Colombia and Canada have common goals: politically, commercially and on investment

Kenneth Frankel editorial for Colombia’s Semana Canada 150 Edition.

Published in Spanish: Colombia y Canada miran hacia el mismo lado

Colombia and Canada have common goals: politically, commercially and on investment

By:  Kenneth N. Frankel, President, Canadian Council for the Americas

Given the depth and breadth of Canada’s current political, business and social ties with Latin America, it might seem that Canadian bonds with the region go back many years.  Remarkably, that’s not the case; these bonds are the result of concerted efforts made on all sides only over the past couple of decades.

Although there had been isolated but significant examples of Canadian investment in several countries, Canada’s era of political and business engagement in the region began in the late 1960s and 1970s with Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the father of Canada’s current prime minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau. As part of his attempt to diversify Canada’s trade from an overreliance on the United States, Pierre Elliott Trudeau specifically promoted trade with Latin America.

Though deep economic ties did not develop until two to three decades later, Canada built a foundation for all regional ties that rested on something more fundamental and unique – a shared history of working together for human rights and democratic values.

During the difficult years of military rule in much of the continent, Latin American civil society and its future democratic leaders collaborated with Canadian governments  –  both liberal and conservative  –  and  Canadian  NGO’s  to assist victims and potential victims inside and outside of the region. They worked together on creating opportunities for open discussion and action to aid the transition to democracy.

Canada’s joining of the OEA in 1990 was a tacit recognition that the region was critical to its vision and its place in the world.  Collaborating closely with Secretary General Gaviria, Canada played a leading role in establishing and supporting the OEA’s efforts to promote democracy through electoral observation missions. It led diplomatic efforts to resolve several high conflict situations in the region. It is recognized throughout the region as a steadfast supporter, financially and diplomatically, of the Inter-American human rights system. Given this foundation, it’s easy to understand why Canada has been a steadfast supporter of the peace process in Colombia.

The symmetry on fundamental values has extended to economic matters. Canada’s views of free trade and open markets have been perfectly simpatico with Colombia and its partners in the Pacific Alliance.  It’s not a coincidence that some of the earliest free trade agreements signed by Pacific Alliance countries have been with Canada.

And it’s not a coincidence that the Canadian government, which stresses the importance of trade that brings benefits to more people, was the first observer country of the Pacific Alliance and the first to sign a Joint Declaration to increase its standing beyond observer status.

There is no better example than Colombia of the high velocity pace of Canada’s investment and keen interest over the past couple of decades in Latin America.

Anecdotal evidence complements statistics.  At the Canadian Council for the Americas we have been fortunate to host Heads of Sate and Ministers from all over the region, including Colombian leaders of varying political leanings. The largest crowd that we have ever hosted was in 2011, when President Juan Manuel Santos spoke to 375 of our C-suite stakeholders representing Canada’s largest investors and would-be in investors in Latin America.

Canadian investment in Colombia is, as we might assume, strong and significant in natural resources. But it is also diversified. Canadian companies and pension plans are heavily invested and active in all aspects of infrastructure, utilities, finance and other sectors. It’s a mark of confidence in Colombia’s economic and political future that Canadian public pension plans, particularly prudent in handling public employees’ retirement monies, would include Colombian assets in their portfolios.

The Canadian enthusiasm for Colombia is high.  We believe that Colombia and Canada have a unique opportunity to deepen further their ties. Our political, economic and social priorities are aligned like never before.