Mr. Chair, I am thankful for the opportunity to participate in this debate, which highlights the role that Canada is playing in supporting the Ukrainian people in their time of crisis.
Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, our Conservative government has been at the forefront of the international community's efforts to implement democratic and economic reforms, and to restore peace and stability in the face of unprovoked Russian aggression. That aggression and Russia's flagrant violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity have led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians and the displacement of many more thousands of Ukrainians within their own country.
Ukraine continues to face enormous economic and security challenges, and Canada has remained a steadfast and trusted partner in contributing to the defence of Ukraine and the support of the Ukrainian economy.
Our goal is to help Ukrainians achieve a level of peace and prosperity that we in Canada have for so long enjoyed and the challenge is immense.
In its yearly report on Ukraine, the World Bank cited the state of the global economy, exacerbated by the ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine, as representing the ongoing major threats to the Ukrainian economy. In 2014, the Ukrainian economy real GDP declined by 7.5%. Its currency lost approximately half of its value against the U.S. dollar, and inflation reached 25%. Complicating the situation is the fact that Ukraine must contribute a very significant portion of its government revenues to defend itself against Russian-sponsored rebels.
The bottom line is that Ukraine needs Canada's help.
On September 17, 2014, during President Poroshenko's first official visit to Canada, he and our Prime Minister announced the signing of Canada's first $200 million low-interest loan to support Ukraine's economic and financial recovery. This past March, our government committed to a second $200 million loan to help stabilize Ukraine's economy and address pressing social needs. These loans, along with financial support from the International Monetary Fund and other key partners, will be crucial in helping Ukraine to achieve financial stability and a return to economic growth.
Since January 2014 Canada has announced more than $575 million in economic and development assistance to Ukraine. It has also provided significant non-lethal support and, more recently, it has agreed to join a mission to train the Ukrainian armed forces.
As Ukraine works to implement its recently signed association agreement with the European Union, we expect that it will also adopt best practices, business norms, and transparency standards that will enhance Ukraine's reputation as a destination for foreign investment and as a preferred trade partner to do business with.
We want to commend President Poroshenko and his government for their commitment to implement significant structural and economic reforms within Ukraine. As president, he has begun to set in place an ambitious timetable to build a more open and transparent market-based economy whose success will be driven by engaging with trading partners like the European Union, Canada and the United States. Canada strongly welcomes these reforms and our government is committed to taking all reasonable steps to support those reforms.
In fact, Canada is already playing a role in those reforms. Ukraine's economic advisory council, which was established by President Poroshenko, is actually headed by a Canadian, Mr. Basil Kalymon of the Richard Ivey School of Business at Western University.
Over the past year, I have had the distinct pleasure of leading two trade and development missions to Kiev, most recently in January. The purpose of these visits was fourfold. First, it underlined that Canada will not abandon Ukraine in its time of need. Second, I was able to meet with a number of my ministerial counterparts to discuss opportunities for Canada to partner to rebuild Ukraine's economy. Third, I was joined by a group of Canadian business people of Ukrainian heritage who were committed to acting as catalysts in supporting and affecting economic reform and transformation in Ukraine. Fourth, I was able to announce an additional $42 million of development assistance. This support would assist Ukrainian dairy and grain farmers to improve their production, quality of their product, storage, and marketing of their product. The funding would also provide technical assistance on anti-corruption, transparency and governance reforms.
Canada has also been providing technical assistance to Ukraine to improve its energy security. This assistance has helped Ukraine develop an energy contingency plan and identify areas where Ukraine can improve its oil and gas regulatory framework which, of course, in turn, would improve the competitiveness and clarity of this sector. A more transparent regulatory and business environment in the energy sector is expected to lead to new opportunities to support Ukranian prosperity, opportunities which Canadian companies would undoubtedly benefit from.
During my two recent visits to Ukraine, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of their ministers. I met with the minister of education. I spoke with the minister of agrarian policy and food. We spoke about energy and coal with the minister responsible for those areas. I interacted with my counterpart, the minister of economic development and trade. I had a chance to have a robust meeting with the new minister of finance for Ukraine. I can tell members that I returned to Canada with the clear confidence that their ministerial team has a sincere commitment to completing the economic and structural reforms required to re-energize Ukraine's economy
Indeed, I was pleased that President Poroshenko has already established a business ombudsman and a national anti-corruption bureau.
Our government is grateful for the work that private sector organizations, such as the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, do in supporting Ukraine in its time of need.
I want to recognize the Canada-Ukraine Chamber of Commerce, which is playing a key role in expanding the business-to-business commercial relationship. Canadian companies such as Black Iron, Iskander Energy, Serinus Energy and Shelton Petroleum are among the many which are anxious to re-engage in the Ukrainian economy.
While our trade relationship is presently quite modest, we know that there is tremendous potential for growth. It is companies such as the ones I just mentioned which will contribute to that growth.
Recognizing this, Ukrainian trade minister Aivaras Abromavicius and I announced this past January that we have restarted free trade negotiations between our two countries. This announcement builds on the commitment made by our countries' two leaders during President Poroshenko's historic visit to Canada last year.
This trade agreement would create new market access opportunities and predictable conditions for businesses, further strengthening our bilateral partnership.
A free trade agreement with Ukraine would also help address many of the non-tariff barriers which presently act as a hindrance to Canadian companies wishing to do business in Ukraine.
I am very pleased that Ukraine was named a priority market under Canada's global markets action plan. That plan, which we refer to as GMAP, is our government's over-arching strategy for creating jobs and economic growth through trade and investment.
Ukraine is a promising market for Canadian exporters in sectors such as agrifood, especially pork, aerospace, and seafood.
Additionally, there are growing opportunities for Canadian companies in the mining, information technologies, renewable energy, and oil and gas sectors.
Canadians understand that the Ukrainian people face enormous economic and security challenges. Our government has assured Ukraine that Canada will remain a steadfast ally, partner, and trusted friend, as the Ukrainian people successfully meet those challenges.
One thing I can assure members of is that Canada will never abandon Ukraine. As our Prime Minister has said:
Whatever difficulties may lie ahead, whatever actions are taken by those who threaten Ukraine's freedom, Ukraine will never be alone because Ukraine can count on Canada.