Address by Minister Van Loan to the Canadian Council for the Americas

No 2010/30 - Toronto, OntarioMay 14, 2010

Check Against Delivery

I would like to start by welcoming my colleague Roberto Henríquez, Panama’s Minister of Commerce and Industry, to Toronto—Canada’s business capital.

I’d also like to recognize our other Panamanian guests today, including:

  • Carlo Escobar, Ambassador of Panama to Canada;
  • Bosco Vallarino, Consul General of Panama in Toronto; and
  • Victor Pérez, Panama’s Minister of Agriculture.

We’re also joined by Lisa Raitt, Canada’s Minister of Labour.

I’d like to thank the Canadian Council for the Americas for organizing this event. The Council’s efforts, year in and year out, are a driving force behind Canada’s successful relationships throughout Latin America and the Caribbean—including those with Panama.

So I do hope you consider the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement—which we signed this morning in Ottawa, with Prime Minister Harper in attendance—to be a great victory, not only for our businesses but also for organizations like yours.

Panama has a dynamic, innovative economy, one that attracts global commercial attention, including from Canadian companies. It’s also a gateway to Latin America and the Caribbean. The Panama Canal is nothing short of an economic engine, bringing business to, and through, Latin America.

The Canal is also a pillar of the Colón Free Trade Zone, a global shipping hub that generates import and export activity worth billions of dollars each year.

But as a country, Panama is something more. It’s a model of free enterprise, a small country harnessing its advantages and the energies of its people to reach out to global opportunities.

Any Latin American country looking to build a strong, globally competitive economy for its citizens need look no farther than Panama to see how it’s done.

Panama’s success is also due to its many free trade initiatives—with neighbours such as El Salvador and Chile, but also with Singapore, Taiwan and the United States.

Canadian businesses are excited about doing more business in Panama—from construction and tourism to services, education and manufacturing, and to logistics, human resources, distribution and energy, Canadian businesses play an important role in Panama’s economy—which is why the free trade agreement we’re signing today couldn’t come at a better time, for both countries.

This agreement will eliminate tariffs on a range of Canadian products and provide better access for Canadian services providers to Panama’s market. It will also secure market access in the area of government procurement, opening more doors for Canadian businesses looking to participate in the Panama Canal expansion and other infrastructure projects. And it will help Canadian investors in Panama, giving them greater transparency and protection.

In addition, it will give our Panamanian partners access to the Canadian market, with all of its business advantages, including our:

  • open and attractive free-enterprise environment;
  • strong fiscal position—the strongest in the G7;
  • sound banking system—the soundest in the world;
  • low corporate taxes, which are on track to being the lowest in the G7;
  • rapid economic growth—the fastest in the G7, according to the International Monetary Fund;
  • position as the first “tariff-free zone” for manufacturers in the G20;
  • skilled workforce, which boasts the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates among countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development;
  • strong commitment to good governance and the rule of law; and
  • high quality of life.

But today we’re also recognizing that free trade can go hand-in-hand with labour rights and environmental protection. That’s why we’re also signing today two parallel agreements committing us to high levels of environmental protection and labour rights.

Our government understands that a competitive Canadian economy depends on lowering taxes, investing in innovation, and promoting free enterprise across the country.

But it also depends on reaching out to partners around the world. It depends on free trade.

That’s why Canada is pursuing an ambitious trade agenda, which includes negotiations with the European Union toward a comprehensive economic and trade agreement.

And that’s why we’re joining forces with our Panamanian partners to expand market opportunities and promote prosperity and job creation in both countries.

I look forward to working with Minister Henríquez in the time ahead to make the most of this new trade agreement and to promote prosperity and economic success in Canada and Panama alike.

Thank you.