Thank you, madam.
Mr. Chair, I believe some of the previous witnesses may have dealt with the issue of Mexico. Let me just say that 15 or 18 years ago the relations between Canada and Mexico, other than as a place to go and have a good holiday, were virtually non-existent. Our political relationships were almost non-existent. Certainly our commercial and trade and investment relationships were non-existent. When Canada and the United States successfully concluded the free trade agreement, the very first mission to come to Canada, on the part of senior Mexican business leaders, came very quickly, and the Mexicans said to us, “We now have a new President, we have ivy leaguers in the cabinet, and we want to be part of this free trade agreement.” One of my colleagues said, “You mean sometime in the next twenty years”, and the answer was “No, sometime in the next year or two.”
That really was the first manifestation to many of us in Canada that Mexico had really begun a true revolution, what the Mexicans call apertura, the opening up. Here was a country that had a long and tortured history with the United States, a lot of baggage, a cartelized union structure, and oligarchs in their industry. We found it hard to believe that this country, with roughly 40% of its population in dire poverty, would want to be part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The result of that was very, very close and rapidly developing relations between us and our Mexican colleagues. We developed deep, deep friendships that went right up to the level of working closely with the last four Presidents. And as you know, with the approval of NAFTA, that model became the first model in the world where a country that was truly a developing country had signed a free trade agreement with two of the richest countries in the world.
We then had NAFTA, and then we had the SPP, and those relationships have continued to develop and deepen. To us, the Mexican relationship, as I mentioned in the paper, is extremely important. I say that because Mexico is a country of roughly 100 million people. It's a country that has a very big footprint on the continent, particularly on the United States. The two-way trade and investment has grown quite exponentially.
We see a lot of potential, going forward. We like the Mexicans. We work well with them. Therefore, in our view, Mexico should be a top priority—along with the United States, the European Union, China, India, and Japan—as a country we have to devote a lot of time to.
Let me conclude by saying we've had little bit of a dispute with some of our close colleagues—some of them, I think, may have appeared before you—who have argued that trilateralism has worked against us, that every time we have to engage in discussions in North America that involve trilateralism, it results in the Canadian-American relationship being somehow dumbed down.
We've had some direct experience with that. There is some truth to it. That is one of the reasons, while we still strongly endorse trilateral cooperation, we are now pushing much more strongly for intensification of bilateral relations with the United States and bilateral relationships with Mexico. We think it's very, very important to do so with Mexico because, frankly, if you look at the growth of trade investment and the growth of political relations between our two countries, you will see that in the next five to ten years Mexico will be a major factor for Canada as well.