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Address by Minister Fast to Canadian Council on Africa 10th Anniversary Symposium

October 16, 2012 – Ottawa, Ontario

Check Against Delivery

Thank you, [Canadian Council on Africa] Chairman [Michel] Côté, for that kind introduction. Greetings Madame Ambassador [Florence Zano Chideya, Zimbabwe’s Ambassador to Canada], and thank you for your words about Africa being open for business.

I think the message I want to leave with all of you today is that Canada also wants to do business in Africa, and we’re well on the way to doing that. We have many people here in the audience who are already on the ground doing business. We hope that portends a wonderful, productive and prosperous future.

Of course, I’d like to also bring greetings to Lucien Bradet [President and CEO of the Canadian Council on Africa] and thank him for the invitation to join you all today. I’m honoured to be here to help celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Canadian Council on Africa. As the only pan-Canadian organization dedicated to promoting Canadian business and investment linkages in Africa, the Council has quickly become an essential forum for education, advocacy, social development and, of course, that which underpins it all, economic development.

Since the early days of Canadian history, people of African descent have made significant contributions to the development of our great country. I’m thinking of a number of people, for example Anderson Ruffin Abbott, who was the first black Canadian to be a licensed physician, and who actually attended at the death of President Abraham Lincoln. I’m also thinking of Mary Anne Shadd, the first woman publisher in North America, who established the Provincial Freeman in 1853. Then there’s Orval Clifford Browning, the longest-serving African-Canadian member of the Canadian Armed Forces, who had three bars on his Canadian decoration medal. 

Today, African-Canadians contribute to all aspects of our society, from the arts and education to sports and medicine, and everything in between. Organizations such as the Canadian Council on Africa strengthen our people-to-people ties. The real secret to our bilateral successes are these connections that bind nations together. In addition to the Council’s 10th birthday, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Canada and a number of African countries. So we really have many important occasions to celebrate today.

These special anniversaries are good opportunities to stop and take note of the political and economic transformation that is under way across the African continent as we speak. African countries currently number among the world’s fastest-growing economies. Couple that with healthy commodity prices, steadily increasing foreign investment, the recent embrace of technology and ever-improving political climates, and you’ll agree that today’s Africa is poised to play a new role on the world’s economic stage.

Unlike the period of growth we saw in the 1960s and 70s—which, as you know, was followed by a period of very severe stagnation—today the push is on for Africa to develop beyond just resources and to expand with more manufacturing and a larger services sector. More and more African economies are embracing trade and investment as an engine for growth and poverty reduction.

Let me diverge for a moment. That’s exactly the position Canada has taken. We believe that the way forward for our economy here—and we know it’s the way forward for Africa as well—is to see trade as a new stimulus, as the way we drive economic growth. More and more, Canada has taken note of the developments in Africa and we have recently taken a number of steps to deepen commercial ties with like-minded African nations. 

In support of this, several high-level visits have been conducted recently to the African continent. Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo last week. Last month, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird visited Abuja, where he announced that Canada will be exploring a foreign investment protection agreement with Nigeria. We’re also negotiating similar agreements—we call them FIPAs—with the countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Tunisia and Zambia. 

We’re also currently in free trade negotiations with Morocco. Add to this the Prime Minister’s recent announcement of the conclusion of our FIPA negotiations with Senegal and Tanzania, and you will see that we are beginning to build a firm foundation for more intense engagement in the future. Once completed, these agreements will provide investors with the stable, transparent and predictable environment needed to invest with greater confidence.

Essentially, what these FIPAs do is establish a set of rules under which investment will take place—clear rules that are predictable. They also establish a clear set of rules under which dispute resolution will take place. You have to understand: Canadians are very cautious. To get us over that line, when we’re going to invest abroad, we like to have security: to know that if we make an investment, it’s going to be a safe investment and predictable.

We’re seeing this now across Africa: African nations are joining with us. We’re signing these investment agreements that are sure to drive significant investment in the years to come. Led by folks like you, our government wants to deepen Canada’s commercial presence in Africa to create opportunities for all of our businesses and workers on both sides of the equation, focusing on things such as telecommunications, agriculture, energy, infrastructure, natural resources and, of course, the education sector, which is very dear to my heart.

We have a very great foundation to build upon. Last year, Canada’s bilateral merchandise trade with all of Africa reached nearly $18 billion. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, trade has almost doubled since 2009, reaching a record high of over $10 billion. These increases are well into the double digits every year. The opportunities keep on growing. According to the McKinsey Global Institute, African governments and businesses are investing an estimated $72 billion a year in new infrastructure across the continent.

Of course, Canada is a leader in infrastructure development. We’re talking about transportation. We’re talking about aerospace. These are all areas we can help in. Of note, some of the plans for the infrastructure development were drawn up by Canadians for those African countries. In view of this great potential, it is not surprising that the number of our firms active or interested in the African markets is on the rise. 

Again, I’d like to diverge and just mention something. There are some people saying the whole world is looking at Africa now: looking for investment opportunities, looking for trade opportunities. What sets Canada apart? May I suggest that what will really and truly set Canada apart is the fact that Canada is a strong proponent of corporate social responsibility [CSR].

When Canadians invest in companies abroad, they expect not only to make an investment for themselves but to invest also in the countries in which they’re doing business, to give back what they are also receiving in terms of profitable enterprise. I would suggest to you that will be the distinguishing feature for Canada as we continue to deepen our engagement in the continent.

Canadian companies have developed impressive reputations as leaders in many areas, including infrastructure projects. Our expertise in telecommunications, agriculture, natural resource extraction—of course—and education is recognized globally and can assist our African partners to achieve their development goals. For example, as I’m sure you’re aware, Canada is one of the top foreign investors in mining in sub-Saharan Africa. Close to 150 Canadian extractive companies are working alongside our African partners across the continent providing valuable Canadian expertise, as well as leadership in—you guessed it—corporate social responsibility.

Of note: the Prime Minister announced that Canada would be further promoting corporate social responsibility in West Africa by creating a regional CSR network that operates out of Canada’s mission in Senegal. The initiative, which will link existing CSR networks in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire and Guinea, will facilitate dialogue on standards and best practices among stakeholders in industry, government and civil society. 

The more free trade and foreign investment protection agreements we put in place and the more new markets for Canadian businesses we open up, the more growth and prosperity we create for all people to enjoy on both sides of the Atlantic. That is why I am very pleased to announce that I will be leading a trade mission to Africa early next year that will include the nations of Nigeria and Ghana and some others that are under consideration, as well.

In early 2013, a group of Canadian companies in the extractive and infrastructure sectors will join me as we seek to deepen commercial opportunities in these countries that I’ll be visiting. It might surprise you to know that bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Ghana, for example, reached $321 million last year—which is a jaw-dropping increase of 61 percent over 2010. In 2011, bilateral merchandise trade between Canada and Nigeria totalled over $2.7 billion, up 44 percent since 2010 and 300 percent since 2009.

Indeed, Nigeria is Canada’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa. One of the focuses of the mission I’ll be leading will be the mining sector. I know the high-level advocacy conducted during the mission will help create new opportunities in this important region of the world. Canadian companies are world leaders in responsible mining practices, and we’re proud of the prosperity that Canada’s world-class mining companies are creating in every corner of the globe, including Africa.

I’m also pleased to announce today that the Education in Canada Fair in Africa 2013, in francophone and anglophone African countries, is scheduled to take place early next year, as well. As I mentioned, international education is very close to my heart. Students are critical to building mutual understanding and the people-to-people links that draw countries together and foster business relationships.

They are also key drivers in a world economy that is increasingly interconnected through global supply chains and businesses seeking to expand and succeed in high-growth markets. Again, let me diverge. In Canada, we see education as more than simply a driver of economic growth here at home. Over the last year, about $8-billion worth of economic activity was driven by international education—students studying from abroad coming here to seek our education excellence.

However, we go beyond that. When many of those students go back to their home countries or elsewhere around the world, they become our best ambassadors—with the greatest of respect to the ambassadors present here. You know what? We don’t even have to pay them for being ambassadors!

That’s the beauty of it.

Of course, when those students go back home they also use the skills they’ve acquired to invest in their home countries to build those economies, to build things such as democratic capacity, respect for human rights and respect for labour and environmental standards. These are all benefits that education will bring as we deepen our relationship.

Of course, our African partners have much to gain by sending students here to us in Canada. The extra aspect that I’m reluctant to mention is that a few of them actually stay here in Canada, and we get to plug them into some of the critical sectors of our economy where we have real, significant labour shortages. We’re pleased that more and more African students are looking to Canada as an education destination. Indeed, we welcomed nearly 19,000 students from Africa in 2011, and we expect those numbers to keep on growing.

Canada has also made a substantial contribution to scientific and technological development in Africa by supporting the unique public/private partnership known as the Next Einstein Initiative. The goal of Next Einstein is to build a pan-African network of mathematical centres of excellence. This is a revolutionary approach to development. It aims to nurture the brightest minds in Africa so they can take leading roles in solving the complex challenges the continent faces in areas such as agriculture, health and finance.

Friends, I always enjoy telling people all about what our government is doing when it comes to international education because I truly believe that, in the long term, education is one of the best ways to promote linkages and put into place the long-term partnerships that mean a better life for all of us. Of course, we recognize that education and the sustainable economic growth it produces need a stable and healthy environment to properly take hold and flourish. 

As you well know, violent armed conflicts are serious threats to any nation’s security and, hence, to its prosperity. That’s why between 2008 and 2011, Canada committed over $20 million in support of stabilization and conflict prevention and to build peacekeeping capacity in Africa. Canada is also a significant contributor to the UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. What’s more, we have provided long-term support to the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana, and earlier this month the Prime Minister announced support for the Tanzanian Peacekeeping Training Centre in Dar es Salaam through the Global Peace and Security Fund.

When it comes to health matters, battling disease requires no less powerful ammunition. This, of course, comes in the form of inoculations, insecticide-treated bed nets and antibiotic and vitamin distribution, as well as breastfeeding education and training for front line health care workers. Our government is pleased to have been able to provide $105 million toward the delivery of basic health services such as these through the Initiative to Save a Million Lives. Announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007, Canada’s support aims to prevent diseases like malaria and disabilities, such as mental stunting and blindness, caused by malnutrition.

Achieving these goals will have a widespread effect on the economic productivity desired by both Canada and our African partners. Combining all the investment the Government of Canada has made in Africa’s future, I’m proud to say that our government has met—ahead of schedule—its commitment to double aid to Africa, all of which is to say we are committed to our African partners, and we are in it for the long haul.

Let me close off today by noting that trade truly isn’t a zero sum game. That’s archaic math. The archaic math talked about imports being bad, exports being good, foreign direct investment in Canada being bad, Canadian direct investment abroad being good. It’s old math. It doesn’t work in the global economy. Trade requires two players facing each other squarely as equals. 

In the end, we’re ensuring we’re working together to make all of this happen because we believe in the future of Africa. We believe in the power of trade to drive prosperity both in Canada and on the African continent. I want to thank all of you for taking the time this afternoon to share this moment with me.

I’m so pleased we can have this dialogue today and talk about this amazing future that awaits us in the Canada-Africa dialogue.

Thank you.