Address by Minister Champagne at the Canada-Arab Business Council Gala Dinner 


April 11, 2017 – Gatineau, Quebec

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.

Good evening, my friends, colleagues, ambassadors, and honoured guests.

I especially want to welcome the delegation with us this evening representing the “Forum des chefs d'entreprises” from Algeria. I trust that your trade mission to Canada has been a productive one, and will help to strengthen our already strong bonds of friendship.

To the organizers, I want to pass along my appreciation for the invitation to join you, as well as for your great work in organizing this Forum. Canada is proud of the many ties we share with our Arab partners. And certainly the Canada Arab Business Council has played a very big role in strengthening and solidifying those ties, as well as with communities across Canada.

To all honoured friends and guests here, I bring greetings and best wishes from the Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. As the theme of this Forum suggests, we’re all working very hard to “pave the road to stronger partnerships” with our friends and partners in the Arab world.

Your presence here tonight serves to highlight our progress to date, as well as the strength of the business and partnership opportunities.

As some of you may know, one of my first trips as Canada’s International Trade Minister was to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, where I engaged with key ministers to help strengthen bilateral ties and to advance Canadian trade and investment, which supports increased jobs and growth for Canada’s middle class, as well as those working hard to join it.

Many Canadian business leaders are unfamiliar with the great market opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa [MENA] region. I plan on working very hard to change this by raising awareness of the region amongst Canadians as well as promoting export opportunities. I also plan to revisit the MENA region soon to bring good news.

Today, there are more than 750,000 Canadians with Arab heritage. Diversity is a source of strength in Canada and as is so often the case, that strength starts with the people-to-people ties that serve as economic bridges between countries. This is our competitive advantage!  

And just listen to what those ties can yield: did you know that in 2016, bilateral trade between Canada and the Middle East and North Africa region was $10.9 billion, with Canadian exports reaching $5.38 billion and imports totalling $5.54 billion?

Taken as a whole, the MENA region is Canada’s eighth most important trading partner and Canada’s largest export destination.

From high-tech goods to professional services, you can find a range of Canadian expertise from every region of Canada at work in the Middle East and North Africa.

As impressive as this is, I think we can do a lot more.

During my meetings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi in March, I spoke about the importance of Canada’s strategic partnership with the United Arab Emirates [U.A.E.].

I also emphasized that we need to be more ambitious in our trade and investment relations. I noted that we should be thinking about where we want to be as partners 10 years from now, and that we need to work on specific areas and sectors that will enhance cooperation.

The U.A.E. is currently Canada’s main market and preferred business hub for the MENA region. As such, it serves as a platform for Canadian businesses to access huge market opportunities around the region.

We welcome opportunities to do business with countries that have good corporate governance, a strong business and investment climate, and respect for the rule of law. The role of Canadian expats is well understood by our government.

Let me be clear—we will take a strategic whole-of-government partnership approach with countries that meet these criteria. Trade may be where it starts, but we will look at people-to-people, environment, transport, immigration—and I work actively with my colleagues that lead these files in order to advance those partnership concepts.

Trade means growth, and growth means jobs! We want more Canadian companies, especially small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], to make bold moves in expanding their global footprint, and we want more businesses from the Arab world to invest in and partner with Canada.

We’re serious about attracting foreign investment to Canada. In order to help accomplish this, the Government of Canada is allocating $218 million over five years to create a new federal body, the Invest in Canada Hub. It will employ a dedicated high-impact sales force to promote Canada and be supported by an increased number of trade commissioners focused on investment attraction in strategic markets around the world.

The Government of Canada also announced last year that we will launch a new Canada Infrastructure Bank, which will offer innovative financing for infrastructure projects, and help more projects get built in Canada.

What is our approach to growing trade? Today, Canada is pursuing a Progressive Trade Agenda with our friends and partners around the world, and we challenge those in the MENA region to join us on that journey.

But you might be wondering “what is progressive trade and why does it matter”?

Progressive trade is about ensuring that the jobs, growth and prosperity generated by the global trading system are sustainable and inclusive while ensuring that all segments of society, both in Canada and around the world, are taking part in the new economic opportunities with a particular focus on small- and medium-sized businesses owned by women, Indigenous people, youth and new immigrants.

People must be at the heart of our approach to trade. After all, trade and investment are about more than just the movement of goods or services. They are also about people, improving their lives, and strengthening our communities.

Progressive trade is about ensuring the future prosperity of our people and providing more opportunity for them to share in it.

A critical part of that equation is building up that next generation and supporting those seeking to join the middle class. That is why our most recent Budget focused on innovation and skills and why I am so pleased to see the growth in our education sector. It is, after all, the foundation of our future success, both domestically and collectively. 

There are 27,000 students from the MENA region currently studying in Canada and contributing billions of dollars to the Canadian economy. Canada is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for the MENA region and we want to see those numbers grow. I want to grow those numbers with your help. Now is Canada’s time to lead on the world stage.

In 2015, Canada was home to more than 11,000 foreign students from Saudi Arabia pursuing their studies here, in addition to more than 2,300 from Morocco, and hundreds more from countries such as the U.A.E, Egypt, Bahrain, Algeria, Jordan and Kuwait.

When returning to their home country, international students become “ambassadors” for Canada. One of those ambassadors is Dr. Ghadeer Al Shaikh, an urogynecologist trained in Canada at the University of Ottawa who is the founding Dean of the College of Medicine at Princess Norah University, and an associate professor at King Saud University in Riyadh.

Canada’s education sector has done a great job of creating opportunities—with the University of Calgary and the College of the North Atlantic in Qatar being great examples. In fact, the College of the North Atlantic’s contract with Qatar is the largest international educational contract ever signed, a true success story! 

With nearly 500 Canadians teaching at the institution, the College represents a partnership worth over $1.5 billion It has graduated more than 4,700 students, of whom 3,500 are Qataris, thereby further strengthening our close people-to-people ties.

In addition, a large number of nurses are trained at the University of Calgary—Qatar’s Nursing School, thus providing an invaluable contribution to the Government of Qatar’s National Vision 2030 strategy.

As you have heard during the panel discussions at the forum earlier today, many Arab countries are looking for ways to diversify their economies.

They want to invest in infrastructure and build stronger service sectors. Like Canada, they are looking to build greener economies, and to prepare their workforce for the new types of jobs that will come with the evolution of digital technologies.

I am especially pleased this evening to be able to highlight a few progressive trade stories of women-owned businesses that have found export success with the MENA region. 

Shamira Jaffer is the Founder and President of Signifi Solutions. Based in Mississauga, the company recently entered the U.A.E. market thanks, in part, to insurance coverage from Export Development Canada. An early champion of self-serve retail, Ms. Jaffer has been a leader and innovator in the automated retail industry for over a decade.

The Signifi Chief Executive Officer is such a strong believer in the Middle East and North Africa region that she refers to it as her preferred market over any other in the world. She notes that business people in the region are extremely innovative and forward-thinking, and they tend to buy big and buy quickly.

I also learned that the company was recently awarded a second contract in the U.A.E. and is looking to break into the European market by leveraging the expertise of the Canada Trade Commissioner Service. Let me know if we can assist in getting this done!

Another female-owned business which is finding export success in the MENA region is NutraBee Pure Gourmet Honey Products of St. Catharines, Ontario, started in 2000 by Fatima Basic. NutraBee is a family run business providing healthy 100 per cent pure unprocessed Canadian honey and bee products.

NutraBee recently held a two-week “honey festival” on their distributor’s premises in Kuwait, where they held specialized cooking classes as well as in-store honey seminars for students and shoppers on the advantages and benefits of honey. The company now has two retail distributors in Kuwait City.

My hope is that more Canadian businesses—and especially SMEs— will follow the example of Signifi Solutions and NutraBee and explore export opportunities in the MENA region.

To help SMEs achieve export success when entering new foreign markets, the Government of Canada created the CanExport program which provides $50 million over five years to help Canadian small- and medium-sized companies explore and take advantage of export opportunities in new markets. To date, 51 projects in the Middle East and North Africa region have been approved for CanExport funding.

The Government of Canada commitment is to work with Canadian businesses as they take advantage of new market opportunities around the world. We can be your trusted partner. With me tonight are several officials from Global Affairs Canada, Export Development Canada, Canadian Commercial Corporation, as well as Canada’s Ambassador to Algeria, Isabelle Roy, and trade commissioners based in Canada, and in Alger and Dubai.

I would like you all to stand up so that people can easily recognize you, as you are the key Canadian officials to talk to tonight!

Please do not hesitate to reach out to them. They are always available to assist you in achieving your export success. 

All of us have one purpose in mind: to ensure that Canada remains the prosperous country and the great trading nation it has always been, and to ensure that our great friendship and partnership with countries in the Arab world becomes even stronger—in pursuit of a progressive trade agenda—over the coming months and years.

Thank you.

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