Diane Ablonczy, federal Minister of State of Foreign Affairs (for the Americas and Consular Affairs) – currently in B.C. as part of a tour of Western Canada – will visit Surrey Wednesday.
Her itinerary will include a stop at the Peace Arch border crossing, a meeting with Mayor Dianne Watts and city staff, and a round-table meeting hosted by the Surrey Board of Trade.
It’s a multiple-purpose visit, the Calgary-Nose Hill MP explained in a phone interview Friday.
in addition to a dialogue with Surrey business people currently doing – or seeking to enter – trade with Latin America (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela), Ablonczy is seeking to promote the consular side of her portfolio, including a newly updated website, www.travel.gc.ca, which offers assistance to Canadians planning to visit or work in other countries.
“The opportunities are enormous for trade with the Americas,” Ablonczy said, noting Canada has seven existing trade agreements with the region, plus nine foreign investment participation agreements in the process of being worked out.
“We see in that part of the world a growing middle class, and countries like Brazil are putting in some enormous infrastructure developments as they know it’s in their interest to open up their markets,” Ablonczy said.
“One can’t overstate the resource richness of the Americas – in Bolivia, for example a significant percentage of the resources haven’t been mapped.”
At the same time, Ablonczy said, the federal government is mindful that cultural differences can pose obstacles, and business relationships don’t happen overnight.
Canadian investors demand security and stability in the countries they deal with, she said, as well as assurances that human rights and democratic institutions are being respected and that “justice, legal and security systems are in place.”
Canada does a great deal of advocacy in this regard with potential trading partners, she added, as well as investing in international security programs.
Gathering feedback from business people who currently or potentially trade with the Americas is an important part of the process, Ablonczy said, and that’s part of her mandate in field trips such as the one to Surrey.
“There’s generally a real excitement and a great deal of interest,” she said.
“There’s a demand for more flights (to these countries) and a demand for more contacts, but business is also applauding our efforts in encouraging other countries in protecting the environment and protecting human rights. You can’t have a good place to have business investment unless the environment is respected and human rights are respected.”
Ablonczy said her department’s updated website for travellers recognizes that travel abroad has become a significant part of the experience of Canadians.
“Last year, there were 56 million trips out of Canada – and that’s with a country of some 33 million people,” she said.
The revamped website aims to centralize information that will help Canadian citizens and permanent residents – whether business people, holiday makers or students on field trips or exchanges – to travel to other countries without problems and with a minimum of red tape.
“It’s a one-stop shop for information,” she said. “We want people to travel, and have a safe and happy experience.”
The round table meeting at the Surrey Board of Trade offices (101 – 14439 104 Ave.) will take place 10-11 a.m. and is open to the public (participants should arrive by 9:50 a.m.).