Weekly Commentary  

The kids were everywhere

The saddest scene I saw all week involved a few thousand kids. The happiest scene I saw all week also involved a whole lot of kids. Is there any chance the sad kids can become the happy ones? Maybe.

Moving from poverty to prosperity does not just happen by accident. Certain policies will most certainly have certain outcomes. What I saw this week in three regions of Asia underlined this basic truth.

The week's main event was in Singapore, the annual Asia Pacific Economic Conference, aka APEC. It involved the Leaders and Ministers of Trade of almost two dozen nations which border the Pacific. Canada and our Prime Minister were there. So was President Obama and President Hu of China…and Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Mexico, Japan, Indonesia and the rest of the Pacific Rim.

Some anthropologists wrongfully assume that highly crowded countries with dense urban centers and no natural resources are doomed to be poor. Not so. Look at Japan, one of the highest densities of people per acre in the world, no natural resources, yet one of the most prosperous nations. Same for Singapore.

Consider some of the strongest emerging economies. Nations like Indonesia thirty years ago were predicted to be ongoing economic basket cases. Today, tens of millions of Indonesians have moved from abject poverty to middle class status.

Basically, governments which allow their people the freedom to be enterprising, to own land or their own homes, to have the rule of law and a transparent, stable court system and to be protected from crushing taxes and overbearing regulatory regimes will have predictable positive results.

Many APEC nations in the last quarter century have moved from having oppressive and regressive regimes. They have opted for policies of free enterprise and liberalized trade. The results? Fewer starving children in the freer countries and a growing middle class. I fully realize there are many factors which lead to higher standards of living and no system is perfect, however without the above basic principles in place, ongoing poverty for the masses and riches for only a tiny select group will be the result.

Here are some highlights this week on the road to Singapore.

Bangkok: In meetings with Thailand Ministers we identified specific means to open channels of trade and investment. I also visited a school which uses the BC curriculum to allow Thai kids a great opportunity for a solid education and entrance to Canadian universities and tech colleges.

Manila: I met with the President of the Philippines and discussed how Canadian mining companies can put programs in place locally guaranteeing jobs and benefits like health care and education to workers. I also toured a disaster centre housing over three thousand kids and adults displaced by the killer typhoons in September. I was able to see first-hand how Canadian dollars (and young Canadian workers) are helping people emerge from this disaster.

I then met with the newly appointed head of reconstruction in the Philippines. We set up a channel to make sure Canadian companies are able to bid on the huge projects and environmental initiatives which are beginning to reshape that country.

Singapore: At the APEC meeting of trade Ministers we negotiated ways to identify and reduce barriers to trade between us. I was pleased that we put in place some specific targets. The one that got the widest reporting was our goal to reduce by 25% in 5 years the costs, complexity and time required to move goods and services across our borders.

In the Leaders round of meetings it was gratifying to see the number of Presidents and Prime Ministers seeking out the views of Prime Minister Harper. They wanted to know what types of economic principles we had in place that have helped Canada weather the storms of the global recession.

The meeting between our PM and the President of Russia was especially productive as they dealt with issues on the Arctic, nuclear reactors and how we can help with construction at their 2014 Winter Olympic site. (Our PM did not fail to remind the Russians that there is one mineral we don't intend to let them have- gold in hockey in February!)

My proudest moment took place on November 11th when I was asked to lay the wreath at the ceremony in Singapore. It took place in the beautiful military cemetery which has the graves of 36 thousand soldiers, including Canadians, who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the Pacific campaign of the Second World War.

As I reflected at the grave stone of one of our young men who never made it home to his loved ones, I realized that my loved ones are free today because of the sacrifice of the soldiers I was looking at.

Lest we forget.

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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