NEWS

On a mission to increase trade

Canada hopes to have secured a free trade agreement with the European Union by the end of next year, the country’s minister of international trade, Peter Van Loan, told Kathimerini English Edition yesterday as he prepared to fly to Greece from Turkey as part of his latest trade mission. Van Loan expects the free trade deal to benefit both the EU and Canada and after his visit to Athens he will meet with European officials for the latest round of talks aimed at reaching agreement. But the minister’s trip also has another goal: to boost Canada’s bilateral trade with Turkey and Greece. Canada’s conservative government, in power since 2006, has negotiated trade agreements with eight countries and is currently in negotiations with some 50 more. During two days in Turkey, Van Loan said that Canada would consider signing a free trade agreement with Ankara after completing such a deal with the EU, he oversaw the opening of a Canadian consulate in Istanbul and pledged to have a double-taxation agreement between the two countries in place by next year. Van Loan described Turkey as a market of 72 million people that has a «key place in the global economy.» The minister arrives in Athens with a trade mission that includes businessmen from the sectors of agriculture and agri-food, aerospace and defense, clean energy, mining, the environment, and information and communications technologies. Van Loan says the interest in Greece is more a reflection that Canada and its businessmen believe that the country will be in a healthier position when it exits the economic crisis rather than the fact that the current situation means the Greek government and local businesses are on the lookout for potential investment or trade from abroad. «I don’t know that anybody sees an opportunity in the crisis but more that they see opportunities past the crisis,» Van Loan told Kathimerini English Edition. The minister was not in a position to confirm whether there are Canadian companies looking to make major investments in Greece but he is confident that there is an interest in doing more business with Greece. «There are companies on this trip as well as some companies that are not traveling with us that are interested in doing business with Greece,» he said. «I think all of the businesspeople that are coming are doing so because they think that there are opportunities.» Van Loan also emphasized that the Greek community in Canada, which numbers close to 300,000 people, remains an «untapped source» for Greece. The minister further stressed that many of the current generation of Greek Canadians are «very entrepreneurial» and are now successful businesspeople, having moved beyond what were for Greek immigrants traditional ways of making a living, such as running restaurants. Van Loan hopes that the double-taxation agreement Greece and Canada signed last year (but which has only recently been ratified) will act as an incentive in greater trade not only between Greeks and Greek Canadians but between Greece and Canada as a whole. However, beyond the promotion of trade, Van Loan’s visit will also give him an opportunity to find out firsthand about how Greece is coping with a debt crisis that has sent ripples around the global economy. Canada is a leading member of the G20 and hosted a summit of the world’s major economies in Montreal earlier this year and, as such, has been watching events in Greece closely, according to the minister. «We naturally have a concern – for Canada it’s very important that there is a recovery in the global economy,» he said. «In our position in the G20 leadership we have certainly been pressing the case this year for countries to move towards fiscal balance and addressing those concerns. «The fears are not so much what happens in a specific country – every country’s economy has ups and downs. The concern is what effect it has on the global economy and that’s we’ve been pressing for action through the G20 leadership.» As someone looking to promote trade, isn’t Van Loan concerned that the austerity policies of spending cuts and tax hikes are killing off growth and the potential for Greek businesses to work with foreign partners or for Canadian companies to do business in Greece? «I don’t want to go into specifics because those are decisions for each country’s parliament or national legislature,» he said. «What is clear is that we need to urge fiscal balance because some national debt situations are too much of a risk. That’s why Canada was very much a promoter of the need for fiscal balance at this year’s G20 meetings.» [email protected]