Address by Minister Fast to Panama Investment Mission

No. 2011/24 - Toronto, Ontario - June 17, 2011

Check Against Delivery

On behalf of the Government of Canada, I’d like to welcome all of our Panamanian friends to Canada, and to the great city of Toronto.

This is an important period in the history of the Canada-Panama partnership for three reasons.

First, we’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of Canada-Panama political relations this year. Over the course of five decades, we’ve seen ever-closer ties between our two countries—socially, politically and commercially.

Second, we’re celebrating yesterday’s inaugural Toronto flight of Copa Airlines—one of four that will happen every week from now on.

Having Panama’s national carrier flying in and out of Toronto every week speaks to the expanding business and tourism between our nations—not to mention the growing number of Canadians retiring in Panama.

Along with Air Transat’s plans to launch services from Montreal and Toronto to Panama City starting in November 2011, travel between our countries will be easier than ever before.

Third, we’ve just celebrated the first anniversary of the signing of the Canada-Panama Free Trade Agreement in Ottawa. This represented the culmination of years of work and advocacy from officials and businesspeople on both sides of the partnership, not to mention the political leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Ricardo Martinelli.

They understood the great potential of closer economic ties, and fought to make the agreement happen.

In addition to the trade agreement itself, we signed two side agreements on labour cooperation and the environment. These agreements prove that business and social responsibility can go hand-in-hand.

I understand that all three agreements have passed through the Panamanian legislative process.

I know that many of you are wondering about the agreements’ status here in Canada.

As you know, we had an election recently. All of the legislation before the House of Commons died when the election was called. That included the legislation to pass the agreement into law.

But I’m here today to tell you about our government’s firm commitment—and my firm commitment as Minister—to this agreement.

Canadians have given us a strong majority mandate, and we will reintroduce the agreement as soon as possible this coming fall.

As our economies continue on the path to lasting recovery, we need to unlock the benefits this agreement provides.

Our countries have much to offer each other.

Canada recognizes Panama as one of the most stable countries in an often unstable region.

Panama has long been a close partner of Canada—and others in the hemisphere—in promoting security and strong, effective and accountable democracies in the region.

And Canadians have long looked to Panama for business opportunities.

Panama is a dynamic, innovative economy, and a gateway to Latin America.

Look at how effective the Panama Canal has been in driving business to—and through—the region. It has certainly been a key part of Canada’s trade in the region—we’re an important user of this hub.

The Panama Canal is a global symbol of Panama’s openness to the world.

So too is the Colón Free Trade Zone—a global shipping hub that sees billions of dollars of trade each year.

And Panama’s many free trade agreements—including with neighbours like El Salvador and Chile, but also with Singapore and Taiwan—are further testament to your country’s belief in the power of trade.

This openness to trade was no doubt an important factor in Panama’s ability to weather the global economic crisis. In fact, Panama was one of only a handful of countries in the Americas to report positive growth for 2009 and 2010. And all signs are pointing to further robust growth in the coming year.

That’s a great achievement.

Canada shares Panama’s belief in the importance of trade.

Here in Canada, trade is an important issue in the lives of Canadians. If affects the prices we pay, the food we buy and the jobs that sustain families. In fact, one in every five Canadian jobs is directly relegated to trade.

That’s why our trade partnership with Panama is so important. Our bilateral trade reached over $213 million last year—a 62-percent increase over the previous year.

Canadian companies like Scotiabank and SNC-Lavalin, and a range of educational institutions, are establishing a presence there. So too are the government services that support our businesses in global markets.

Export Development Canada, for example, has established a new office there—making Panama the regional hub for Central America and the Caribbean.

Canada’s embassy in Panama reports strong demand over the last year for the tools and support offered by our trade commissioners posted there. Many businesses are exploring the market for the first time.

The potential is great.

From construction to tourism, from services to education, from manufacturing to logistics and distribution, and from human resources to energy—Canada can offer a lot to our Panamanian partners.

Mining is a good example. Canadian mining companies are already important investors in Panama’s mining sector.

Our companies, such as Inmet, are global leaders in ensuring that environmental, social and economic benefits flow from mining operations.

The message is clear—Canada can help Panama develop its vast resources.

The expansion of the Panama Canal is another good example. Over the years, Canadian firms have developed a lot of expertise in the areas of infrastructure, transportation and construction. We think Canadian businesses can play an important role in the canal’s expansion.

We’re also very excited by President Martinelli’s government’s $13.6-billion infrastructure plan.

Canada’s infrastructure expertise aligns nicely with the plan’s priorities, including metro systems and port development, airport expansions and energy distribution.

I should add that Canadian companies are also developing a good reputation for green building and sustainable development technologies.

We’re committed to exploring these kinds of partnerships with our Panamanian partners—including with Panama’s newly established Green Building Council.

And we’re taking every opportunity to tell our trade partners—including Panama—about Canada’s many investment advantages.

Canada has emerged from the global economic crisis in good shape—better than most of our G-8 and OECD peers, in fact. We enjoy the strongest fiscal position in the G-7. Our government is on track to return to balanced budgets well before these same countries.

And the IMF is telling us that we have among the fastest rates of economic growth among industrialized nations.

As the Canada-Panama partnership enters a new and important phase, Panamanian investors would be wise to look at Canada’s stable, low-tax, innovative and world-leading economy. Our free trade agreement will unlock new opportunities for our economies, and help us build on our great successes to date.

Events like this, and the people in this room, are crucial to this effort. 

I look forward to working with you to seek out and capture new trade and investment opportunities between our countries, and to create the jobs and prosperity Canadians and Panamanians are looking for.

Thank you.