Address by Minister Fast to Canadian Chamber of Commerce

May 29, 2012 - Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

As some of you know, it was at Trade Day last year that I delivered my first major address as Canada’s Minister of International Trade.

Since my first public event as minister here last year, I’ve led trade missions to three of the four BRIC countries—Brazil, India and China.

And next week, I’ll be leading a trade mission to Russia—the fourth of the BRIC countries.

In the past year, I’ve travelled to 26 countries and, in each of them, I’ve highlighted Canada’s strong commitment to freer and more open trade and to our belief that protectionism is toxic to global recovery efforts.

All of this to say that it has been a busy year, and it is great to be here once again with people who understand and champion the importance of trade to Canada’s economy.

I note that the theme for today’s sessions is intellectual property, but, for my remarks, I’d like to widen the focus to include Canada’s broad and ambitious trade plan and the need for government and organizations like the Chamber of Commerce to work even more closely together to ensure Canada’s continued prosperity.

Last year, I said that I believed that trade was a “kitchen table” issue, meaning that it is of fundamental importance to the financial security of hard-working Canadians and their families. Families understand that trade allows them to pay off a house mortgage, provide a decent education for their children, save for retirement and, of course, go on a well-deserved vacation.

Last week, I was in Paris for meetings of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] and of the World Trade Organization [WTO]. While there, the OECD released a report that confirms that free and open trade is the best way to create jobs and growth.

We could have told them that years ago!

The facts speak for themselves.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, when the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was being negotiated, we heard dire warnings about losing our Canadian culture, sacrificing our sovereignty over fresh water, allowing our economy to be “hollowed out,” and about Canadians losing their jobs. Of course, none of that happened.

Indeed, free trade with the United States and Mexico didn’t hollow out our economy—it vaulted Canada into a new age of prosperity!

Today, there are 4.5 million more people working than before the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] came into force.

Now, even in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, our unemployment rate in Canada is a full four percentage points lower than its peak prior to NAFTA.

NAFTA also lowered prices for consumers and created the supply chains which drive the North American production platform that powers our economy today.

As our economy continues to recover from the effects of the global recession, and as we pursue new trade opportunities around the world, we must continue to point out these facts about trade.

Speaking of facts…

Last month’s strong job growth and the more than 751,000 net new jobs created since July 2009 are positive signs that we’re on the right track for Canadian families. Indeed, the job creation we have seen in the last several months is at its highest level in 30 years!

Nearly all of these newly created jobs are full-time jobs.

Despite this positive news, we know more needs to be done.

We all know that Canada is not immune to global economic turbulence, and that too many Canadians are still looking for work.

Our government’s top priorities are the economy and creating jobs, growth and long-term prosperity for Canadian businesses, workers and their families.

That’s why we remain focused on developing and implementing prudent pro-trade economic growth measures.

Like you, we understand the importance of trade to our economy. It represents one out of every five jobs in Canada—and accounts for more than 60 percent of our country’s annual income.

That is why we are deepening Canada’s trading relationships in priority markets around the world.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, initiated a generation ago by a visionary and courageous government, has benefited our nation enormously.

The United States will always be Canada’s largest and most important trading partner, and NAFTA will continue to be a significant driver of Canada’s long-term prosperity.

That is why we’re working on a number of important initiatives to strengthen this historic and vital partnership.

Efforts like Beyond the Border and the Regulatory Cooperation Council initiative will help secure our partnership’s reputation as the world’s greatest free-trade success story and make our relationship even stronger in the days ahead.

But our government is also committed to seeking out new markets and opportunities for Canadian businesses and investors far beyond North America.

We cannot rely on one market alone for our goods, services, products and expertise.

It has been said that the world needs more of Canada.

That’s why we’ve undertaken the most ambitious trade-expansion plan in Canada’s history.

When we took office in 2006, we saw the writing on the wall.

After 13 years of squandered opportunities, Canada’s competitive edge had been eroded around the world.

Every time another country signed a free trade agreement, our exporters, innovators and investors were placed at a disadvantage.

When it came to engaging large, dynamic and fast-growing economies around the world, we lagged behind our competitors.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that, after NAFTA came into force, Canada’s trade policy went missing in action.

Our government knew that we needed a plan to get Canada not only back on track—but also leading the pack.

Our Global Commerce Strategy, announced in 2007, helped turn things around.

Developed in close consultation with the business community, the plan was our strategy to respond to changes in the global economy and to position Canada for long-term prosperity.

The Global Commerce Strategy identified 13 priority markets around the world where Canadian opportunities and interests had the greatest potential for growth.

The strategy also kick-started what has become the most ambitious pro-trade plan in Canada’s history.

It has driven Canadian leadership on the world stage in support of trade, job creation, economic growth and prosperity for hard-working Canadians.

And the results speak for themselves.

Under the Global Commerce Strategy, we’ve concluded new free trade agreements with nine countries, representing markets of a combined 106 million people and a GDP of $1.5 trillion.

We’ve begun deepening trade and investment ties with the largest, most dynamic and fastest-growing countries in the world, including Brazil, China, India and Japan, and the European Union.

We’ve concluded or brought into force new foreign investment promotion and protection agreements with 11 countries.

And we’ve opened up many new trade offices in the fast-growing priority markets of Brazil, China and India so that we can directly help Canadian businesses, investors and innovators expand and succeed.

Again, the results speak for themselves.

In Brazil and India, the number of Canadian exporters has risen dramatically—by more than 20 percent.

And last year alone, our exports to China grew by a whopping 27 percent.

Investment, too, is on the rise.

We’ve helped 350 foreign direct investment projects come to fruition over the last few years.

Every year, Canadian investors are becoming more and more engaged in the world’s most exciting markets.

To support them, we have 24 Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreements in force around the world, providing the stability, transparency and predictability Canadian companies need to invest abroad with confidence.

We signed new science and technology agreements with China and Brazil, and strengthened our innovation partnerships with Israel, Chile, Sweden, Russia and the United Kingdom.

And we’ve concluded 40 new or expanded air transport agreements, covering 60 countries.

My friends, these results are more than numbers in a speech.

Thanks to these actions, Canadian workers and businesses now have preferred access and a real competitive edge in more markets around the world than at any other time in our history.

Consider also that we achieved these results—and many more—in the face of the greatest global economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Working together, our government, organizations like the [Canadian] Chamber [of Commerce], and businesses, investors and innovators are ensuring that Canada continues to stand tall on the world stage. 

But the truth, my friends, is that our efforts have just begun.

The global recovery remains very fragile.

Economic growth in the United States remains uncertain.

The Eurozone crisis remains the most serious threat to global recovery efforts.

And, of course, the Doha Round of talks at the WTO remains at an 11-year impasse.  

In the wake of this grim global outlook, competition remains fierce.

My friends, the good news is that our plan, Canada’s plan, has worked and continues to work. But we’re just getting started.

Our government’s recent budget, Economic Action Plan 2012, contained a clear commitment to “refresh” our Global Commerce Strategy.

Today, on International Trade Day, we are launching the next phase of our pro-trade plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.

We’re focusing our efforts in five key areas.

First, we’re committed to ensuring that Canadian businesses have access to priority markets around the world.

This includes pursuing deeper ties with the world’s largest and most dynamic markets.

Consider our negotiations with the European Union, for example.

As you know, we’re down to focused negotiating sessions toward a Canada-E.U. trade agreement.

The potential is enormous.

A joint study showed that a free trade agreement with the E.U. would increase bilateral trade by 20 percent and boost Canada‘s GDP by $12 billion.

That’s like adding 80,000 new Canadian jobs to our economy—or the entire workforce of the City of Moncton or my riding of Abbotsford to Canada’s employment ranks.

Put another way, that’s like an additional $1,000 in the pocket of every family in the country.

The benefits would be widespread across Canada’s economy and stimulate growth in every single region of our country.

We’re also pursuing deeper trade ties with fast-growing markets, including India and China.

A joint study found that a Canada-India trade agreement could boost our economy by $6 billion a year and create almost 40,000 jobs across the country.

And our ties with China, now our second-largest trading partner, are growing stronger every day.

As we deepen the Canada-China partnership, the potential benefits for workers, businesses and investors are significant, especially since China is expected to become the world’s largest economy by 2020.

In the years ahead, the Chinese economy can and will benefit greatly from Canadian innovation and expertise.

We’re also diligently pursuing entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

Again, the opportunities for Canadians are great.

Asia-Pacific countries represent huge markets, with economic growth rates two to three times the global average.

The second focus of our refreshed [Global Commerce] Strategy is to re-energize the support services that help Canadian businesses take advantage of opportunities abroad.

Of course, this includes our Trade Commissioner Service.

Our trade commissioners are seeing a growing demand for their services—especially in fast-growing markets like China, India and Brazil.

They’re working closely with Canadian businesses, investors and innovators to seek ways to take full advantage of the new markets we’re opening up around the world.

The third focus of our strategy is ensuring that businesses get the capital they need to become more active around the world.

Joining forces with partners like Export Development Canada and the Canadian Commercial Corporation, we want to expand the ability of businesses to access the vast pools of capital and financing out there.

The fourth focus of our updated Global Commerce Strategy is ensuring that our businesses—especially our small and medium-sized enterprises—have access to the technology they need.

Sectors like aerospace, life sciences, and information and communications technology are critical to Canada’s economy, today and tomorrow.

Canada has a lot of expertise in these areas.

Through our strategy, we want to bring together businesses, academics, researchers and all levels of government to commercialize technologies as rapidly as possible and bring them to the global marketplace.

And, finally, the fifth focus of our strategy is all about “people”—ensuring that our businesses have access to the very best talent and brainpower.

We’ll work with our business community to ensure that our policies and tools help us access the talent we need.

Our International Education Strategy will be part of this.

As you know, we announced last October that an advisory panel would be developing recommendations for an International Education Strategy.

We’re committed to a strategy that attracts the best and brightest students to Canada and that helps our education sector continue succeeding abroad.

We need similar advice as we develop our Global Commerce Strategy.

We need input, recommendations and ideas from a range of people.

That’s why I’m very pleased to announce today an eminent panel of knowledgeable Canadian leaders who will help us bring the refreshed strategy to life.

Most of them are here with us. The advisory panel members we’re announced today are:

  • Catherine Swift, President, Chief Executive Officer and Chairwoman, Canadian Federation of Independent Business;
  • Paul Reynolds, President and CEO, Canaccord Financial;
  • Kathleen Sullivan, Executive Director, Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance;
  • The Honourable Perrin Beatty, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Chamber of Commerce;
  • The Honourable John Manley, President and Chief Executive, Canadian Council of Chief Executives;
  • Murad Al-Katib, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alliance Grain Traders;
  • Jayson Myers, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters;
  • Brian Ferguson, President and Chief Executive Officer, Cenovus Energy;
  • Serge Godin, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Board, CGI Group; and
  • Indira Samarasekera, President, University of Alberta.

I am sure you will agree that we are very lucky to have advisory panel members of this calibre and talent, and I thank each of them for their willingness to serve.

They’re hitting the ground running and will hold their first meeting later this afternoon, and I look forward to working with them.

Acting as a “sounding board” for me and my team of trade professionals, the panel will provide advice throughout the development of the next phase of our Global Commerce Strategy.

We’re holding consultations on each of the areas I outlined above, and then we’ll move to a synthesis phase and put all of the advice, recommendations and ideas together.

Our goal is to have a new, fully operational Global Commerce Strategy in place sometime in 2013, one that will guide Canada’s trade priorities well into the future.

It will align Canada’s trade and investment objectives with specific high-growth and priority markets, with an eye to ensuring that Canada is branded to its greatest advantage within those markets.

I look forward to receiving advice from these knowledgeable Canadian leaders, all of whom are advocates of a broad and ambitious Global Commerce Strategy. And I also look forward to consulting extensively with all of you, who are actually on the playing field and understand the “lay of the land.”

Friends, as we move forward on this and our many other trade initiatives, everyone has a role to play—businesses, government, innovators and investors.

We need to get the message out that trade is the “new stimulus” and that, by working together, we can make our country a stronger competitor in the world economy.

As I mentioned earlier, last year I called trade a “kitchen table” issue, something Canadians intuitively understand.

You may also recall that last year I noted that there is a group out there that lacks intuition, who oppose our trade initiatives because they are fundamentally, and ideologically, opposed to trade. They are Canada’s free trade deniers.

Over the last year, they have not changed. They remain shrill, ill-informed and hopelessly enslaved by archaic ideology and the failed policies of the past. Today, they call for “fair trade,” which is their code language for “no trade.”

Their arguments are flawed, terribly flawed. For them, the old math of “imports are bad, exports are good” still applies. They are woefully ignorant of the complex and sophisticated 21st-century supply chains that drive the global economy. Of course, when your argument is weak, you resort to stretching and twisting the truth. And when confronted with the truth, you finally resort to conspiracy theories. That is the way of the anti-trade crusaders.

A generation ago, they opposed NAFTA.

Since then, they’ve opposed every single free trade agreement that Canada has ever signed into law.

In fact, they don’t get trade; they don’t like it; and, when you look them squarely in the eyes, they’re actually afraid of trade.

Friends, you can’t have a Global Commerce Strategy if you believe that the global economy is something hard-working Canadians should fear.

You can’t stand tall on the world stage if your vision for Canada is a country that cowers and turns inward out of insecurity.

Let me conclude by saying that trade, when done right, has long been a powerful engine for Canada’s economy. It is even more so in these globally challenging economic times.

That’s why our government remains focused on the priorities of Canadians—namely job creation, economic growth and long-term prosperity.

An updated Global Commerce Strategy will help us achieve those priorities.

Our government believes Canada can and should be front and centre in the global economy. Our businesses, investors and innovators can compete with the very best that the world has to offer, and win!

We also believe that our pursuit of excellence and preferred access to the world’s dynamic markets must be relentless, precisely because it will give Canadians the edge necessary to thrive and prosper in a world economy that is fiercely competitive.

Friends, this thing we call “trade” is an amazing adventure. It is not for cowards. It is not for the faint of heart or for those who shrink back in the face of competition. Trade is for visionaries, champions—like yourselves—who seize the moment when opportunity comes calling.

I look forward to joining you on that great adventure as we embark upon the next phase of our Global Commerce Strategy.

Thank you.