Media Center



February 13, 2002 - Washington, DC

Mr. Chairman
Mr. Secretary General
Mr. Assistant Secretary General
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a distinct pleasure and honour to be here, in the meeting house of the Americas, as I begin my service as Canada’s Foreign Minister. This organization, and this region - the Americas - are of singular importance to Canada - and to me personally.

C’est pour moi un véritable honneur et un réel plaisir que de me trouver ici, en cette assemblée des Amériques, au moment où je prends mes fonctions de ministre des Affaires étrangères du Canada.

L’OEA et la région des Amériques revêtent une importance toute particulière pour le Canada, ainsi que pour moi personnellement.

In fact, I was in Mexico last month, promoting the cause of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas (the idea for which took root in this building) when the Prime Minister called to advise me of my nomination as Minister of Foreign Affairs. I had to cut short my visit, and return to Ottawa to be sworn in to Cabinet the next day.

Under the circumstances I can’t say that I was sorry to be called back, but I do regret one piece of unfinished business - my continuing attempt to gain some proficiency in Spanish. In Mexico, I had enrolled in a two week course, and I was determined to make some progress.

Unfortunately, because of the Prime Minister’s call, I was only able to take six hours of the course. But I assure you that this is a priority and on future occasions haré todo lo posible para defenderme en español.

Ambassador Durand tells me that he - and all of you - have been very busy here in recent months. I was pleased to hear that - and not only because we always like to get our money’s worth out of our ambassadors.

More importantly, it confirmed what I believed about the Organization of American States but which, regrettably, seems to be less evident to our general publics.

The OAS as a community of values

And that is the fact that the OAS is a relevant, integral and important institution in our hemisphere. Working through this Organization, Member States - each with its individual perspective and distinct history - have shaped a community of values. The Americas are no longer defined simply as a function of geography - but by what we hold to be important and by the objectives we seek to achieve as a community of sovereign nations.

Our Democratic Charter, conceived in Quebec, achieved at Lima last September, is a unique instrument - no other region can boast a similar document. And no one can ignore its ringing declaration, “The peoples of the Americas have a right to democracy and their governments have an obligation to promote and defend it.”

That bold statement is an unmistakable signpost - to us and to future generations. There is no room for ambivalence about democracy in the hemisphere.

The Democratic Charter is not only a statement of values. It is a pledge of support, of mutual assistance.

It is no small irony that on the very day that Member States committed themselves to promoting and defending democracy in the hemisphere, the most dramatic terrorist attack in history struck home.

And this community responded. The first categoric condemnation of the attacks which Ministers issued in Lima on Sept 11th was reaffirmed ten days later in Washington, when Foreign Ministers met in this building and declared - with one voice - that this American family stands united. More than that, they put that declaration of solidarity into concrete action. The Rio Treaty was invoked, a measure which non-States Parties, including Canada, fully supported.

To facilitate cooperative action against terrorism, Foreign Ministers mandated the negotiation of an Inter-American Convention against Terrorism -- a task that should be complete by June. The OAS moved swiftly to accelerate the work of the Inter-American Committee Against Terrorism to identify urgent measures to combat terrorism; a practical program, focussed on cooperation and training, has been endorsed by CICTE and is now underway.

For Canada, this illustrates that the OAS not only talks - it acts.
I can assure you that my government will support, in real terms, the activities of CICTE.

Canada and the OAS

Does Canada have an agenda for the OAS? Absolutely. When, in 1990, we filled the seat which had been reserved for us, it was part of a deliberate plan to intensify relations with the countries of the hemisphere, and to take part in the dialogue that was defining both the Organization and the collective will of its Member States.

It was a fortuitous time to join - democracy was sweeping the hemisphere; there was a growing commitment to market liberalization; the last vestiges of the Cold War were falling by the wayside; and there was a renewed openness to the possibilities of multilateral organizations.

Together, the Member States have seized the moment, and shaped the OAS into an instrument that is more agile and responsive to the priority interests of our citizens in this rapidly evolving international environment. The OAS is now well positioned to provide practical assistance in consolidating democracy, strengthening prosperity, enhancing security and promoting development throughout the Americas.

In the past dozen years, this Organization has reached out to Member States in their hour of need - from the smallest to the largest, and many in between (as my colleague from Peru has just testified). We have seen countries turn toward the institutions of the OAS for assistance on highly sensitive issues - border conflicts, human rights, crises of democracy - something that was hardly imaginable just a decade or so ago.

It is due to the commitment and faith of Member States, together with the dedication and expertise of the representatives and staff of the General Secretariat, that the OAS and its institutions are considered trusted, credible partners for the challenges that face Member States today.

This region has also proven its capacity for world leadership, particularly on the security agenda. The historic commitment to establish an anti-personnel mine free hemisphere provided tangible momentum to the global campaign to ban anti-personnel mines. The OAS Firearms Convention is the first of its kind in the world. What we do here matters, not only in our neighbourhood, but also beyond.

It is because of these, and other actions that I would like to confirm that Canadians are very pleased with the return on our collective investment in the OAS.

And today we see still greater potential. The OAS, having demonstrated its capacity and relevance, is a focal point for coordinated action. Leaders, at successive Summits of the Americas, have called upon the OAS and its institutions to play an increasingly important role in the fulfilment of Summit mandates.

The Quebec Summit established a balanced and coherent agenda, grounded in the values of democracy, economic prosperity, social stability and hemispheric security. One that recognised the ever increasing interdependence that links our peoples in this hemisphere.

This is an ambitious, and challenging program. It will require sustained commitment from us all.

But it also is a true reflection of what our citizens expect. And it provides the road map that we need to reach our political, social and economic goals.

This past fall, as part of the Summit implementation process, we collectively reviewed the Summit Plan of Action in the light of the attacks and negative economic fallout of September 11th. This evaluation confirmed the relevance and underlined the importance of fulfilling the mandates given by Leaders.

The Summit’s flexible framework allowed for the acceleration of certain measures - but it is clear that the fundamental model is correct.

The Summit agenda puts people first. It recognizes that our citizens can reach their full potential only when their safety is guaranteed, their rights are respected and their access to economic and social opportunities is assured.

Free Trade Area of the Americas

A key element of the Summit agenda for prosperity is to create the enabling environment for the creation of a hemispheric free trade zone by 2005.

Again, the challenge is great. There are substantial differences in the size of domestic and regional markets, as well as in the level of trade and economic development throughout the region.

Income disparities, both between and within countries, make this one of the most unequal regions of the world.

At the same time, it is a region of great economic potential. The countries in the Free Trade Area of the Americas represent approximately 1/6 of the world population and have a combined GDP of more than

9 trillion US dollars - more than one third of the world’s economic activity.

The Summit implementation process is designed to help build the capacity of states to adapt their political, economic and social policies to the requirements of regional and global integration - and to ensure that the citizens of the Americas will benefit from that integration.

Good governance, trade liberalization, more equitable distribution of wealth and access to opportunities, protection of the environment and workers’ rights, can, and should be, mutually supportive. Inclusion, transparency and communication are key to success.


Implementing the Summit mandates requires the participation of many partners - governments, international organizations, international financial institutions, legislatures, business and civil society. In this respect, I am particularly pleased to note the efforts of the OAS to include civil society organizations in the work of the organization and to promote the development of the concept of corporate social responsibility.

Successful implementation of the Summit agenda requires the energies and expertise of all sectors of society.

My personal experience, as President of the Inter-Parliamentary Forum of the Americas, has also convinced me of the importance of ensuring that lawmakers, as well, are actively engaged in this process, and have the opportunity to debate issues of regional impact with their counterparts. Indeed, foremost on the agenda of the FIPA Meeting in Mexico City next month is a discussion of the steps that will be needed to implement the inter-American convention against terrorism.

Although my current responsibilities will require me to step down from the Presidency, I maintain a very active interest in the Forum and pledge that Canada will continue to play a leadership role in that important organization. We urge you to encourage your national legislators to play a role in it.

Modernization and Reform of the OAS

Canada is impressed by and can support the Secretary General’s proposals for reform of the Secretariat, with only very minor modifications.

I hope that all members will make their positions known to the Secretary General so he can proceed with this important business.

I understand that this Council too, is working to modernize and reform OAS structures and practices to enhance its capacity to deliver on our very important objectives. This is a healthy sign of adaptation to the times, and I wish you the greatest of success in your efforts.

Je vous remercie encore une fois de m’avoir offert l’occasion de m’entretenir avec vous aujourd’hui. Cette assemblée des Amériques est un lieu remarquable à visiter, et le Canada est fier de se sentir chez lui ici.

Merci - Gracias - Obrigado