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Next to Russia, Canada is the world’s second largest country despite its relatively small population of 36 million. Canada has had an official presence in Ethiopia since 1966 with the opening of the Canadian Embassy. Ethiopia opened its Embassy in Ottawa in 1962, but it is now closed. Currently, Ethiopia only has a consulate in Canada’s largest city, Toronto. The relationship goes even further back with Canadian missionaries coming to Ethiopia in the early 1950’s participating in the foundation of the Addis Ababa University, as well as through the presence of Canadian Jesuits who worked at the institution now known as the Entoto Technical and Vocational Education and Training College. Michèle Lévesque, the current Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia and Permanent Representative to the African Union, previously worked in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Morocco, as well as in several departments and offices of the Government of Canada including the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Privy Council and the Office of the Governor General. She spoke with Capital’s Elias Gebreselassie about Canada’s bilateral relationship with Ethiopia and its future direction.
Capital: How would you describe the balance of trade between Ethiopia and Canada?
Ambassador Lévesque: Canada has a growing trade relationship with Ethiopia. We hope the upcoming start of direct flights by Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa to Toronto will boost our trade relations further. In our best year, 2010 bilateral two-way merchandise trade was over 190 million Canadian Dollars (CAD), boosted by the purchase of aircrafts. This could be another outstanding year, again due to the purchase of more aircrafts announced by Ethiopian Airlines. Canadian merchandise exports to Ethiopia are varied. They include coins, machinery and equipment, while imports from Ethiopia consist mainly of agri-food products (coffee, tea, seeds and spices). Recent high profile transactions include the announced purchase of Bombardier Q400 aircraft by Ethiopian Airlines; the sale of a CAE Q400 flight simulator also to Ethiopian Airlines; and the supply of one birr coins to the National Bank of Ethiopia by the Royal Canadian Mint. With regards to services, Canadian companies are active in Ethiopia in providing engineering services to hydro power and road projects. AECOM of Canada was involved in the supervision of the recently inaugurated Ethio-Djibouti power interconnection project. In October 2003, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the least developed countries initiative was signed between Canada and Ethiopia, under which Ethiopian exporters of textile and apparel goods were given access to the Canadian market with a zero tariff option. The Canada Trade Facilitation Office is also creating opportunities for Ethiopian exporters by providing practical advice, market information and exposure in the Canadian market through promotional programs. So, as you can see, Canada is committed to promote bilateral trade with Ethiopia.
Capital: How many Ethiopians would you estimate have made Canada their home?
Ambassador Lévesque: Ethiopians in Canada include students, temporary workers, permanent residents, and citizens. The last complete Canadian Census (2006) identified 23,400 Canadians of Ethiopian origin. In the Canadian census, people have to self-identify. For example a second-generation Canadian person of Ethiopian lineage may not identify themselves as Ethio-Canadian and they would not be counted in that figure.
Capital: Canada as member of the G-8; what is it doing to promote the cause of developing nations?
Ambassador Lévesque: It is up to developing countries to orchestrate their own promotion; nobody can do it better. It is Canada’s policy to enhance aid effectiveness and coherent policy approaches that benefit developing countries. We champion their causes through our presence in the G-8, the G-20, and throughout the multilateral system, including the international financial institutions. We do this promotion with them, but they themselves must take the lead. Adopting good governance practices, respecting human rights and freedom of expression, and creating enabling environments for the private sector all contribute to effective growth.
For our part in Canada, we had our biggest impact at the 2002 G-8 summit in Kananaskis, where Canada championed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) through a CAD 500 million initiative to support NEPAD and its related Africa Action Plan. At the 2005 Gleneagles G-8 summit, Canada met its commitment to double aid to Africa by 2008-9, with disbursements of CAD 2.17 billion. Again at the L’Aquila summit, Canada was the first to pledge and fully disburse its CAD 1.2 billion commitment over three years in investments for agricultural development. Again at the Muskoka G8 summit, Canada launched the global Maternal, Newborn and Child Health initiative, committing CAD 1.1 billion in new funding (80 percent to Africa). So far, Canada has disbursed CAD 511 million in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health funds against our total commitment of CAD 2.85 billion. Finally at the 2012 Camp David summit, Canada announced new funding to support sustainable agriculture in Africa, and in particular Ethiopia.
However, there are many ways beyond traditional development assistance through which Canada supports developing countries like Ethiopia. Canadian mining companies are the largest investors in Africa, with a growing stake in Ethiopia. Canada is also a leader in developing effective corporate social responsibility guidelines for mining companies. Canadian companies are working in a range of African countries, creating jobs and developing exports.
Capital: Recently there were reports that Canada was reviewing aid to Ethiopia after Human Rights Watch alleged that tribal people in the Gambella region have been facing ongoing displacement, what’s the Canadian government’s view about this? Canada also cut aid to some developing countries like Ethiopia because of budgetary constraints; do you have any comment?
Ambassador Lévesque: Let me start by answering the first question. Canada takes allegations of human rights abuses anywhere very seriously, including in Ethiopia. This is an issue we have examined together with other donors and our Ethiopian counterparts. We expect the authorities in Ethiopia to look into any allegations and, if necessary, to take corrective measures if these allegations are true in full or in part. Our development agency, CIDA, continues to monitor the programs closely with the government of Ethiopia. As is normal, Canada attaches conditions and controls to its own development assistance in all developing countries, including in Ethiopia. You’ve heard of the situation in Mali. Because of what happened there, Canada and many other countries have discontinued their development assistance. Together, we implement safeguards and that is all done in order to ensure that development assistance reaches those who need it. All donors have the responsibility to ensure that our development assistance benefits the least privileged members of society. Canada is impressed with what Ethiopia does on poverty reduction and on human development, so we’re happy to be contributing to that progress. Advancements must continue to be made together with the Ethiopian government and people. However, we need safeguards as we need to make sure that the development assistance is provided in ways that satisfy the government of Canada and those who ‘foot the bill’ – the Canadian taxpayers.
Like many countries, Canada has had budget cuts recently. Unfortunately we have had to cut some of our development assistance programs, though our Ethiopia program was only marginally affected. I think the reason is that Ethiopia does a good job in terms of aid delivery.
Capital: How many Canadian companies are currently involved in Ethiopia, in what sectors and what is their total investment capital?
Ambassador Lévesque: According to the records of the Ethiopian Investment Agency, Canadian companies have acquired licenses in Ethiopia in the service, manufacturing, and agriculture sectors. The capital registered is just about CAD 300 million. In addition, I was telling you about the extractive industries. Thirteen Canadian companies are registered with a capital of about another CAD 10 million. That’s the fees they pay in order to be able to initiate their exploration. We would like to have more and are working on it. One company is called AECOM. It had the contract for quality control for the electrical connectivity with Djibouti. It is now working on two other contracts within Ethiopia: the supervision of construction of new transmission lines, and the construction and rehabilitation of substations. This is an area where Canada is very competent. Canada has some of the largest hydro-electric dams in the world. We also export a lot of electricity to the United States. We understand what is needed when a country like Ethiopia plans in its Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) to export electricity to Djibouti, Kenya and Sudan.