A Strong and Important Partner in Asia
One of the defining accomplishments of the Harper Government has been the laser-like focus the Prime Minister has had on growing new markets for Canadian goods and services. Canada’s largest trading partner, the US, has been struggling in recent years, so the need for new markets has been critical to our economic well being. This has led to a range of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) signed or negotiated by our government, including the blockbuster deals with the European Union and South Korea. Trade with Europe is well known to Canadians as our country was founded upon trade with Europe through the fur trade and fishery. Trade and our relationship with South Korea is perhaps not as high profile, but I would suggest it is a critical relationship for Canada and the FTA is of equal importance to our future.
I just returned from a trip to South Korea in my role as Parliamentary Assistant to the International Trade Minister. Our delegation met with senior leaders from the government, business leaders and Canadian companies and business people operating in Seoul. We also joined the Korean Minister of Patriots & Veterans Affairs for meetings and a moving ceremony at the Korean War Memorial. Nothing defines our relationship with the Korean people more than the Korean War. 516 Canadians gave their life in that conflict that saw 26,000 Canadians travel to the far side of the world with other UN nations to secure the freedom of millions of Koreans. I was truly overwhelmed and deeply moved by the emotion and gratitude that Canada’s service and sacrifice still evokes for Koreans young and old. From the young school children I met with recently when they travelled to Canada to thank Korean War veterans, to the most senior leaders in the country, Canada is a country that is both respected and admired. In Clarington we should be very proud of Doug Finney, who is the President of the Korean Veterans Association in Canada and someone who is well known in Seoul for his service.
Koreans are not only grateful for Canada’s military support 60 years ago, they have taken full advantage of the freedom and opportunity secured by the war. In the 1950s South Korea was a deeply poor country and one of the largest recipients of the United Nations World Food Programme. Today, South Korea is the world’s fifteenth largest economy and it is one of the largest contributors to the UN World Food Program. Many Koreans also immigrated to Canada in the decades following the war and the community in Canada now numbers more than 200,000. They have made a very positive contribution to Canada and many have become champions of Canada in Korea and throughout Asia.
As the standard of living of Koreans increased over the decades, so too has demand for goods and services from Canada with agricultural products leading the way. The reduction of tariffs that the Canada-Korea FTA will bring will provide huge opportunities for Canadian beef, pork and oil seeds. On a local level, nearby Viceroy Homes in Port Hope has suggested that they will double their workforce in the years following free trade with Korea. Their finished wood homes and other wood products have a small market in Korea now as a high quality exporter, but the elimination of tariffs on finished wood products will make them much more competitive.
Canada needs to grow its trade with Asia, which has seen rapid growth in the last decade and will continue to see strong growth in the future. There are more people attaining middle class status in the countries of Asia each year than the entire population of Canada. We need to grow Canadian presence in Asia and planting our FTA flag in South Korea – a strong friend forged through sacrifice and a mutual commitment to freedom – is a perfect place to start.