Address by Minister Van Loan at Africa Rising: Entrepreneurship and Innovation Frontiers

No. 2011/14 - Toronto, Ontario - March 15, 2011

Check Against Delivery

It’s a pleasure to be here today to talk about our government’s efforts to promote the role of Canada’s businesses, entrepreneurs and innovation in Africa’s future.

Our government is focused on economic growth, and we know that trade and investment are key to our efforts in moving Canada—and the global economy—further on the path toward recovery.

Our government is committed to opening new markets for Canadian businesses and to creating stronger commercial links between Canada and the countries of Africa.

My very first speech as minister of international trade was at a conference last year on innovation and technology in Africa. The conference was sponsored by my department and the International Development Research Centre.

My first international trip as minister of international trade was to South Africa and Kenya.

And earlier this year I joined Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper on a visit to Morocco to announce the launch of our free trade negotiations with that country.

I’ve seen first-hand the opportunities and potential in Africa’s economy.

Like many Canadian companies, I recognize the potential of this market and I believe that Canada can be a great partner in helping to build the “new Africa.”

Between 1995 and 2008—before the global recession hit—the average annual growth of sub-Saharan African economies exceeded 5 percent.

Even during the economic crisis, many African economies continued to grow at a steady pace, creating opportunities for businesses, investors and workers alike.

An analysis by The Economist magazine found that six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are located in Africa.

Recently, the World Bank concluded that Africa is “on the brink of an economic takeoff” and that companies without an Africa strategy are at risk of being left behind.

Canadian businesses are well positioned to take on a leadership role as Africa’s economy continues to grow and develop.

Last year Canadian exports to Africa grew by close to 20 percent, with the top two exports being wheat and aircraft.

The latest data from Natural Resources Canada show that with over $23 billion in mining assets, Canada is already the largest foreign investor in Africa’s mining sector.

Less than two weeks ago I met with Canada’s ambassadors and high commissioners to African countries.

Canada maintains 16 trade offices on the continent, from Ethiopia to South Africa and from Senegal to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Canada’s ambassadors and high commissioners are helping Canadian businesses expand their operations to Africa, especially in sectors such as infrastructure and natural resource management—sectors that are of significant importance to that continent.

Canada’s size and geography have given Canadian firms vast expertise in every aspect of infrastructure development—from architecture and construction to engineering and transportation.

Canada also has a vibrant and innovative information and communications technology industry.

As access to the Internet and mobile phones increases in Africa, Canadian firms are helping to create a more connected and networked continent.

Canada’s researchers and entrepreneurs are also working with African partners to transfer knowledge and create new businesses in a number of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, agriculture, health care, education and housing.

Prosperity is coming to corners of Africa where the private sector is playing a key role in development.

We have seen Canada’s traditional aid to Africa being complemented by more private-sector investment.

For example, our Canadian Investment Fund for Africa matched the $100 million of government money with private-sector funds to invest in projects in Africa.

Last year, we increased the lending capacity of the African Development Bank by $2.8 billion just at the time of the global financial crisis, when the funds were most needed.

And as Canadian investment in Africa grows, our government is also promoting Canada as an ideal partner for Africa’s entrepreneurs, investors and businesses.

Canada offers many advantages as an investment destination and partner for global business. Canada has:

  • the advantage of being the only G-20 country to eliminate tariffs on manufacturing imports;
  • the lowest taxes on new business investment among the major developed economies of the G-7;
  • the lowest debt-to-GDP ratio in the G-7;
  • the fastest economic growth in the G-7 this year, according to the International Monetary Fund;
  • the world’s soundest banking system, according to the World Economic Forum;
  • the highest proportion of post-secondary graduates among member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development;
  • the benefit of being the best place to do business in the G7, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit;
  • one of most generous research and development (R&D) tax incentives in the world;
  • the lowest business and R&D costs in the G-7; and
  • an outstanding quality of life.

Canada has emerged from the global economic downturn in better shape than nearly every other major economy.

To drive that economic recovery further, our government is committed to a broad and ambitious agenda of free trade negotiations.

Since 2006 we have signed free trade agreements with eight countries, and we are in negotiations with close to 50 others—including, as I mentioned, Morocco.

We are also in trade negotiations with the European Union—an agreement that, once signed, will give Canada preferential access to the world’s single wealthiest market.

That agreement will also mean that Canada will be the only major economy to have trade agreements with the world’s two largest markets, the European Union and the United States.

Our government has positioned Canada as a trade and investment leader and as a strategic business partner with access to the world’s most dynamic economies.

With a low-tax plan and generous research and development incentives, our government is also encouraging Canadian businesses to grow and expand their operations into new markets, such as Africa.

To further encourage Canadian investment in Africa, we need our African partners to work toward reforming their business environments to create more transparent rules and better governance.

Our government continues to promote democratic reforms and the rule of law on the world stage.

We believe that strong democratic institutions will further encourage Canadian and global investment and lead to a prosperous future for Africa.

As you know, Africa was a top priority at Canada’s G-8 Summit. The Canada-led Muskoka Initiative, first proposed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the World Economic Forum in Davos, is about making a real difference in the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people.

Canada’s generous contribution is part of a $7.3-billion overall commitment to expanding life-saving services and programs that can help us meet our ultimate goal: saving the lives of mothers, newborns and children in developing countries.

I look forward to working with you in the time ahead to build on the progress we have made and to pave the way for an even stronger partnership between Canada and Africa in the years to come.

Thank you.