[Traduction en français]
The Chairman: I'd like to call the meeting to order.
As our first item on the agenda, we have the approval of the report of the agenda and procedure subcommittee by the steering committee. That requires eight people, so I will defer it and turn to our second order of business, the hearing of evidence from Gordon Smith, deputy minister from the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade; and Louise Fr‚chette, associate deputy minister from the Department of Finance. Mr. Smith is accompanied by Peter Boehm, who came here yesterday. Madame Fr‚chette is accompanied by Mr. Alan Gill, the director of the international finance and development division. We are particularly pleased to have you before us to today.
We intend, as this committee's primary preoccupation between now and the G-7 summit, to examine the position that the Government of Canada should take in respect of the G-7 summit, with a view to providing a report to the government that we hope will be useful both to you and to the ministers in preparation for their G-7 summit meetings in Halifax. We will therefore be devoting the majority of our time between now and the month of April to that work.
As members of the committee may recall, the deputy minister, Mr. Smith, is the sherpa, the term used for the personal assistant to the Prime Minister at these functions. Madame Fréchette, I'm informed, is the deputy sherpa or, as she informed me, sous-sherpa, a function that is not as clear in the hierarchy of summits. No doubt she will explain it as representing the Ministry of Finance.
In welcoming both of you before the committee,
madame Fréchette, en ma capacité de président, j'aimerais vous remercier de l'accueil qui nous a été fait lors de notre visite à New York, votre dernier poste d'ambassadrice … l'ONU. Bienvenue à Ottawa et bon retour de New York!
[Traduction en français]
Mr. Smith, please commence.
Mr. Gordon Smith (Deputy Minister, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.
We were very pleased to learn that this committee intended to focus on the Halifax summit over the next few months. The summit unquestionably provides a major opportunity for Canada to influence the course of international policy and to voice its concerns on the world stage. I think anything you can do to increase the level of understanding of these issues in Canada, and to help us prepare for that summit, will be of really quite extraordinary value to us.
As chair of the G-7 summit this year, Canada's role in the world is enhanced in a number of respects. First of all, being in the chair gives us the opportunity to underscore the value of our G-7 membership. We can show what we can contribute to the management of some of the major issues that the summit will deal with.
We also have the opportunity to influence substantive discussion at Halifax. In other words, we can and do look at our own agenda, our own interests and at how we feel those interests are best advanced in Halifax.
Third, we can use the opportunity of being in the chair this year to strengthen our profile with non-G-7 countries. That has important trade, investment, and foreign policy spinoffs. For example, the ASEAN foreign ministers would like to consult with us prior to the Halifax summit, and we will of course arrange that for a date to be announced later.
To go back a little bit and talk about the preparation for Halifax, there is quite a process. I think it might be worth while just to spend a few minutes explaining it.
You, Mr. Chairman, have explained that we sherpas, one from each member country of the G-7--and this year there will also be a Russian sherpa--will be involved in meeting several times before the summit to prepare for the meeting. We won't be preparing for the meeting in the sense of pre-cooking the meeting by drafting long in advance the communiqués, but in the sense of ensuring that there is common agreement on what the main issues are.
As you said, there are also sous-sherpas from both foreign ministries and finance ministries, in addition to political directors, involved in the preparation for these meetings.
It might interest you to know that the sherpas, being very much the personal choice of the Prime Minister, in fact come from a variety of different places in the machineries of the governments of the different member countries. In the case of the British, for example, the British sherpa works at 10 Downing Street; the French sherpa works directly for President Mitterrand. In other cases there may be people in finance ministries, some in foreign ministries.
The point I want to make is that all of these people are chosen because they can speak on behalf of their leaders.
I mentioned there is a Russian sherpa. Russia will participate in the preparatory process, but in the preparatory process that leads to the discussions that they, the Russians, will participate in at Halifax. This was settled at the Naples summit last year. This essentially involves political issues, although the Russians have indicated they would like to participate in some discussion of global economic issues as well.
Last year, from a Canadian point of view, the Naples summit was a successful one. We obtained G-7 endorsement in the communiqué of language we proposed on trade and endorsement of a Canadian proposal to host a conference on partnership for economic transformation in the Ukraine. That took place in Winnipeg last October.
In Naples we focused on jobs and growth, international trade, the Ukraine conference, and nuclear safety. These issues will come back in Halifax in a somewhat different form. You can in fact get a different idea of what will be discussed in Halifax by looking carefully at the communiqué of the Naples summit.
You will see there--and I will come to these points in a moment--a review of the international financial institutions, now that the WTO is up and running; the relationship between that and the other two Bretton Woods institutions; national environment plans, which you see a reference to in the Naples communiqué; nuclear safety; and reform of the summit process itself. This is the last of one of the cycles of summits, and summit leaders do talk about what kind of changes they would like to see take place in the summit.
There we have some interests of our own. We would like to see the summit become less formal, less, if I can use the word, pretentious, with less ceremony. We are endeavouring to persuade others that this would be desirable and would indeed help lead to a more substantive outcome of the meetings.
Now, it's clear that a focal point for Halifax is going to be the future of the the Bretton Woods institutions and, at least to some extent, the United Nations, both these institutions of course now dating back half a century.
One point I do want to underline here is that no one has any pretence that the summit can speak for everybody in the world. We can talk about these issues from our perspective and put out certain ideas, but there is no question in anybody's mind that decisions can be taken on these institutions that have very broad membership without all those that participate in those organizations being involved.
I think at this point it's likely that the focus in Halifax will be on the international system and the capacity of the system to respond effectively to a variety of international issues that we see as dominating the agenda over the next few years, including economic growth; how one deals with poverty and debt; furthering international trade liberalization; the environment, which I've mentioned; managing international conflict and tensions; international crime, including drug trafficking. A number of these issues, of course, or virtually all of them, have been discussed at previous summits.
The point I'm trying to make here is that the focus will be on the system. There is no agreement yet as to--and I wouldn't expect that at this point in the process--exactly which institutions and in what way the focus will take place. The point I want to make here, though, is that what we are looking at above all is issues, and I think the discussion will focus on issues as opposed to institutions; in other words, the capacity of the institutions to deal with issues.
One that is going to be quite important that I would just flag in a bit more detail is that of nuclear safety, and that relates also to the Ukraine and the whole question of the future of Chernobyl. Discussions on that subject have really already begun.
I've mentioned there will be a number of meetings of sherpas with their sous-sherpas and political directors leading up to June. At this point we envisage two other meetings, but other meetings will be taking place as well very shortly in Brussels--an Information Society ministerial meeting, where Minister Manley will lead the Canadian delegation. There will also be, I might add, a strong Canadian business participation in that meeting. There will be a meeting of environment ministers in Hamilton at the end of April or early May. These issues will also be discussed at the OECD--where of course there's a broader representation than there is in the G-7--when the OECD ministerial takes place on May 23 and 24, and in the QUAD.
Now, the QUAD, as many of you may know, is the meetings that take place periodically of trade ministers of the United States, Japan, Canada and the European Commission, with the commission speaking on behalf of the European Union. In particular, they will obviously focus on the trade agenda.
As I indicated, Russia will be involved in the Halifax meeting. Basically you can look at Halifax as taking place over three days, the first day being a dinner of the seven, the second day being the meetings of the seven--and I would add it would be a working dinner--at the end of the second day the Russians arriving, a dinner then, and meetings then occurring on the third day, those focusing on the political issues.
So we look forward to having Russia participate in those discussions, although, as I've said, the Russians have indicated--and they've now indicated publicly as well as privately to us--that they are desirous to participate in some discussion of global economic issues.
Now, in leading up the Halifax summit, we are doing the maximum degree of outreach we can in the country. To the best of our financial ability, we are assisting those who want to organize conferences to do so. We are talking to the provinces. So we really are trying to collect ideas from as many places as possible.
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