Mr. Speaker, I will say a few words concerning Canada’s trading relationship with Cuba.
Cuba is a market with over 11 million people. It is the largest market for Canadian exporters in Central America and the Caribbean.
In fact, Canadian exports to Cuba are roughly equivalent to our exports throughout Central America. Despite the current liquidity crisis in Cuba, these exports have remained stable.
As the second mostly densely populated market in Central America and the Caribbean and as the largest island in the Caribbean, Cuba has the potential to become an attractive export market as its economy recovers, particularly if the American embargo is lifted.
In actual numbers, bilateral merchandise trade in 2015 totalled over $1 billion.
Canadian exports totalled close to $495 million, covering a wide range of products such as grain, machinery, meats, vegetables, vehicles, and electrical equipment.
In 2015, Cuban imports to Canada were valued at $520.1 million. The top import was unwrought nickel ore, from a Canadian joint venture’s mining operations. The nickel ore was imported so it could be refined in northern Alberta.
Canada is Cuba's second largest export market, after Venezuela, and its fourth largest trading partner.
When it comes to trade in services, there is no doubt that Canadians love visiting Cuba. Although Statistics Canada does not track Canadian service exports, Cuban figures suggest that Canadian tourists make up over one-third of all visitors to Cuba. In 2015, 1.3 million of Cuba's 3.5 million international visitors were Canadian tourists.
Every major Canadian airline flies to Cuba, and a Canadian company operates 13 hotels on the island. According to Cuban statistics from 2008, Canada is Cubas's second largest source of direct foreign investment after Spain.
Sherritt International, which is active in the mining, oil and gas, and hydro development sectors, is Cuba's second largest foreign investor, with an estimated total investment of $3 billion. We do not have official figures on non-mining-related Canadian investments, but Canadian firms are also known for investing heavily in food production.
Ever since the Obama administration announced its intention to restore relations between the United States and Cuba, Canadian interest in the market has grown significantly. The Canadian Trade Commissioner Service has received 160% more requests for information from Canadian companies. Cuban government representatives are excited about Canadian investment and trade and have always sought to boost Canadian companies' participation in the Cuban market.
Everyone knows that getting into the Cuban market is not without its challenges. Operations and market approvals still get bogged down by excessive red tape in Cuba. The U.S. embargo is still an obstacle for Canadian companies wishing to do business in Cuba, particularly those whose products have American components or that have major interests in the United States.
The embargo, along with Cuba's poor credit risk assessment, makes financing tricky to arrange with Cuba. Canada has always been and will continue to be outspoken about its opposition to the American embargo. Another obstacle to increased Canadian investment and trade with Cuba is the lack of access to insurance and financing products.
Despite these obstacles, Canada has a number of competitors on the Cuban market, including Brazil, China, Spain, and Mexico, who recognize the market's obvious potential.
In an effort to attract inward foreign direct investment, Cuba undertook major economic reforms over the past two years. Cuba decided that these reforms would help spur the economy, create wealth among the population, and provide and improve key social services for Cubans.
While progress has been rather slow, these economic reforms are far-reaching. They have led to the establishment of a small private sector, enhanced the role of co-operatives in the economy, allowed banks to provide credit to individuals and private companies, attracted more foreign investment, and made public corporations more accountable.
At the same time, Cuba tried to improve its international credit rating by meeting its financial obligations with respect to payments and outstanding debt. The December 2015 agreement that Cuba concluded with international lenders, through the Paris club, will further contribute to rebuilding its financial image.
Even though we do not anticipate that Cuba will fully engage in liberal reforms in the short term, these measures are positive signs for the future of the country's economic growth. They illustrate an understanding of the fact that economic reform to stimulate growth requires thinking outside the box.
Along with the regulatory changes in the U.S. that have been reducing the scope of the U.S. embargo over the past two years, the reforms will make things a little easier for foreign companies that want to set up in Cuba and could introduce more cash flow. As such, the reform process could also present new opportunities for Canadian exporters. In the short term, we are taking steps to better prepare Canada to engage with Cuba in a post-reform and post-embargo era.
Since December 2014, the world seems to have taken notice of Cuba and of its potential. Not a week goes by without a foreign delegation together with a commercial delegation, a list of bilateral agreements, and a credit facility arriving in Cuba. These missions have become a symbol of the world's interest in Cuba. Competition is heating up on this market.
Canada has programs to help Canadian businesses penetrate the Cuban market. Even though Export Development Canada, EDC, considers Cuba to be a high risk market, it has established stable relations with the Cuban government and several Cuban financial institutions, and it has helped Canadian exporters do business in Cuba through Canadian banks with a presence in Cuba.
The Canadian Commercial Corporation, the CCC, has had success in Cuba. Since 1991, it has facilitated export sales of almost $1 billion in Cuba.
With respect to bilateral agreements in support of our trade commitments, Canadian and Cuban negotiators managed to reach an agreement in May 2015 to expand the Canada-Cuba air transport agreement. Cuba is Canada's third largest international air travel market and all major airlines fly there. Canadian and Cuban spokespersons are talking about ways to reduce obstacles to foreign investment.
Canada's trade relationship with Cuba is obviously important. A closer bilateral trade and investment relationship is in the best interests of Canadians and Cubans. Many Canadians depend on that relationship to earn a living. Similarly, Canadian investments in Cuba have made a significant contribution to the country's development and have helped to improve the livelihoods of countless Cubans.
Although there are still many obstacles to the robust growth of trade and investments, there is no question that the future looks bright. The measures that we are currently taking to position Canada are important. That is why the Prime Minister raised the issue of improving trade and investment when he visited Cuba earlier this month, and our representatives will continue to work with Cubans to strengthen these important ties.
Our goal was to encourage the Cuban government in its economic reform efforts and to ensure that Canadian businesses are well positioned when those economic reforms are implemented. That is what we are going to continue to do.
Before I wrap up, I want to come back to something the member for Calgary Nose Hill said earlier. She went into a long speech about the what the Prime Minister has said with regard to human rights, and how it was totally inappropriate.
I want to read something that I think all members will find quite interesting:
Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement on the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia:
On behalf of all Canadians, Laureen and I offer our sincere condolences to the family of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and the people of Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah was recognized as a strong proponent of peace in the Middle East. He also undertook a range of important economic, social, education, health, and infrastructure initiatives in his country. I had the pleasure of meeting King Abdullah in Toronto when Canada hosted the G-20 and found him to be passionate about his country, development and the global economy.
We join the people of Saudi Arabia in mourning his passing.
I am curious if the members on the other side believe that was an appropriate statement for a prime minister to make on the passing of a dictator.