Committee members, fellow witnesses, ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure to be before this committee again. We salute the hard and very important work you do here.
I need hardly remind any of you that these are very bleak times for the global economy. We're living through the first synchronized global downturn since the Great Depression, a crisis that is affecting families and communities around the world.
The global nature of this crisis clearly demands an unprecedented level of international cooperation. For that reason, I'm delighted that this committee has undertaken to review the key elements of Canada's foreign policy and, in particular, is examining Canada's relationship with our closest friend and ally, the United States. The fact that we are meeting here a few days after the first official visit to our country of President Barack Obama makes these hearings especially timely, and I want to thank the committee for inviting me and my colleagues to share some of the perspectives of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives.
The organization I lead has championed closer cooperation between Canada and the United States for some 30 years. We were the private sector leaders in the campaign for the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The council and its member companies are also active globally. We were in the forefront of Uruguay Round negotiations on behalf of the Canadian private sector that led to the creation of the WTO, and we continue to support progress on the Doha development agenda. We've been active within regional trade initiatives such as APEC. Indeed, we hosted the first ever APEC CEO summit in Vancouver in 1997, and we have played a key role in launching bilateral initiatives such as the Canada-Mexico partnership, the CMP. The CMP is continuing to do good work in bringing together both our governments and our business communities to address important economic issues, but I believe that even more can and should be done to broaden and deepen Canada's relationship with Mexico. We are also devoting special attention right now to the efforts to forge closer economic partnerships with the European Union, China, and India.
In the case of the European Union, we and our counterparts in the European business community have called for a wide-ranging accord, one that would include the elimination of all remaining trade barriers, the opening of financial and other service markets, broader reciprocal access to public procurement, and an ambitious agreement on regulatory cooperation, among other elements. Government officials are currently sorting out what will and will not be included in the talks, and we are hopeful that formal negotiations will begin this spring. The importance of this initiative cannot be overstated. The 27 member states of the European Union represent the world's largest market in terms of GDP, and a broad Canada-EU accord would offer huge benefits to Canada across many sectors.
The time has come also, ladies and gentlemen, for a much stronger relationship between Canada and India. Last month our Minister of International Trade, Stockwell Day, and India's Minister of Commerce, Kamal Nath, agreed to begin exploratory discussions toward a comprehensive economic partnership. We at the Canadian Council worked with the Confederation of Indian Industry to develop a joint report last year on the potential benefits of such a partnership, a draft agreement that was seen by both governments at the highest level.
Now, underlying all these initiatives is our fundamental belief that global trade and investment liberalization are and will remain powerful forces for human advancement and social development. I say this knowing full well that in today's environment there are some, perhaps a growing number, who question the benefits of international economic integration. Some have gone so far as to argue that the global financial crisis exposes the failures of globalization.
In my view this analysis is wrong on two counts. First, it ignores the fact that the process of global economic integration has been going on for thousands of years and is propelled not by governments and elites but by the innate human desire to reach out to build and to interact. Secondly, it overlooks the countless ways in which open markets have contributed to human progress and democratization, reducing inequality and lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. As former United States President Bill Clinton has observed, globalization is “the best engine we know of to lift living standards and build shared prosperity”. Or to quote a former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, “I believe the poor are poor not because of too much globalization, but because of too little.”
As I mentioned a few moments ago, the economic challenges we now face demand even closer cooperation among countries. The year ahead will be painful and full of surprises, but eventually fear will dissipate and confidence will return. The speed with which we return to better times will largely depend on sound policies, a willingness to accept transformative change, strong and principled leadership, and a commitment to both renew and strengthen the multilateral trading system on which prosperity depends.
In that context, I want to endorse Prime Minister Harper's comments at the conclusion of his meetings with President Obama last week with regard to the importance of the Canada-United States partnership. The Prime Minister noted that the ties between us are stronger than those between any other two nations on earth, and we need to continue our efforts to improve cooperation and to open doors of opportunity bilaterally, regionally, and globally.
Turning specifically to the issue of Canada-United States relations, my colleagues and I at the council outlined our immediate priorities in a statement a few days prior to President Obama's visit to Ottawa. In it we said that the global economic crisis makes it especially important to launch bilateral initiatives in three areas: the economy, energy and the environment, and defence and security. With your permission, I will briefly summarize our views in each of these areas.
First, Canada and the United States must work together closely to speed economic recovery. Governments should do their best to ensure that measures to support industry are complementary, and they should avoid any action that would impede trade between us or add to the costs of production. At the same time, our two countries should accelerate efforts to reduce the cost of doing business across our shared border, both by upgrading border infrastructure and by taking steps to eliminate minor but costly differences in regulation. In addition, we need to begin talking now about measures to strengthen our competitiveness once the recovery takes hold.
The second priority is the need to launch a bilateral energy and environment initiative. Both President Obama and Prime Minister Harper have expressed the desire to explore the potential for a North American market in greenhouse gas emissions, and we recommended that they launch formal discussions toward this goal. A coordinated approach to the management of greenhouse gases is essential to the ongoing competitiveness of our economies. Our countries are also natural allies in moving international climate change negotiations toward a sustainable and truly global solution.
Related to this, we recommended that Canada and the United States forge a joint strategy for improving clean energy technologies and expanding the secure North American supply and distribution of all forms of energy while reducing their overall environmental impact.
Our third priority focuses on the need to enhance bilateral and international security cooperation. Canada and the United States are natural partners in promoting human rights and respect for the rule of law, and we remain firm allies in the worldwide struggle against global terrorism.
Closer to home, we recommend that Canada and the United States begin discussions on measures to improve joint management of our borders. In particular, we support the idea that the full NORAD mission of surveillance, warning, and control be extended to the land and marine domains to create a unified and seamless system for North American defence.
Let me conclude, Chair. As business leaders, we were pleased to see that significant elements of all three of these priorities were reflected in the statement released by Prime Minister Harper and President Obama after their meetings last week. In particular, we welcomed the President’s strong disavowal of protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies that would only worsen the current global economic downturn. Of equal significance was the decision to launch a new clean energy dialogue that will address the energy needs of the 21st century as a key element of broader economic recovery and reinvestment efforts.
To sum up, we hope that last week’s meeting between the President and the Prime Minister will mark the beginning of a new era of cooperation between our two countries. Much more work lies ahead, but we in the business community are committed to doing our part to ensure that Canada and the United States overcome the economic challenges we both face and emerge stronger than ever from the current downturn.
By way of emphasizing the urgency of our efforts, I am pleased to report that my organization will be convening a Canada CEO summit in Washington, D.C., on March 23 and 24, during which our members will meet with a wide range of senior administration officials and key policy-makers.
Thank you, Chair and members of this committee. This concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer any questions you might have.