No. 2011/9 - Ottawa, Ontario - March 2, 2011
Check Against Delivery
It’s a pleasure to join you here once again for your annual general meeting.
Your organization plays an important role in keeping Canada’s ties to our Arab partners strong each and every year.
I also acknowledge the presence of many Arab ambassadors here tonight dedicated to this same goal.
Since I spoke to you last, a year ago at this very same event, I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Middle East and move Canada’s commercial partnership with that region forward.
The past year—and, indeed, just the last couple of months—has seen a lot of changes in the region.
Canada, as always, looks forward to a peaceful transition to democracy in the countries undergoing change in the region: a transition guided by peace, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Of course, I come to you tonight as Canada’s trade minister. I believe that trade and investment are a positive force in the Middle East, as we build upon strong people-to-people ties between the region and Canada.
That’s why Canada is moving forward on a number of initiatives to help businesses, like the ones you represent, build more commercial ties between Canada and the Arab world.
In October, I visited Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan.
The Gulf Cooperation Council states represent Canada’s 11th-largest destination for merchandise exports. Our exports there have nearly doubled since 2005, from $1.3 billion to $2.5 billion in 2010.
In fact, two-way merchandise trade between Canada and the whole of the Middle East-North Africa region reached $14.5 billion last year.
We’re seeing growing trade in the services industry, too.
Our trade is becoming more diverse every year.
From oil and gas to infrastructure, retail and education, Canadian businesses are building a deep presence in the Arab market.
But we also recognize the need to do more.
After all, the region represents over 400 million consumers and a combined gross domestic product of about $2.5 trillion.
Countries across the region are opening their doors to business, trade and foreign investment like never before.
We want to see more successes for Canadians in the region.
Canadian companies have long been excellent partners in the region’s oil and gas industry, for example.
But we also think that Canada can be a good partner for Arab countries as they continue modernizing their transportation systems and building the health-care facilities and schools they need in the years ahead.
Canada’s abundance of energy and agricultural products should also be on the region’s radar.
And we’re taking every opportunity to tell our Arab partners about Canada’s many economic strengths. Canada has:
Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan, our government is building on these advantages.
We know that Canadian companies can compete with—and beat—the best in the world.
But if—as the opposition are demanding—we hike taxes on Canadian workers and businesses, we will be asking them to compete at a disadvantage.
Our government will not do this.
We won’t hike taxes on job-creating businesses as we implement our economic recovery plan.
That’s why Canada is emerging from the economic downturn in better shape than most other major economies.
In fact, Canada’s Economic Action Plan has helped create close to 460,000 jobs since July 2009—the strongest job growth in the G-7—and our economy has grown for five straight quarters.
Our government met the challenge of the global economic recession by paying down debt, strengthening our already strong banking system and reducing taxes for Canadian families and businesses alike.
Our Economic Action Plan has meant jobs and financial security for Canadian families during the worst global recession since the Second World War.
Our ambitious free trade agenda is an important part of our economic recovery efforts.
Your organization has long called for closer commercial ties through free trade.
Our government is delivering.
Over the last five years, we’ve concluded free trade agreements with eight countries, and we’re continuing trade negotiations with close to 50 other countries.
Our agenda stands in contrast to the track record of the previous government in their 13 years in power.
Three trade agreements—with Chile, Costa Rica and Israel—were the only agreements the previous government signed for Canadians.
One of this year’s highlights was the official launch by prime ministers [Stephen] Harper and [Abbas] El Fassi of free trade negotiations between Canada and Morocco.
That agreement would cover a broad range of areas, including goods and services, investment and government procurement.
And it will help our Moroccan partners improve their access to everything Canada has to offer as a business partner.
And Canada’s free trade agreement with Jordan is now before Parliament.
Canadian companies like the ones you represent already have a solid presence in the Jordanian marketplace.
Our two-way trade is very diverse—ranging 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 enhanced access to the Jordanian market.
In short, the agreement is a great example of the kind of partnership we’re trying to create with our partners across the Arab world.
And we are working in other ways to strengthen our business ties with the region.
That includes the signing of a memorandum of understanding in health care that I witnessed during my visit to Saudi Arabia.
It will help create a positive environment for Canadian businesses to participate in major Saudi health-care projects.
It’s a good example of what Canada can offer the Arab world.
This year will also see the opening of the Canadian embassy in Doha.
Along with the recent conclusion of air negotiations with Qatar, the new embassy will prove our commitment to strengthening partnerships in the region.
The Harper government’s efforts will help Canada build new successes in the Arab market and carry all of our nations down the path to lasting economic recovery.
Our government recognizes that trade, investment and economic growth are closely tied to many other goals in the region—goals like peace, security and the rule of law.
Canada fully supports all efforts to build momentum toward these goals across the Middle East.
For over a quarter-century, you’ve brought Canada closer to our partners across the Middle East and North Africa.
You’ve awakened Canadian businesses to the great opportunities in these markets and helped them overcome the challenges of doing business overseas.
I thank you for your ongoing efforts, and I look forward to continuing to work with you to build new partnerships that will strengthen the commercial relations between Canada and the Arab world.
Let’s carry our economies further along the path to lasting recovery.
And let’s continue supporting the foundations of peace and prosperity across the region in the years to come.