Remarks by Vice Minister Shintaro Ito

At the Dinner Hosted by The Honourable Colin Hansen, Minister of Economic Development of the Government of British Columbia, Canada

April 28, 2006

The Honourable Colin Hansen, Minister of Economic Development of the Government of British Columbia, and distinguished guests,

Let me, first of all, express my heartfelt appreciation to Minister Hansen for hosting this dinner.

May I add as well our appreciation to British Columbia's Parliamentary Secretary for the Asia-Pacific Initiative, Mr. Richard Lee, and to the many distinguished members of the province's Asia Pacific Trade Council, including the chair, Mr. Arthur Hara. Also, to Mr. Paul Evans, co-chair of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

I must say that when I first heard that Minister Hansen was proposing to host a dinner, I had imagined a small gathering. But I can see by this large and eminent group that British Columbia has a substantive interest in relations with Japan. For our side, we certainly welcome your engagement and see this occasion as a great opportunity to deepen the long-standing relationship between this province and our country.

When one looks at the overall picture, it can be said that economic relations between Canada and Japan have generally been sound and mutually beneficial. Total trade between our countries is worth over $20 billion a year, and Japan and Canada are important and reliable trading partners.

Political dialogue flourishes as well. Former Prime Minister Paul Martin visited Japan in January of last year, and Prime Minister Koizumi and Mr. Martin met again last November at the APEC Summit in Pusan, Korea.

Among our general populations and local governments there is on-going exchange and communication. Through sister-city relationships, the JET Program and the Working Holiday Program, mutual understanding is increasing steadily. I note in this regard that the Vancouver - Yokohama sister-city relationship celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, and I understand that Minister Hansen at one time worked as part of the development of that very successful exchange.

British Columbia of course, has always been in the vanguard of Canada's relationship with Japan. This has been a historical reality and it remains true today. The experience and maturity of British Columbia's relationship with Japan and with other Asian countries forms the natural backdrop to the establishment of the Asia Pacific Trade Council, created by Minister Hansen's government.

At the federal level, Canada and Japan signed an Economic Framework Agreement at the APEC Summit last November. This agreement establishes 15 Working Groups to revitalize trade and investment between our countries. British Columbia's trade with Japan accounts for 40% of Canada's total trade with that country. This Economic Framework Agreement, along with the commitment to enhance transportation infrastructure in British Columbia through the Pacific Gateway Project, will certainly create the conditions to strengthen trade and investment flows.

It is often said that the 21st century will be the century of Asia Pacific. The trend is unmistakable, and much has been said recently about China and India. Truly, we are seeing historic changes in the economic cooperative structure in Asia and around the Pacific Rim. But it is important to understand these changes from a proper perspective.

In the vital field of exports, for example, British Columbia sends three times more products to Japan than it does to China. Japan's GDP is three times that of China, five times that of Canada, and seven times that of India. The economies of East Asia are closely intertwined. Japan should be seen as a pivot in these East Asian linkages and a stepping stone to the rest of Asia.

Of course, our economic relationship is only one part of the deep and enduring ties that bind Canada and Japan. There are many things that we share in common, that should make it possible for us to work together in a global context. We are both mature industrial democracies, sharing the values of the rule of law, freedom, respect for human rights, and belief in the market economy. As partners of long standing, there are established habits of cooperation between us, and we feel comfortable with each other.

Today, a new generation of young Japanese are increasingly attracted to this beautiful province of British Columbia, and especially to the safe and attractive City of Vancouver. Tourism from Japan to British Columbia dipped during the international scare about SARS in 2003, but has now rebounded to equal over 240,000 visitors in 2005 alone. At the same time, every year many Canadian students and travelers visit Japan, are now familiar with Japanese customs and have developed enduring personal friendships with individuals and families there.

It is this natural bond - based on shared values - that provides the stable foundation for the many economic and cultural exchanges between our two countries.

And so in the spirit of this friendship, I would ask Minister Hansen and all those who are present to join me in a toast to the friendship between Japan and British Columbia, and between Japan and Canada.


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