Mr. Chair, I would like to spend some time telling members about our government's most focused attention to our neighbours in the Americas. The Americas are a priority for our government. The Americas are a region of exciting opportunity, a region where we can make a real difference.
As honourable members are aware, our government is committed to Canada's long term re-engagement with the hemisphere, based on three mutual reinforcing themes: prosperity, democratic governance, and security.
There is much that Canada can do, and that is why our government has sent representatives at the highest levels to visit the region on a regular basis. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade , the Minister of International Cooperation, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade as well as myself have made numerous visits to the region over the past two years, along with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Trade.
Building these personal relationships is important because it contributes to stronger ties among our countries. Enhancing Canada's access to emerging markets in the hemisphere is a key focus for us.
The Americas are clearly in a region of dynamic, economic potential. We know that Canada is the third largest investor in the region and our trade flows are growing rapidly. That is the good news.
Canada's experience with the United States, Mexico, Chile and Costa Rica has shown that free trade makes a major contribution to economic development. That is why we are pursuing a robust regional free trade agenda.
We are building on an established presence in the region by working with like-minded states. Chile is one such partner. We have celebrated 10 years of free trade and look forward to continuing our close relations. In doing so, we are providing Canadian companies with the chance to secure new opportunities in dynamic markets.
Mexico is one of our largest suppliers of temporary foreign workers. These foreign workers are essential to our agriculture sector, and both Canada and Mexico benefit greatly from this mutually beneficial arrangement.
We are also engaging Brazil, a regional powerhouse. It is the eighth largest economy in the world, and I am happy to report that our relationship is defined by a growing partnership and cooperation.
In addition, our bilateral relationship is improving based on a two-way investment, cooperation in Haiti and a growing personal rapport between government leaders.
My colleagues, the hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade as well as the Parliamentary Secretary of International Trade, have already informed the House about the many negotiations under way and the progress we are making.
At the same time, as we look to these countries for opportunity, we must be mindful of our commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Canada's second objective in the Americas is to bolster the hemisphere's commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
I am pleased to report today that we have already accomplished a great deal. However, the maturity and the depth of democratic governance varies across countries. That is why the Prime Minister has offered to share the Canadian model of democratic freedom and economic openness, combined with effective regional and social support.
Building a safe and secure hemisphere is our third objective. That is why we have worked with partners in the region to enhance the law enforcement and judicial capacities.
In Colombia, Canada has active programming to promote stability and peace. As stated in the Speech from the Throne, the best way to foster development and security is through bolstering international trade. That is why we are also currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Colombia.
Haiti is another good example of where we are working in close cooperation with others like the United States, Brazil, Chile and Argentina, to enhance security. As the Prime Minister noted when he travelled to the region last summer, Haiti is “a test case for the Americas; for our capacity as neighbours and friends to get together in the common endeavour”. The Prime Minister is right.
During a visit to Brazil last year, my colleague, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade, had an opportunity to thank that country for the strong support it had been providing through its leadership in the UN stabilization mission in Haiti.
All Canadians can take pride in the government's unprecedented financial commitment to Haiti: $555 million over five years to 2011. Haiti is the second largest recipient of Canadian development assistance in the world after Afghanistan.
My colleague, the hon. Minister of International Cooperation, is an expert in how this money is addressing immediate needs and laying the foundation for Haiti's long term development.
Canada is also among the top donors in advancing security reforms in Haiti. The government recently announced an additional $19 million for police reform and border management to support the recruitment, training and operations of the Haitian national police.
We have also invested in the Caribbean. In 2007 Canada contributed some $7 million in aid in response to numerous storms affecting the Caribbean islands.
Canada is the largest donor to the World Bank's Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility with a $20 million contribution. I am happy to report that CIDA is developing a $20 million natural disaster risk management insurance facility to strengthen the central agency's capacity to respond.
Another tool we have to help accomplish our Americas strategy is sport. Sport promotes democratic principles, fosters social cohesion, and supports individual and institutional development. Throughout the Americas there is a clear appetite for increased Canadian leadership within sport in the region.
I am happy to inform the House that Canada has been very instrumental in the development of the Sport Council of the Americas, an organization whose main objective is to facilitate a broad intergovernmental discussion and cooperation on sport issues in the Americas.
Our government has recently signed sport bilateral agreements with countries such as Brazil and Peru to develop projects. These agreements will enable our countries to cooperate in the areas of sport governance, anti-doping, women in sport, and sport for development and peace.
On another front, we are working through regional organizations and international financial institutions to advance our goals.
Last week, the vice president of Colombia visited Canada. He conveyed his thanks for our ongoing support for peace and human rights in his country. He spoke of the work that Canadians are doing in assisting children and women affected by the longstanding conflict, and he thanked the Prime Minister for supporting a free trade agreement which will bring new opportunities for Colombians.
In conclusion, in reply to the Speech from the Throne, the Prime Minister said:
Many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are pursuing market reform and democratic development, but others are falling back to economic nationalism and protectionism, to political populism and authoritarianism.
That’s why it’s so important for countries like Canada to engage — to demonstrate there are alternative models that can meet people’s aspirations.
Mr. Speaker, Canada can make a difference in the world.