Weekly Commentary  

Week of sweeping contrasts

First, let's talk budget. By now you've seen our approach to dealing with the most challenging financial era that most of us have seen in our lifetime. Those of you 80 or so years old have told me you've seen worse times and many of you gave me advice on how the federal budget should handle a downturn like this. Nobody is suggesting these times are easy, they're not. The seniors who went through the Dirty Thirties are merely saying this time is not as paralyzingly harsh as what they went through.

Most people that I've talked to over the last several weeks have also told me that we should prepare for a deficit, as long as we keep it temporary. We've tried to do that. From your point of view let me know if you think we badly missed anything with this budget.

As part of last year's budget I was able to announce over one million dollars of funding last week in the Okanagan and Nicola Valleys. The successful projects are to provide a variety of employment opportunities. These are designed to offset losses incurred in communities hit by the effects of the downturn in the forestry industry.

On another note, this last week, before the Budget came out, I was out of the country continuing our government's quest to open doors of trade for Canadian workers and innovators who want to export products and services. My first stop was Prague. The 27 member countries of the European Union operate by having the presidency rotate from one nation to the other every 6 months. France (President Sarkozy) just finished their turn. Now it's the Czechs. This works out well for Canada. We want to get a Free Trade Agreement with the EU. This would allow all Canadian businesses, large or small, (representing hundreds of thousands of jobs) to compete on a level playing field with the Europeans. Like Canada, the Czech Republic is also a nation which counts on freedom of trade for its prosperity. So they understand how important this is to us. Since they hold the gavel at the EU for the next half year, our chances of getting started on a European free trade agenda are improved. In meetings with key officials for two days in the Czech capital of Prague we discussed the best strategy for moving ahead.

By the way, Prague, as a city of history, culture and beauty is really worth experiencing if you ever get the chance. As is often the case, my only opportunity for seeing the sights is on an early morning run. In the warm light of sunrise, or any time of day, Prague does not disappoint. Added to that is the fact that the Czech people themselves have an inspiring history of standing tall in the face of adversity. Even their Deputy Prime Minister with whom I met served jail time some years ago for the simple crime of wanting his country to be free and democratic. I'll keep you tuned in on progress with our EU trade agenda.

Then, it was on to 3 of India's major thriving centers namely New Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai (still referred to by most residents I met with as 'Bombay'). India is one of the most robust democracies and vibrant economies on the planet. We share with them a common Parliamentary history and language along with shared commitments to human rights and the rule of law. In terms of trade, they are one of few countries which will show growth (over 6%) in '09. We presently only have about $3.7 Billion in annual two way trade with them. Our goal is to see that triple to over $10 Billion in the years immediately ahead. We also are expanding our Science and Technology agreements with them and our Research and Development resources.

Right now, of everything Canadians produce for export, approximately 86% goes to the US, our largest trading partner - nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact we are the envy of the world in terms of being right beside a market as vast as the USA. However, when buyers in your biggest market start to ease off of their buying because of a slow down it's important to also have markets in other areas. This is made easier by governments having free trade agreements in place. This allows our producers, manufacturers and service providers to have less costly, tariff free access to willing buyers in other countries.

Canada's nuclear industry, respected as among the best in the world, also has billion dollar opportunities right now. This includes long term high tech jobs. India's huge economic growth has expanded their energy demands. Their government wants to build over 30 clean nuclear energy plants to reduce greenhouse gases. Some of my meetings therefore involved working on a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement with India. Meetings with India's Prime Minister Singh, his key Ministers and advisers and others helped to clarify a larger role which could be played by Canadian companies in this and other areas.

A country of over a billion people is no small task to manage, to say the least. It is an understatement to say that poverty is widespread. However, it is also accurate to say that India is making great progress in expanding economic benefits and opportunities to its people. Increased two-way trade and investment will help both our nations in the challenging months ahead.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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