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Canada is a vital partner in the Americas

Arturo Valenzuela

When U.S. President Barack Obama made Canada his first foreign visit as president, it served to underline the powerful friendship that exists between our two countries. This friendship is based on shared principles, mutual economic and security interests, and common values. Canada is our top trading partner, with trade volume reaching $430 billion last year. We share a 5,500-mile border, one that is the longest between any two countries in the world. Indeed, the depth and breadth of the relationship between the United States and Canada continues to grow. The Obama administration views Canada as a steadfast partner in addressing crucial issues that range from global climate change to securing peace in Afghanistan to restoring the health of the world economy. But perhaps nowhere does U.S.-Canadian partnership hold more promise than in our collaborative effort with the other countries of the Americas to achieve a Western Hemisphere that is prosperous, secure and well-governed. 

Since taking office, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has proven to be a committed advocate for his country’s engagement in the hemisphere. In 2007, Prime Minister Harper described Canada as “a country of the Americas,” and pledged that “Canada is committed to playing a bigger role in the Americas and to doing so for the long term.” The Canadian government has fulfilled that pledge, and the hemispheric community is stronger as a result. 

Canada’s decision to become a full member of the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1990 not only marked a pivotal moment in Canada’s embrace of the hemisphere, but also injected important new energy into the inter-American system. Canada has made a number of important contributions to the OAS’s collective achievements, including the establishment of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001 as mandated by the Quebec Summit of the Americas, and the Declaration on Security in the Americas in 2003. Canada is currently the second largest contributor to the OAS, and additional Canadian voluntary contributions have supported electoral observation missions, crisis prevention and resolution, the inter-American human rights system, judicial reform, mine action programs, counter-narcotics activities and the advancement of gender equality. 

The United States sees Canada as an important partner in strengthening the region’s multilateral bodies. The OAS is the oldest regional organization in the world, and we believe that it has a dynamic role to play today, in protecting the interests of all members, large and small, and providing a framework for effective action to advance common interests. We support the OAS as the foremost multilateral organization in the hemisphere, but, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has emphasized, in order for the OAS to live up to its ideals it must refocus on its core mission of advancing strong democratic institutions that foster peace, citizen security and opportunity for all. Now is the time for the OAS to move ahead with implementing the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Canada’s leadership on behalf of expanding democratic practice and respect for human rights will be vital to this effort.

Canada’s strong commitment to Haiti has been a distinguishing feature of its hemispheric policy. While Canada has long had special ties to Haiti based in a strong humanitarian effort and supported by deep cultural and familial bonds, Canada’s engagement in Haiti since the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake has been exemplary. Canada co-chaired the March 2010 Haiti Donors Conference and pledged about $600 million toward post-earthquake aid and reconstruction. In addition, 2,000 Canadian Forces troops helped build shelters and provide medical services. 

Canada will host the sixth North American Leaders Summit in 2011. This will be an important opportunity for the leaders of the United States, Canada and Mexico to improve our co-operation on public health, energy and the environment, advance North American economic competitiveness and co-operative security, and discuss regional and global challenges. 

As the United States and Canada look to the future with our partners in Latin America and the Caribbean, so much of what we must help accomplish in this hemisphere also hinges on a bold vision —of the extraordinary promise of an inter-American community with shared values, shared challenges, a shared history and, most importantly, shared responsibility. The Obama administration recognizes that advancing that vision will require sustained, informed, creative and competent engagement, drawing upon the experience and capacity of all the countries of the Americas. Canada’s experience and vitality, and its strong and enduring commitment to the region, is essential to our collective effort to realize political and social progress for all citizens of the Americas. 

Arturo Valenzuela is Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

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