I would like to thank our chair and the committee for the opportunity to join you all here today. I have some prepared remarks, a few things I'd like to say off the top.
Before I begin, I would like to introduce two outstanding Canadian public servants who are here with me. I think everyone in Canada now knows Steve Verheul. I was about to say that he is our chief negotiator of CETA, which he is, but right now, significantly, he is our chief negotiator of NAFTA. Thank you for being here with us, Steve.
With me also is David Morrison, who has recently been named our associate deputy minister of Global Affairs. David has been doing terrific work on a number of files, but most particularly he's a Latin America expert and has been leading our effort on Venezuela.
Muchas gracias, David.
For the Albertans here, he's from Lethbridge.
Mr. Chair, honourable members, thank you for inviting me to speak to the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development about how our government is delivering on its foreign policy priorities. Last June, in the House of Commons, I presented Canada's priorities in terms of foreign policy. The very essence of those priorities is the fact that they are founded on the importance of maintaining a stable and rule-based international order.
Our government is capitalizing on Canada's global presence, which is long-standing tradition, to speak with a strong voice in order to defend intolerance and nativism, while addressing the legitimate concerns of individuals who feel overwhelmed by globalization. This means that constructive leadership is needed in the established world order and with our partners to promote peace, security and prosperity around the world.
Mr. Chair, that is exactly what our government is doing.
At the United Nations, the G7, the G20, the OAS, the World Trade Organization, in the Commonwealth, la Francophonie, and NATO, to name just a few, Canada today is engaging creatively to navigate the complexities of today's world.
We are doing so, Mr. Chair, not only in word but also in deed. We have shown that Canada can lead and assemble partners to find solutions to the world's most pressing global challenges.
In October, in Toronto, I hosted the third ministerial meeting of the Lima Group on Venezuela. Foreign ministers from over a dozen countries convened to discuss steps needed for a peaceful return to democracy and to relieve the terrible suffering of the Venezuelan people. I repeated this message once again two weeks ago in Chile at the fourth Lima Group meeting, as well as the importance that Canada's sanctions against Venezuela have in our efforts to achieve these goals.
The issue of Venezuela was further extensively discussed at the North American foreign ministers meeting last Friday in Mexico City. We may be holding another meeting of the Lima Group in Lima next week. That's under discussion. Just a couple of hours ago I spoke with the Peruvian foreign minister about that possibility.
With the United States, Canada also recently hosted the Vancouver foreign ministers meeting on security and stability on the Korean peninsula. This was an essential opportunity for the international community to demonstrate unity against and opposition to North Korea's dangerous and illegal actions and to work together to strengthen diplomatic efforts towards a secure, prosperous, and denuclearized Korean peninsula.
Likewise, on Myanmar, I'm proud of Canada's leadership and cross-party support for that leadership. Too often in diplomacy, it is said that words do not matter, but they do. It is significant that Canada was one of the first countries to denounce the crimes against humanity and the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
Since the beginning of 2017, Canada has contributed $37.5 million to help address the needs of affected people in Myanmar and Bangladesh. This includes $12.5 million the government contributed to match the donations of generous and concerned Canadians. I would really like to thank and congratulate all the Canadians who took part in that. That is why we have appointed Bob Rae, a friend and an exemplary Canadian, as special envoy. As a non-Muslim-majority country, it's particularly important that Canada speak out in defence of this persecuted Muslim minority.
When it comes to Ukraine, I was delighted to travel to Kiev in December and to meet with President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Groysman, and Foreign Minister Klimkin.
I conveyed our unwavering support for Ukraine's territorial integrity and sovereignty and spoke about our recent addition of Ukraine to the automatic firearms country control list, something that the Ukrainians thanked me for.
Last June I also said we would take strong steps to ensure that all human beings are treated with dignity and respect, based on our strong commitment to pluralism, human rights, and the rule of law. Since then, we adopted the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act—and thank you to everyone around this table for the support for that measure—to enable Canada to take action against individuals who commit serious violations of human rights and those who engage in significant acts of corruption anywhere in the world.
I want to thank all the members of this committee for your important work on this legislation. It truly would not have happened without this committee's leadership, a very important contribution.
We will continue to firmly denounce any kind of injustice and intolerance around the world, as we have done in places such as Yemen, Chechnya and Iran in recent months.
You also heard me talk about women and girls. As I said in June, it is important for a prime minister and a government to proudly self-identify as feminists.That actually marked an historic milestone.
Women's rights are human rights, and they are at the heart of our foreign policy. That is why we are determined to promote a feminist and ambitious foreign policy. That commitment is at the heart of Canada's feminist international aid policy, which was launched in June by my colleague Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, and at the heart of Canada's new national action plan dedicated to women, peace and security, which I announced last November.
I know that the contribution of several committee members here today was a great help in developing those policies. So I would like to thank them once again.
At the United Nations Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial conference held in November, in Vancouver, Canada launched the Elsie Initiative on women's participation in peace operations. The initiative's goal is not only to ensure that women can participate fully in peacekeeping operations around the world, but also to guarantee that good conditions are in place for their long-term participation. The Elsie Initiative is designed to improve the overall effectiveness of United Nations operations. We are hearing from experts from a number of countries this month to determine that the next steps will be.
Our reputation as a country with clear and cherished democratic values that stands for human rights is strong. We must continue to be a global leader and keep working hard to protect these values and rights.
On that point, I would like to directly address an issue that has received important scrutiny in Canada: arms exports. Last summer we became aware of media reports on the possible misuse of Canadian-made vehicles in security operations in Saudi Arabia's eastern province. At that time, I asked officials at Global Affairs Canada to conduct a full and thorough investigation of these reports. Today I can confirm that officials at Global Affairs found no conclusive evidence that Canadian-made vehicles were used in human rights violations. That was the independent, objective opinion of our public service and the advice given to me as minister.
That experience did, however, cause me to pause and re-examine Canada's export permit system. My conclusion is that Canada can and must do better. Canada is not alone in the world in taking stock of how we allow and monitor the export of arms and of the considerations that go into these decisions. I have spoken with my counterparts in Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, among others, whose countries have all recently, in one way or another, questioned how arms are exported.
I am proud of the important commitment that our government made with Bill C-47. This would amend the Export and Import Permits Act to allow Canada to accede to the Arms Trade Treaty. This is the first treaty to tackle the illicit trade in conventional weapons, and it sets an essential standard for the international community.
It is long overdue that Canada joins many of our NATO and G7 partners by acceding to the ATT. We have heard support for the arms trade treaty from civil society, NGOs, and Canadians. We also heard the clear desire to do better. We need to be ambitious and strengthen Bill C-47. We had originally planned to place the criteria by which exports are judged, including human rights, into regulation, but we heard from committee members and civil society that they would like to see the Arms Trade Treaty criteria placed directly into legislation. This would include the consideration of peace and security, human rights, and gender-based violence. I can say today that the government would welcome this.
Going further than that, our government is today announcing its support for the inclusion of a substantial risk clause in Canadian law. Such a clause would mean that our government and future governments would not allow the export of a controlled good if there were a substantial risk that it could be used to commit human rights violations. A substantial risk clause would mean that Global Affairs Canada would need to ensure, before the export of controlled goods, that we have a high level of confidence that controlled exports will not be used to commit human rights abuses.
That is an important decision because it will have an impact on the way Canada regulates arms sales, but it's the right thing to do. Canadians are deeply committed to human rights for everyone, and they rightly expect exported goods not to be used to violate human rights.
I want things to be very clear. I want us to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to Canada's controlled goods exports.
This is a significant decision. It will mean changes in how Canada regulates the selling of weapons. This is the right thing to do. Canadians fundamentally care about human rights for all, and Canadians rightly expect that exports will not be used to violate human rights.
Let me be clear: from this day forward I want us to hold ourselves to a higher standard on the export of controlled goods from Canada.
I would also like to provide further clarity on one point. As a matter of broad principle, Canada will honour pre-existing contracts to the greatest extent possible. We can all understand and appreciate the fundamental importance of being able to trust Canada. We also understand the inherent importance of providing stability and certainty. Canada is a trusted partner around the world, and people must continue to be sure of the high worth of our word and our commitments. The world needs to know that an agreement with Canada endures beyond elections. This is important not only for international partners but also for Canadian companies and Canadian workers, who need to know they will be able to follow through on plans into which they invest their time and resources.
These two amendments will also provide clarity to industry by laying out the government's and Canadians' expectations for our export control process. We will work with Canadian industry to continue to provide it with appropriate guidance.
Mr. Chair, let me now turn to trade for one moment.
When it comes to NAFTA, we continue to work hard on the bread-and-butter trade issues at the negotiating table. Our goal is greater competitiveness, investment certainty, and growth in North America.
At the most recent round of talks in Montreal, we put forward some creative ideas with the view to establishing a constructive dialogue on certain key issues, including the rules of origin, investment dispute settlement, and ongoing modernization of the agreement. Serious challenges do remain, particularly with regard to the United States' unconventional proposal. As the Prime Minister said yesterday in Chicago, our objective is a good deal, not just any deal.
At the negotiating table, Canada always takes a facts-based approach. We are always polite and we are adept at seeking creative solutions and win-win-win compromises, but we are also resolute. Canada will only accept an agreement if it is in our national interest and respects Canadian values.
Finally, Mr. Chair, let me conclude with a few words about one of Canada's signature priorities for this year, our G7 presidency. This is a great opportunity for us to speak with a strong voice on the international stage.
During its G7 presidency in 2018, Canada will mobilize its counterparts on global issues requiring immediate attention, including by investing in economic growth that benefits everyone, by preparing for the jobs of the future, by working together on climate, ocean and clean energy changes, and by building a more peaceful and safer world. More specifically, we will promote gender equality and women's empowerment, and we will ensure that a gender-based analysis is conducted for each aspect of our presidency.
Mr. Chair, I will conclude by saying that, within G7 and the international community as a whole, Canada is continuing to defend a rule-based national order and to look for ways to strengthen it. We do this at every opportunity, while explicitly taking into account the relationship between peace, common prosperity, open trade and human rights.