the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar being good examples.

Our services sector is also well represented. Canadian franchises like Second Cup and La Vie en Rose are also taking hold in the Arab market.

We know business must be booming when we see a steady parade of Canadian law firms heading to the region.

From high-tech goods to professional services, you can find a range of Canadian expertise—from every region of Canada—at work in the Middle East and North Africa.

Creating new successes

We want to see more successes.

Of course, oil and gas remains a cornerstone Canadian industry, and we’re closely involved in a number of projects throughout the region.

We look forward to seeing our Arab partners in Calgary this June for the Global Petroleum Show—and at the World Energy Congress in Montreal in September.

Both events will be excellent showcases of what Canada can offer in this important area.

But we’re also focusing on opportunities beyond oil and gas.

Take infrastructure, for example.

We think Canada can and should play a big role in helping countries across the region build the infrastructure—including the transportation systems, the health care facilities and the schools—they need in the years ahead.

As a stable producer and developer of both energy and agriculture, Canada can also help our partners achieve energy security and food security—critical challenges for countries around the world.

From aerospace and defence to education and health care to our own consumer market of 33 million people, Canada can offer a lot to our Arab partners.

More specifically, I’d like to see growth in Canadian exports to the region over the next two years—from $5.6 billion last year to $7 billion by the end of 2011.

With your help, I know we can get there.

We’re also focused on building stronger investment links.

Our trade commissioners—across Canada and posted throughout the Arab world—are actively promoting Canadian expertise in a range of sectors.

They’re helping Canadian companies invest in the region, and they’re promoting Canada’s investment advantages to our Arab partners—advantages like:

  • the soundest banking system in the world;
  • our open and attractive business environment;
  • our low corporate taxes—on track to being the lowest in the G7;
  • we’re a “tariff-free zone” for manufacturers;
  • our skilled workforce—we have the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates in the OECD;
  • our commitment to innovation;
  • our commitment to the rule of law and a strong justice system; and
  • our high quality of life.

Investors from the region, looking for the most dynamic, innovative and stable economies for business opportunities, need look no farther than right here in Canada.

Creating the right policy climate

Helping businesses on both sides succeed also depends on creating the right policy climate.

That’s why we’re in free trade discussions with Morocco and ongoing negotiations with Tunisia toward a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement.

We’re also in discussions with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar aimed at strengthening our business ties.

These efforts—and the free trade agreement with Jordan I spoke of earlier—will help Canada to build new successes in the Arab market, and carry us down the path to lasting recovery.

Conclusion: Beyond business

But we also recognize that trade, investment and economic development are closely tied to many other goals in the region—goals like peace, security and the rule of law.

Canada has been clear in its support for efforts toward a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

As business leaders, you have a role to play too.

Thank you.