Notes for an Address by the Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, to the Parliament of Jamaica

20 April 2009

**Check against delivery**

Thank you very much for that warm welcome. And, Prime Minister, thank you for inviting me to visit Jamaica and inviting me to speak to this chamber.  It is truly a great privilege.

It is a privilege to be able to come here, to see the natural beauty of Jamaica, and to feel the vibrant spirit – the joie de vivre as we say in Canada – of the Jamaican people. It is also a privilege to be first Canadian prime minister to address a joint session of the Jamaica parliament. This is a milestone in the rich history of Canada-Jamaica relations. And it is a symbol of the deep friendship between our peoples.

This is a friendship forged through shared experience:

  • A common language  legal system and democratic institutions inherited from Great Britain,
  • A trading relationship established in early colonial days,
  • The peaceful path we both took to independence,
  • Our partnership in the global commonwealth of nations,
  • And our shared devotion to diversity and pluralism,
  • So eloquently expressed by your national motto: “out of many, one people.”
And our two peoples grow closer every year. Tens of thousands of Canadians rely on Jamaican warmth and hospitality for a break from our long winters, and some 300,000 people of Jamaican origin now call Canada home.

They have enriched our country in countless ways. Your world-famous musical and culinary traditions are now part of the fabric of Canadian life, celebrated in our big cities every year at Caribbean festivals.

International Canadian athletes of Jamaican descent such as Olympic gold medalist Donovan Bailey have brought honour to our country. Successful Jamaican-Canadian entrepreneurs like g. Raymond Chang and Michael Lee-Chin have made enormous contributions to Canada, both economically and philanthropically. A Canadian of Jamaican descent, Lincoln Alexander, had a successful political career, rising to become lieutenant governor of Ontario. 

And while the cultural contributions of Jamaican-Canadian authors and artists are too numerous to mention, I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to the Honourable Louise Bennett Coverley – Miss Lou  - who was so beloved in both our countries for the wit and wisdom of her poetry.

Of course, cross-cultural influences work both ways; your national dish ackee and saltfish is based on the Newfoundland salt cod. We’ve been trading it since the 1700s for Jamaican rum

We also think we can take some credit for the success of your national bobsled team, which famously debuted at the 1988 Winter Olympics in my home town of Calgary. Their story told the world that Jamaicans have the character to excel at anything they put their minds to, including hurtling down an icy track in a giant cigar tube at 100 kilometres an hour!

Because of all these cultural, social and economic bonds, the distance between us grows ever smaller. They represent a strong foundation to do even more together: a foundation to address the challenges and to seize the opportunities that lie before us today.

And frankly, the need to do so could not be more urgent.

As we all know, today the world faces the greatest economic crisis of the postwar era. Neither Canada, nor Jamaica, nor indeed any of the CARICOM countries, caused this global recession. But, nevertheless, all regions of the world are experiencing, for the first time in history simultaneously, a rapid slowing of economic growth.

As elected representatives, we have an obligation to do whatever we can to protect our citizens from the consequences of this recession. At the G20 summit in London three weeks ago, leaders of nations representing 80 percent of the global economy achieved consensus on what needs to be done to overcome the crisis and to ensure it never happens again.

We agreed to take all necessary measures to stimulate the world economy, to improve the flow of trade and investment, to strengthen financial market regulation, and to avoid the dangers of protectionism.

Before going to the summit in London, indeed before going to the earlier summit in Washington,
Prime Minister Golding impressed upon me the importance of speaking up for Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the other countries not represented, which include some of the world’s most vulnerable economies.

Your prime minister emphasized that accessing capital was becoming increasingly difficult for countries like Jamaica, and that multilateral lending institutions were reaching the limit of their loan capacity. And, in London, I did remind other leaders that our actions must take into account the needs of all nations.
We must ensure that no country is left to fight the recession alone. I believe those present understood that reality. And i was pleased that agreement was reached to provide additional resources: over one trillion dollars to international financial institutions, including the international monetary fund and multilateral development banks.

Last weekend, Prime Minister Golding and I attended the Summit of the Americas, where we again looked at these issues. And I announced further Canadian action: a doubling of Canada’s callable capital subscription to the Inter-American Development Bank. This measure will effectively increase the bank’s lending capacity by four billion dollars.
All of these actions should mean that developing countries, including in this hemisphere will have better access to the capital needed to sustain and stimulate economic activity. I also remind you that this level of international effort and coordination is unprecedented, as is the commitment to swift action to implement these measures. Early indications are that international markets have taken confidence from this extraordinary display of global unity and resolve.
We are by no means out of the woods, but we have boosted the global supply of capital and confidence, both of which are essential for economic recovery.

Closer to home, I can tell you that Canada is well positioned for that eventual recovery. We have maintained strong balance sheets and low debt ratios. We have low and stable inflation and interest rates. And, in the midst of a global banking crisis we have, according to the world economic forum among others, the strongest banking system in the world.

That, of course, will come as no surprise to Jamaicans. You have been doing business with Canadian banks for a long time. In fact, Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia first opened a branch here in Jamaica in 1889, almost a decade before it opened one in Toronto!

But some of you might ask that, if Canada didn’t cause the recession and Canada is in relatively good shape for recovery, then why don’t we just sit the recession out? Why not just close our borders, retreat behind our snowcastle walls, and look after ourselves?

The short answer is that, as tempting as that kind of thinking is, it would wreck our economic future. Because Canada is a trading nation. Because protectionism, as the leaders of the G20 recognized, is the single biggest threat to eventual recovery.

Canada is a trading nation. From the day the first shipload of furs left Canada for Europe over 400 years ago, international trade has been the lifeblood of our development and prosperity. That’s why fighting protectionism and expanding trade is one of our government’s top foreign policy priorities. And we know from experience that it works. Since we signed Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement over twenty years ago, our exports to the United States have doubled. Mexico joined us in 1992, prompting rapid development of the Mexican manufacturing sector, along with rising personal incomes and reductions in poverty rates.

Canada signed a free trade agreement with Chile in 1997 that has also been an unvarnished success. Chile today has one of the highest per capita GDP levels in the Americas.

This year we have completed new trade agreements with Colombia and Peru and we are nearing completion of accords with others in the hemisphere. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to maintain open borders in times like these.

Canada has already taken unilateral action during this recession to reduce tariffs. And we want to ensure that our traditional friends of the Caribbean remain at the forefront of our trading relations. A Canada-CARICOM free trade agreement will be a powerful expression of our collective will to keep borders open and pursue meaningful economic development. And it will build on the long history of trade between us.

In fact, Canada’s first formal trade agreement with the English-speaking nations of the Caribbean dates back to 1912 and we have long had preferential trade arrangements with Jamaica through the Commonwealth. Today, in fact, almost all Jamaican goods enter Canada duty-free.

But we can do better.

We can take the next step and expand our trading relationship to include services and investment. Now I know there are concerns about proceeding with a free trade agreement at this time, when our economies are struggling with the impact of the global recession. But there is no time like a crisis to seek out new opportunities. And Canada is committed to the principle that a new trade agreement between us must confer mutual benefits.

History and experience teach us that mutually-beneficial trade expansion is a catalyst for economic growth and social development. Because of our trade initiatives, Canada is becoming an increasingly important trading partner for all the other nations of the Americas. Our trade with Latin America has grown almost 23 percent since 2007, at nearly twice the growth rate last year of U.S. trade with the region. Our two-way trade with Peru and Colombia is up 16 and 19 percent, respectively. Costa Rica has replaced Ecuador as our ninth largest trade partner in Latin America, and it’s no coincidence that Canada and Costa Rica also signed a free trade agreement in 2002.

Friends, the time is right to move forward with a Canada-CARICOM free trade agreement. And as a senior leader of the CARICOM and one of Canada’s longest-standing partners in the Caribbean, Jamaica is uniquely positioned to lead the way to ensure that CARICOM is a full part of the hemispheric and global economic system.

Canada’s commitment is clear.

We are providing financial support and technical assistance to ensure that our negotiating partners are on a level playing field. We are helping small and medium-sized businesses in the Caribbean develop the skills and technologies they need to compete in our free-trade future.

Let us resolve today to cut through the bureaucratic, diplomatic and political red tape
And move forward on a Canada-CARICOM free trade agreement. It will be good for Jamaicans and good for Canadians. It will also send a good signal of unity in the Americas.

As you know, prime minister, we had a surprisingly good spirit at the meetings of the summit in Trinidad and Tobago. But, frankly, in recent years, we have spent far too much time in this hemisphere fighting the cold war all over again. As I observed in my trip to this region in 2007, there are some still claiming that we must make a choice between on the one hand, old-fashioned state socialism, a mix of economic nationalism, political authoritarianism and class warfare, or, other the other hand, some kind of unregulated, anarchistic, survival-of-the-fittest form of capitalism.

This argument has more traction today because the global economic crisis has exposed the risks of unregulated markets, especially in the financial sector. But it does not make the choice any more valid. Canada itself proves the point. As much as we value free trade and free enterprise as essential to economic growth and prosperity, we also believe in government ensuring markets operate transparently and according to rules. We have had no bank failures or bailouts. We ensure our citizens have access to essential public services and a strong social safety net. And we protect our unique cultural identity.

Within the global economy, these choices have been our own, based upon free and democratic political institutions.  As millions of immigrants to Canada can attest, we have created a social and economic environment that, while not perfect, genuinely upholds equality of opportunity.

I hesitate to call this “the Canadian way” because many countries – including Jamaica– subscribe to the same basic principles and these are the principles we want to promote in our relationships in our hemisphere. Jamaica understands these principles. They underlie the wisdom of your vision 2030 national development plan. The goal of making your beautiful country secure and prosperous, and I quote, “the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business,” is as ambitious as it is visionary. By proposing to put Jamaica on a path to fully-developed country status in the next two decades, by emphasizing the need for action to solve domestic social and economic problems, by insisting the country will be master of its own political destiny, this vision reflects the full freedom that Jamaica and her people have sought for centuries.

I want to make it clear here today that Canada will support you every step of the way.

Dans le cadre de la stratégie canadienne pour les Amériques, nous voulons augmenter
Nos activités d’aide et de développement internationaux au sein de notre hémisphère, y compris surtout Haïti.

Since 1963 Canada has provided over two billion dollars in development assistance to the Commonwealth Caribbean. Part of our renewed engagement with the Americas involves refocusing and increasing our international aid and development efforts within our hemisphere. Indeed, CARICOM is one of six partners now explicitly targeted for Canadian aid and development support. This includes our commitment to Haiti, which so desperately needs help to overcome its intractable social and economic problems.

Jamaica and our other neighbours can count on Canada to continue providing humanitarian assistance when calamity strikes, and assisting efforts to combat longer-term climate change. You can count on Canada’s continuing support for multilateral development institutions like the Inter-American Development Bank. And you can count on Canada’s continuing support for programs that strengthen the Caribbean’s ability to compete successfully in the global marketplace.

We will also continue to support the Canada-Caribbean community leadership scholarships program. At the Americas summit, in fact, I announced Canada’s new emerging leaders in the Americas program, which will provide up to 1,600 scholarships for students and researchers. They will develop their knowledge and skills in Canada for the benefit of their home nations.

Furthermore, we will continue to support the labour mobility programs that are mutually beneficial, including the Canadian seasonal agriculture workers program that provides job opportunities for workers from several Caribbean countries, including Jamaica. And, as Prime Minister Golding and I will talk about tomorrow, you can count on our mutual efforts at combating the crime and security challenges that afflict our hemisphere.

Friends, all of this is a very ambitious agenda but lest anyone suggest we have set an agenda for our hemisphere that is too ambitious, let us remind them that last year Canada and the Caribbean community co-sponsored a resolution at the United Nations commemorating the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the trans-atlantic slave trade. The brave, visionary men and women in your country, my country and many others who fought for the equality of all people were not intimidated by what appeared to be an almost insurmountable challenge. They confronted it and overcame it. Their success should serve as an inspiration for all of us. As we confront the toughest challenges of our own time, there is nothing, I repeat, nothing, we cannot achieve if we build upon our shared history and join together in common purpose and mutual action.

I thank you once again for inviting me to visit your beautiful country and for this unprecedented opportunity to speak to you today.

May god bless all of you in your important responsibilities.

And may god bless Jamaica and Canada.