On the occasion of Greece’s Independence Day, and this year’s bicentennial anniversary commemorating the beginning of the Greek War of Independence, it is an honor for me as Canada’s ambassador to extend my warmest congratulations and best wishes to the people of the Hellenic Republic.
Canada and Greece enjoy excellent relations based on strong people-to-people ties, and we share fundamental values that underpin our ongoing cooperation. We are like-minded partners on significant global issues, including defense and security, human rights and gender equality, as well as climate change. Our commercial relationship is strong. And we are both advocates of the rules-based international order, including open and predictable trade.
Our people-to-people ties date to early in the 19th century, with Greek immigrants settling in Montreal as early as 1843. Greek immigration increased considerably in the early 20th century, and today, the Greek-Canadian diaspora numbers over a quarter of a million people. This community has played a significant role as an agent of positive change both in Canada and in Greece; they are a fusion of the culture, the interests and the history of both Greece, their old homeland, and Canada, their new home. The diaspora act as a bridge between our two nations, serving to strengthen our partnership.
As next year will mark the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two nations, let me acknowledge some of the contributions Greek emissaries to Canada have made over the years. Greek diplomats have cultivated strong ties between our countries, increasing the trade and investment that have allowed Canadian businesses to flourish in Greece and Greek entrepreneurs to launch many successful enterprises in Canada. They have helped not only to keep the Greek diaspora in Canada connected with their family here in Greece, but have opened up Greece to all Canadians by sharing your stories, your language, and of course, your mouthwatering culinary traditions.
Greece and Canada share fundamental values, including our commitment to international peace and security; under NATO, we work side by side in Kosovo, as we did in Afghanistan. Last year, the Hellenic Navy and the Hellenic Air Force rushed to our side to help with the search for the fallen when a Canadian military helicopter went down in the Ionian Sea. I will remain forever grateful for your country’s steadfast support during that time.
Canada and Greece also stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of media freedom, a fundamental pillar of democracy; as members of the Media Freedom Coalition, we work together to advocate for and support press freedom, online as well as offline, and the safety of journalists and media workers. We jointly work to advance inclusiveness in business with a focus on LGBTQ2+ communities, and we exchange ideas and best practices as we both work towards achieving full gender equality.
We understand how connected the Greek people are to the seas, and we stand ready to help protect the marine environment and grow the blue economy. And we salute Greece for being the first country in Southeast Europe to announce a coal phaseout with an ambitious target date.
These are but a few of the many examples that demonstrate our commitment to one another as allies, and our joint commitment to bettering the world.
Canada and Greece have enjoyed a strong trade and investment relationship over the years and this commercial relationship continues to grow. Canada is one of Greece’s largest non-European foreign investors; investment is a dynamic element of our relationship, with both countries welcoming each other’s foreign direct investment and benefiting from it.
Digitalization and innovative industries, such as clean technology, are expected to dominate the economy of the future, and both Canada and Greece have many strengths in these areas. Canada was recently recognized as a global leader in clean technology and innovation by the Global Cleantech Innovation Index, while Greece is rapidly becoming a destination of choice for tech firms and expert workers. As the pace of implementation of clean technologies and digitalization accelerates, the opportunities for greater collaboration between Canadian and Greek enterprises will expand even further.
In a time of global uncertainty, Canada remains grateful for like-minded partners, such as Greece, but we must all work to leverage the tools at our disposal to ensure a strong and sustainable economic recovery from Covid-19. The pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on countries around the world and we need to encourage our businesses to take advantage of the stability and opportunities the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) provides during our collective recovery.
CETA marks a new chapter in the relationship between Canada and Greece, as well as the rest of the EU. In fact, two-way goods and services traded between the two countries averaged €1.2 billion annually during 2018 and 2019, a 96.4% increase when compared to 2016, before the agreement was implemented.
In addition to removing nearly all import duties on goods, it also ensures that the benefits of trade are more widely shared within societies. It includes commitments to high levels of labor and environmental protection, while creating new opportunities for Greek farmers and food producers. It opens up the Canadian services market to Greek firms, enabling them to bid for public contracts in Canada or to work together on research and innovation, while making it easier for Greek professionals to work in Canada. Through CETA, we can encourage even more trade and investment between Greece and Canada, including helping our small businesses export more to one another.
The pandemic has highlighted that international trade in goods and services, including tourism, is critical to a successful reboot of both Canada’s and Greece’s national economies. Now, more than ever, it is important that our governments, associations and businesses work together to keep supply chains open, strengthen and diversify our trading relationship, and support rules-based trade for the 21st century.
Let me take this opportunity to reiterate Canada’s unwavering commitment to continuing to build our partnership, which strengthens us both, through the exchange of ideas and best practices. Indeed, we believe that cooperation is the key to fulfilling the highest aspirations of our societies and to building resilient institutions equipped to address unforeseen challenges.
This anniversary is an opportunity for us all to reflect on the contributions of Greece. From philosophy and mathematics, to astronomy and the arts, Greece has helped shape the most fundamental aspects of world history. I speak for Canada when I say how excited we are to see this enduring friendship evolve even further, as we work as partners to build the future. That is why this year’s bicentennial is a truly global celebration, looking back to history, and forward to the promise of tomorrow.
Mark Allen is Canada’s ambassador to Greece.