TCCC Q & A with the Honorable Ed Fast

Edward “Ed” Fast is the Canadian Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway. He recently made a four-nation trade visit in the Asia Pacific region from August 27 to September 3, 2012, with visits to Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma.

Minister Fast with TCCC Board Member Derek van Pelt .

In Cambodia, Minister Fast co-chaired the first Canada-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting and the mission then headed to Burma, marking the first visit by a Canadian trade minister to that emerging economy in our country’s history. Minister Fast’s visit to Burma will help open the door for Canadian trade and investment, and his influence was evidenced by the trip made by members of the Thai-Canadian Chamber of Commerce the same time he was there.

After PM Harper’s recent visit to Thailand, has there been any movement towards, or date set, for signing a free trade agreement between Thailand and Canada?  

“We have a robust bilateral trade with Thailand, and it is our largest trading partner in Southeast Asia, a priority region of our government, and we are continuing high-level meetings to facilitate better trade arrangements on both sides, but we do not have an exact date as to when an FTA will be concluded.”

Please tell us a little about Thai investment in Canada.

“As you know, PTTEP invested close to CAN$2.3 billion in a development project in Canada’s oil sands. This was a huge commitment and they are happy with it so they are talking about investing in another project in Canada. Thai companies should know that Canada welcomes foreign investment that contributes to its economic growth, jobs, innovation, competitiveness and long-term prosperity. Between 2001 and 2010, Canada was the world’s eighth-largest destination for inbound foreign direct investment. Canada’s strong economic fundamentals and world-leading competitive advantages make it an investment destination of choice for global investors.”

Would you bring us up to speed on the evolving relationship between Myanmar and Canada?

“Canadians have long supported the struggle for democracy and freedom in Burma. Our government is committed to helping Burma on this path of reform and modernization—including its economic development. We continue to be encouraged by the changes taking place in the country.

“Just as Canada recently moved to broaden the relationship with Burma by announcing that we will open an embassy and establishing a permanent Canadian Trade Commissioner Service presence, our government also believes that through cautious Canadian investment, Canada can help anchor and reforms while positioning Canadian companies for future opportunities.

“On April 24, 2012, Canada announced significant changes to its sanctions on Burma. Prohibitions on trade, investment and financial services have been eased. The changes to Canada’s sanctions create new opportunities for Canadians to engage in Burma, contributing to prosperity and economic development in both countries. This move signals that Canada stands ready to play a significant role in helping the people of Burma secure a freer and more prosperous future.

“This visit is also further proof of Canada’s commitment to deepening our trade and investment ties throughout the Asia-Pacific region.”

How Can Canada help Burma?

“Well, one example is that we are a world leader in mining technology; our know-how and best practices can help develop the wealth of natural resources it has. And Canadian companies practice social responsibility, they give back to the countries they operate in, so they set a good example for others to follow. This example also applies to other sector where Canada is a world leader like clean technologies, infrastructure and transportation.”

Minister Fast inspecting maple syrup on display at Siam Paragon.

What did you think of the Canadian products on display at the gourmet supermarket at Siam Paragon?

“I’m always thrilled to see Canadian food products available throughout the world. At this supermarket I was delighted to see BC blueberries from Abbotsford, my hometown, as well as BC cherries, jam from Parry Sound and maple syrup from Waterloo, Ontario. People value Canadian products because of their high quality.”

When we talk about Canadian branding, what products and services represent the best that Canada has to offer? 

“We are world leaders in clean technology, health services, agriculture, information technology, infrastructure and transportation projects and we have a highly educated and skilled work force.”

Please tell us about the Asia-Pacific Gateway and Corridor Initiative (APGCI).

“Our efforts to deepen Canada’s trade and investment ties in the fast-growing Asia-Pacific region are also being facilitated by our strategic investments and partnerships in building the Asia-Pacific Gateway. These investments are positioning Canada as the Gateway of choice between Asia and North America. In fact, Canada’s west coast ports are in many cases more than two days closer to Asian markets than are any others in North America.

“Since 2006, our government has invested $1.4 billion into the Asia-Pacific Gateway infrastructure projects, an amount that has been leveraged to almost $4 billion with the participation of provincial and municipal governments and the private sector. A total of almost 50 projects have been supported, creating jobs and economic growth in local communities, while easing the movement of goods, services and people to and from the fast-growing Asia-Pacific economies.

“As a result of these strategic investments and partnerships, Canadian exports to the Asia-Pacific region have reached record levels. For example, in 2011 alone Canadian exports to China increased an impressive 27%.

“These investments are also generating new business opportunities, improving the flow of traffic, enhancing the efficiency of the transportation system, attracting investments, and contributing to Canada’s global competitiveness.”

What about our trade with Vietnam?

“We want to help drive prosperity in Vietnam; there’s a lot more that we can do there as we are only scratching the surface when it comes to trade between the two countries.” (Note: Bilateral merchandise trade with Vietnam has increased steadily over the past decade, and is now more than four times greater than it was in 2000. Canada-Vietnam bilateral trade reached an all-time high of nearly $1.6 billion in 2011. Merchandise imports from Vietnam were valued at $1.3 billion, while exports were worth nearly $300 million. Statistics Canada reports that the stock of Canadian direct investment in Vietnam was $89 million at the end of 2010. Canadian companies have found opportunities in Vietnam in a variety of sectors including: Agriculture and Agri-Food, Education and Training, Forest Industries, Oil & Gas as well as Information and Communication Technologies, ICT).

And India – any progress towards a free trade agreement there?

“We have just finished our fifth round of high-level talks with India on a trade agreement, but again I’m reticent to commit to any specific timeframe.” (Note: A Canada-India joint study concluded that a trade agreement between the two countries could boost Canada’s economy by at least $6 billion. That translates to almost 40,000 new jobs across the country or a $500 boost to the average Canadian family’s annual income. A trade agreement with India would eliminate or reduce tariffs on Canadian goods, liberalize trade in services, and directly benefit Canadian workers and businesses in all regions of Canada in sectors such as primary agriculture, resource-related and chemical products, transport equipment, machinery and equipment and services.)

Please tell us about the recent Canada-China Economic Complementarities Study.

(Background: On August 15, 2012, the Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, and China’s Minister of Commerce Chen Deming, announced the release of the Canada-China Economic Complementarities Study. The “Economic Complementarities Study” highlights the strong momentum and expansion in Canada-China trade and economic relations. It identifies a number of important complementarities and prospects for growth, at the same time pointing to the need to address certain challenges to best take advantage of these complementarities.

“The study highlights the strong growth in Canada-China trade and investment, and focuses on seven sectors that comprise 85% of Canada’s goods exports to China and a large share of services and investment (those sectors are: Agriculture and agri-food, including fish and seafood;, Clean technology and environmental goods and services; Machinery and equipment; Natural resources and derived products; Services; Textiles and related products; & Transportation infrastructure and aerospace.)

“It concludes that Canada and China should continue to strengthen our bilateral economic ties through appropriate bilateral instruments to help Canadian and Chinese citizens build a prosperous and sustainable future. The study is an important basis for expanding the Canada-China economic relationship.

“Increasing access for Canadian workers and businesses and deepening our country’s economic ties in fast-growing markets like China are key parts of our government’s pro-trade plan for jobs, growth and long-term prosperity,” said Minister Fast.

(NOTE: China is now Canada’s second largest single-nation trading partner, and our most important market in Asia, with two-way merchandise trade reaching almost $65 billion in 2011. Canadian exports to China rose by 27% over 2010 while Canadian imports from China grew by 8%. Moreover, China now ranks as Canada’s third-largest merchandise export market, after the United States and the United Kingdom. Over the past five years, Canadian merchandise exports to China have increased by 77%, a rate more than 50% greater than to each of our other top four trading partners.

China offers many untapped opportunities for Canadian businesses. With a population of 1.3 billion and a rapidly expanding middle class, China is one the largest and fastest growing markets in the world and is expected to become the world’s largest economy over the next decades.

China is identified as a priority market under the Government of Canada’s Global Commerce Strategy, and advancing our bilateral trade and investment interests with China is the key to the future prosperity of Canadians. The value and breadth of Canada’s trade and economic relationship with China already exceeds those with most other priority markets, including the other fast-growing BRIC economies combined: Brazil, Russia and India.)

Please tell us the outcome of your co-chairing the first Canada-ASEAN Economic Ministers Meeting.

“Over the past three and a half decades, we have witnessed the ASEAN-Canada relationship expand and deepen. Canada is one of ASEAN’s longest-standing Dialogue Partners. Strengthening commercial ties with ASEAN’s fast-growing economies is part of the Government of Canada’s pro-trade plan to create jobs, growth, and long-term prosperity. Significant progress has recently been made that will help the ASEAN-Canada relationship reach its full potential. Over the past three years:

• We have created dedicated commercial positions for ASEAN at our missions around ASEAN to help identify business opportunities.

• Canada and ASEAN have adopted our very first commercial instrument – the Joint Statement on Trade and Investment — a huge step forward in our bilateral commercial relationship.

• At the Economic Ministers’ Meeting, a new Canada-ASEAN workplan was adopted charting the course for expanded commercial ties. The newly established Canada-ASEAN Business Council will be a key player in ensuring that Canada is well positioned to tap into this growing market. These achievements are in addition to the many other areas in which we are cooperating, including on development assistance and human rights.”

Now that you have been to Burma, please tell us your thoughts on what is going on there. Were you impressed that real change is taking place?

“While progress has been made, the market situation in Burma is still fluid and subject to government policy and regulatory changes. In my meetings with the Burmese ministers – I met with five ministers and then the president, as well as with with Aung San Suu Kyi – I found that they are undertaking comprehensive economic reforms here. However, many of those reforms have not been concluded. That’s why we strongly encourage Canadian companies to exercise great caution and ensure that if they enter this market, that they have trusted partners that show the highest level of integrity.

At the same time, we do believe that Canadian companies can play a positive role in improving the lives of Burmese people through things such as trade and investment, transfers of technology, transfers of Canadian knowhow. We have a lot to offer this region and we’ve certainly indicated to the Burmese government that we want to do whatever we can to partners with them to improve the standard of living in their country and of course also help them improve their democratic processes and the protection of basic human rights.”

Postscript: To put in perspective what the Harper government has accomplished, in less than six years, it has concluded free trade agreements with nine countries: Colombia, Honduras, Jordan, Panama, Peru and the European Free Trade Association member states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Canada has also begun deepening trade and investment ties with the largest, most dynamic and fastest-growing markets in the world, including Brazil, China, the European Union and Japan.