Address by Minister Van Loan to Canada-Spain Chamber of Commerce

No. 2010/28 - Madrid, Spain - May 6, 2010

Check Against Delivery

It’s a great pleasure to be here in Spain, and the incredible city of Madrid.

For centuries, Madrid has been at the centre of European life. It’s a hub of business, education and culture.

It’s home to the great Real Madrid—the most successful soccer club of the 20th century and, I’m sure, of the 21st.

And as the seat of Spain’s government, this city is also home to probably the toughest, most demanding sport of all—politics.

But this city is also the perfect place to talk about Canada’s relationship with Spain, and about our efforts to build new business opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic.

Canada and Spain

Canada and Spain enjoy a number of ties.

The discovery of our west coast owes much to the efforts of legendary Spanish explorers like Juan Francisco de la Bodega y Quadra and Juan de Fuca—men whose names are immortalized in Canadian landmarks and Canadian geography.

Today, you can hear Spanish being spoken in neighbourhoods across Canada. There are currently 326,000 people of Spanish descent living in Canada.

Over the years, people-to-people ties have blossomed into close relations on many fronts. Canada and Spain have long stood shoulder-to-shoulder on issues like democracy and global security in organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United Nations.

We’re also both engaged in reconstructing Afghanistan, and helping that country move past its tumultuous history and build a better life for its citizens.

We’re close collaborators on the science and technology front, with researchers from both countries working together in areas like health, marine sciences, renewable energy and the environment.

Our partnership has proven to be strong enough to withstand tough times. After some rocky relations on the fisheries front, we’re now constructive partners in fisheries management and conservation—including through a recent agreement to cooperate in managing our fisheries.

My friends, these are all marks of a mature and sophisticated relationship—one made stronger, each and every year, by our growing business ties.

Building strong commercial ties

The recent creation of your chamber, headquartered here in Madrid, reflects these growing ties.

In 2009, our bilateral merchandise trade reached $2.5 billion.

Together, we’ve enjoyed enormous success in many key sectors. There are over 45 Canadian companies with significant operations here in Spain.

Going the other way, we’re proud to host Spanish companies in Canada, firms like Repsol, CEPSA, ACCIONA and Enerfin.

Our Canadian trade commissioners here in Spain are working hard to help make new connections in a range of sectors.

From natural resources to infrastructure, from energy—traditional and green sources—to high technology, we invite our Spanish partners to find out how Canada can help them.

We’re also an excellent destination for investment, something well known in Spain. In 2008, the Spanish Exporters and Investors Club designated Canada as the best country in the world in which to do business and invest. In fact, that designation marked the first year in which Canada was rated even higher than Spain’s partners in the European Union. We’re very proud that Spain is discovering Canada’s many advantages as an investment destination—even in the face of the global recession.

Canada’s economy was less affected than most other G7 countries last year.

And our banking system was exemplary throughout the crisis. None of our banks failed. In fact, many—including the Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank, for example—are growing at an aggressive rate.

These kinds of confident expansions simply wouldn’t be possible without a strong, stable banking system. For two years in a row, Canada’s banking system has been ranked the soundest in the world, according to the World Economic Forum.

Canada also enjoys the strongest fiscal position in the G7, with low inflation, a commitment to balanced budgets and a corporate tax framework that’s among the world’s best. In fact, our corporate tax rate is on track to become the lowest in the G7 by 2012.

KPMG [LLP, the accounting and consulting firm] also confirmed last month that, among industrialized countries, Canada is ahead of the pack in terms of cost-competitiveness.

We enjoy a 5-percent cost advantage in the cost of doing business over our American partners.

We also enjoy a strong “people” advantage, with the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates among countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Thanks to North American free trade—and the extremely well-developed transportation corridors that criss-cross the continent and connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific—Canada is also a great place for any business looking to expand its reach in North America.

Add to that our many strategic investments in technology, education and health care—and one of the highest qualities of life anywhere—and you get a pretty clear picture why more and more companies from Spain and around the world are investing in Canada.

We want our Spanish partners to know about these advantages, so we can continue building the partnerships that will benefit both sides.

We also think that our efforts to create a new partnership between Canada and Spain—with the entire European Union, in fact—couldn’t come at a better time.

Fighting for open markets

Since the onset of the global economic crisis, Canada’s approach has been clear. Lasting economic recovery requires more trade, not less.

It requires fighting protectionism at every opportunity.

As the economic histories of North America and Europe have both proven, jobs, prosperity and opportunities are created only when we keep the doors open to trade.

The need for free and open systems of trade will be at the core of Canada’s message when we host the upcoming G20 Summit in June. Our prime minister [Stephen Harper] underscored this need earlier this week, at the Canada-EU Summit in Brussels.

And it’s a driving force behind our efforts to work with Spain—and the entire European Union—to negotiate a new economic partnership agreement that will benefit us all.

Toward a Canada-EU comprehensive economic and trade agreement

For Canada, this represents the most ambitious and significant trade initiative since the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Our businesses have long called for closer ties to Europe. They’re excited about the European Union’s position as the world’s largest market and biggest investor, as home to some of the world’s largest and most important companies, and as the incubator of innovative ideas and technologies.

The many advantages we see here in Spain—your active business sector and commitment to innovation, for example—reinforce our belief that more Canadian companies should be doing business here, and across Europe.

Canadian sectors like aerospace, agriculture, engineering, high technology and many others can all offer a lot to the European marketplace.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re also seeing great interest from Europe—and the world—in Canada’s many economic advantages.

So an agreement would be a “win-win” for both Canada and Europe.

A recent joint study shows that an agreement could lead to a potential $38-billion boost to our bilateral trade and significant gross domestic product gains for both sides.

Driven by this kind of potential, our negotiations are moving forward at a good pace. Even the disruptions in air service couldn’t keep our negotiating teams from meeting in Ottawa last month.

I’ve indicated that I’d like to see negotiations completed in two years.

We’re looking at a 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.

But the fact is that our negotiators can’t do it alone. Our businesspeople have an important role to play, too.

Conclusion: getting behind the partnership

We need your help to build public support and face down critics who feel that increased business ties lead to an erosion of national sovereignty or are somehow harmful to a country’s economy.

The very existence of the European Union demonstrates that countries can work together for mutual benefit.

I can tell you that we had a similar debate in Canada around the issue of North American free trade.

Time has proven, without a doubt, that we’re stronger, more prosperous and more competitive by joining forces than we are alone.

Free and open trade creates jobs, prosperity and opportunity on all sides of a partnership.

Canada’s efforts with the European Union provide a wonderful opportunity to build on our respective traditions of reaching out to the world, an opportunity to create a new model of cooperation that can inspire other nations as they work toward lasting economic recovery.

Let’s get behind this incredible opportunity. Let’s work together to convince Canadians and Europeans alike of the enormous benefits of opening new markets across the Atlantic. Let’s create the jobs, prosperity and opportunity our people need today more than ever.

Thank you.