Address by Minister Van Loan at North American Alliance of Innovative Universities’ NAFTA Conference

No. 2010/19 - Ottawa, Ontario - April 12, 2010

Check Against Delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction, and for the invitation to speak with you this evening.

Let me begin by acknowledging the great work being done by your organization.

Together, Athabasca University, the University of Maryland University College and the Instituto Tecnológico de Monterrey [Monterrey Technological Institute] are joining forces to promote cross-border dialogue on a range of important issues.

This year’s theme is a case in point. In fact, “wealth creation through free trade and entrepreneurship” is actually a pretty accurate outline of our government’s approach to global commerce.

We believe that when businesses succeed, Canadians succeed. Because when businesses succeed, they create jobs, they generate prosperity, and they help support the quality of life people rely on and enjoy here in Canada.

These uncertain global economic times have added some urgency to our government’s efforts to strengthen Canada’s economy.

We are putting a strong focus on our Economic Action Plan—to protect incomes, create jobs, ease credit markets and help workers and communities get back on their feet.

Budget 2010 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 by making Canada the first country in the G20 to become a tariff-free zone for machinery and equipment imports.

We’re creating and protecting 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 are emerging from this economic downturn better than nearly every other industrialized country. But while we may be turning the corner, we are far from fully recovered.

And I’m sure you’d agree that you can’t really talk about a lasting recovery without talking about an aggressive and ambitious trade agenda.

Canada is, after all, a trading nation. Trade is equivalent to about 60 percent of our gross domestic product.

And nowhere has our commitment to free and open trade been more successful—or more instructive—than right here in North America.

The NAFTA success story

Without a doubt, the North American Free Trade Agreement is a success story for all three countries.

Here in Canada, for example, nearly 4.1 million new jobs have been created since the Agreement was signed.

The Agreement also marked an important new beginning for our commercial relations with the United States and Mexico.

With the United States, the Agreement was the culmination of the close relationship our countries had built over generations. We took this relationship and, through bilateral free trade, created the most successful trade partnership in history.

The statistics speak for themselves.

  • Last year, more than $1.6 billion in goods and services trade crossed the border every day.
  • 8 million U.S. jobs depend on trade with Canada.
  • Canada bought nearly five times more merchandise from the United States than from China last year.
  • And Canada is the top merchandise-export destination for 34 U.S. states.

Thanks to free trade, we’re not just trading goods back and forth; we’re making things together, too. We’ve created virtually borderless supply chains, with products crossing the border many times during production. That kind of cooperation benefits people and businesses alike—creating jobs and opportunities in both countries.

Canada’s commercial partnership with Mexico followed a somewhat different path.

Before the Agreement was signed, our trade was quite modest.

But since it was signed, our bilateral merchandise trade has grown by 370 percent, and our direct investment in Mexico by more than 630 percent.

Today, Mexico is our fifth-largest merchandise-export destination in the world, and an incredibly important partner for sectors across Canada.

You can find nearly 2,400 Canadian companies active in the Mexican marketplace.

So NAFTA has strengthened partnerships among all three countries. And it’s given us all a real competitive edge in the global market.

Our three countries make up one of the most dynamic and prosperous trading blocs in the world, with a combined gross domestic product of over $18.8 trillion.

Think also of the supply chains and transportation corridors that criss-cross our continent—running from the Atlantic to the Pacific, past the Great Lakes, and through the U.S. heartland to Mexico.

To stay competitive in the global economy, our businesses are innovating, increasing efficiency and specializing in higher-value products and services. And they’re doing it by using inputs and services purchased from their North American partners.

Free trade is the engine that drives this success, and helps us all compete against emerging trade giants like China, India and Brazil.

We’ve taken steps to refine the NAFTA relationship in recent years.

Our government continues to build on our partnership and tackle remaining barriers to trade—barriers like border delays and regulatory differences.

These barriers cost time and money. And they erode our ability to attract more business and investment to North America.

Our government recognizes that any sophisticated trade relationship must go far beyond lowering tariffs. Now, more than ever, it’s critical for companies to keep costs down and avoid undue burdens on doing business.

That’s why Canada will continue to support ongoing efforts to create a more business-friendly and competitive North America for the future.

We’ve recently had success in achieving a waiver of “Buy American” provisions for infrastructure projects under the U.S. stimulus plan. And we will continue to work toward freer trade in the face of protectionism.

Canada’s trade agenda: expanding markets

We’ve also been so inspired by our great success with North American free trade that we’re moving forward on a number of efforts to expand markets, attract investment and help Canadians compete around the world.

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

And Canada is now engaged in our biggest trade negotiations since the North American Free Trade Agreement: negotiations with the European Union toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement.

Our businesses have long called for stronger trade ties to the European Union. Our work toward free trade with the EU will bring our workers the growth they expect and deserve to be able to compete and succeed. 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;
  • 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.

In some ways, we’ve been inspired by Mexico’s own successful economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

We’re committed to reaching an agreement both broader and more ambitious than even the North American Free Trade Agreement.

We are confident that this deal will make North America more attractive and competitive to global business, and that holds great potential to benefit us all.

That’s why fighting protectionism and keeping the doors open to trade and business will be at the core of our message to the world as Canada prepares to host the upcoming G20 Summit.

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.

In a challenging, competitive world—and one that, from time to time, questions the wisdom of free and open trade—it’s up to everyone who believes in trade to stand up and call for opening more doors and global cooperation.

Your group is an important voice in this effort. And I’m pleased to see your efforts to keep this issue front and centre in your own dialogue.

Conclusion

The world has long looked to North America as a model of a trade relationship that works.

Canadians, Mexicans and Americans can be very proud of what has been achieved over the last 16 years.

I look forward to working with our North American partners to continue building on this success and creating more opportunities for our citizens in the years ahead.

And I look forward to hearing about the results of this conference and your deliberations on the future of our great continental partnership.

Thank you.