Tagged: PolicyTaxation

Minister Fast Holds 'Go Global' Workshop in Uxbridge, Ontario, to Boost Canadian Exports and Jobs

Supporting and partnering with small and medium-sized businesses to seize opportunities abroad is a key part of our pro-export, pro-jobs plan, says Minister Fast

March 30, 2015 – Uxbridge, Ontario – Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

The Honourable Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade, alongside Jayson Myers, President and CEO of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, and Peter Hall, Vice-President and Chief Economist of Export Development Canada, today hosted an export workshop designed to provide small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with the tools and practical information they need to take advantage of international business opportunities to export.

Today’s export workshop in Uxbridge, part of a cross-country series launched by Minister Fast in November 2014, was attended by more than 50 participants. To date, 13 workshops have been hosted across Canada, attracting a total of more than 1,150 SME representatives.

By bringing together the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, Export Development Canada, Business Development Bank of Canada and Canadian Commercial Corporation, these export workshops, delivered in partnership with Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, provide a one-stop shop offering information and tools to SMEs to help them succeed abroad.

As part of Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan, Prime Minister Harper recently announced a total of $50 million over five years in direct financial assistance to Canadian SMEs for market research and participation in trade missions. It is expected that this funding will help between 500 and 1,000 Canadian entrepreneurs per year reach their full export potential.

The Prime Minister also announced additional funding of $42 million over five years to expand the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service, with $9.2 million a year ongoing. This builds on the government’s recent expansion of our trade services in China by opening four new trade offices, bringing the total number of offices there to 15, with more than 100 trade commissioners, and strengthening our support network in India with eight offices and nearly 50 trade commissioners on the ground.

Following Minister Fast’s announcement just under a year ago, there are now more than 25 trade commissioners embedded in business associations across Canada in order to gain better insight into the needs of export-oriented industries.

With GMAP, through economic diplomacy and under a whole-of-government approach to export, the Harper Government has revolutionized Canada’s trade-promotion efforts by ensuring Canadian businesses receive the full range of support and services they need to find real export success in global markets, which creates jobs and opportunities for workers and their families here at home.

Minister Fast invited participants to join him on his upcoming trade mission to the Philippines, which will take place in May 2015.

The next export workshop will be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on April 8, 2015.

Quick Facts

  • One in five Canadian jobs is dependent on exports, representing 60 percent of the country’s economy.
  • Since 2006, the Harper government has concluded trade agreements with 38 countries, bringing the total to 43 countries.
  • As a result of the new trade agreement with the European Union and the entry into force of the Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement on January 1, 2015, Canadian businesses will soon benefit from preferential access to more than half of the entire global marketplace.
  • There are more than one million SMEs across Canada, with only 41,000 currently exporting. Under GMAP, the Harper Government set the goal of nearly doubling—from 11,000 to 21,000—the number of Canadian SMEs exporting to emerging markets.
  • Since 2006 the government has taken significant steps to improve support for small and medium-sized businesses, including:
    • reducing the small business tax rate to 11 percent;
    • increasing the income limit for the small business tax rate from $300,000 to $500,000;
  • implementing the one-for-one rule to cut unnecessary red tape, saving Canadian businesses more than $22 million in administrative burden as of June 2014, as well as 290,000 hours in time spent dealing with red tape; and
  • improving access to capital for innovative entrepreneurs by launching the Venture Capital Action Plan.

Quotes

“Our government is committed to working shoulder-to-shoulder with Canadian small and medium-sized businesses in Uxbridge and across the country to seize export opportunities and create jobs. Our efforts to support exporters are yielding significant results. I look forward to engaging with many more Canadian businesses across the country in the upcoming months.

“We are breaking down the silos between our export agencies, taking a whole-of-government approach to exporting and providing the tools, services and information that you and your businesses need to succeed.”

– Ed Fast, Minister of International Trade

Related Products

Associated Links

Contacts

Max Moncaster
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Ed Fast
Minister of International Trade
343-203-7332

Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
343-203-7700
media@international.gc.ca
Follow us on Twitter: @Canada_Trade
Like us on Facebook: Canada’s International Trade Plan-DFATD

Canada Ends 2014 with Double-Digit Export Growth and Trade Surplus

For the first time, Canada’s two-way trade surpassed $1 trillion, at nearly $1.1 trillion

February 5, 2015 – Ottawa, Ontario – Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada

International Trade Minister Ed Fast today issued the following statement on Statistics Canada’s release of preliminary 2014 merchandise trade data:

“The significant export growth seen in today’s report, reaching double digits, at 10.3 percent, is good news for all Canadians.

“Following the worst global economic recession since the Great Depression, our low tax, balanced budget and pro-export plan is delivering positive results. While the global economy remains fragile and uncertain, Canada recorded a trade surplus of $5.2 billion for 2014.

“Economic and financial security, creating and protecting jobs—including in the export sector, and lower taxes for hard-working Canadians and their families, these are the priorities of the Harper government.

“2014 was the most successful year for trade in Canadian history, with the conclusion of the historic Canada-European Union trade agreement and the landmark Canada-Korea Free Trade Agreement. These accomplishments provide world-class Canadian products with preferential access to more than half of the world’s economy, laying the foundation for future export growth, while protecting and creating jobs.

“In 2015, under Canada’s Global Markets Action Plan [GMAP], our government will continue to deliver the support and tools to help our Canadian businesses, especially our small and medium-sized enterprises [SMEs], reach their full export potential. Since their launch last November, I have held seven Go Global export workshops, which were attended by more than 500 SME representatives, and I will host more than 20 in the upcoming months to continue to boost exports and ensure that businesses seize the opportunities created by Canada’s trade agreements.

Quick Facts

  • Canadian exports to the world jumped more than 10 percent compared to 2013, reaching almost $529 billion in 2014.
  • Canada has recorded a trade surplus of $5.2 billion, compared to a deficit of $7.2 billion last year.
  • Canada’s exports to the United States reached more than $400 billion in 2014, an 11.6-percent growth.
  • In 2014, exports to the European Union grew by 14.6 percent.

Associated Links

Contacts

Max Moncaster
Press Secretary
Office of the Honourable Ed Fast
Minister of International Trade
343-203-7332

Media Relations Office
Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada
343-203-7700
media@international.gc.ca
Follow us on Twitter: @Canada_Trade
Like us on Facebook: Canada’s International Trade Plan-DFATD

Press Briefing by Press Secretary Josh Earnest

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

January 05, 2015

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:30 P.M. EST

MR. EARNEST:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s nice to see you all.  Hope you’re feeling as rested and recharged as many of us here at the White House.  I know that I am. 

Some of you are — although I don’t see too many tan faces in the audiences, just on the side.  So —

Q    Happy New Year.

MR. EARNEST:  Happy New Year to you, Goyal.  So I don’t have anything to start, Julie, so let’s go straight to your questions.

Q    Thanks, Josh.  Happy New Year.  Congress comes back tomorrow with Republicans in charge, and I’m wondering if the President has spoken to Mitch McConnell or the Republican leaders either while he was in Hawaii or since he’s been back, and if he has any plans to meet with them this week.

MR. EARNEST:  Julie, I don’t know of any presidential calls that occurred while the President was in Hawaii.  I believe that both the President and the incoming Senate Majority Leader were spending some downtime with families over the holidays.  But I would anticipate that the President will have an opportunity to sit down with congressional leaders in the first couple of weeks that they’re back here.  I don’t have a specific date at this point, but I would anticipate that that’s something that will happen if not this week, then the week or two after that.

Q    He’s occasionally spoken to Republicans at their retreat; that’s in Pennsylvania this year.  Do you know if he has plans to travel to that?  Has he been invited?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t know whether or not he’s been invited.  I am aware that those are their plans, but I don’t know yet whether or not the President will attend.

Q    Okay.  One of the first things that McConnell has said that he plans to bring up is the Keystone pipeline.  There’s going to be a hearing on it on Wednesday.  The House plans to vote relatively soon.  The President was pretty non-committal in his end-of-the-year press conference.  When he was asked about a veto, he said we’ll take that up in the new year.  We’re now in the new year, we know that this is coming up.  If Congress sends him a bill forcing him to move forward on the Keystone pipeline, will he veto it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’m going to reserve judgment on a specific piece of legislation until we actually see what language is included in that specific piece of legislation.  I will say, as you noted, Julie, he did discuss this at his end-of-the-year news conference a couple of weeks ago, and he did note that the pipeline would have I think what he described as a nominal impact on gas prices in this country.  But he was concerned about the impact that it could have on carbon pollution and the contribution it could make to carbon pollution, the negative impact that that has on the public health of people all across the country, and the impact that that has on our ability to build communities across the country.  As we see weather disasters worsen, as we see in the form of wildfires or more severe hurricanes, that only adds to costs.  So the President does harbor those concerns.

The other concern, frankly, that we have is that this is a — that pipeline projects like this in the past had been resolved in a fairly straightforward administrative way; that there is a process that is conducted by the State Department to evaluate a project and determine whether or not it’s in the national interest of the United States.  That’s how previous pipelines like this have been considered, and we believe this one should be considered in that same way too.

The last thing I’ll say about this is there also is an outstanding ruling that we’re waiting on from a judge in the state of Nebraska to determine what the route of the pipeline would be if it’s built through the state of Nebraska, which means there’s actually not a finalized plan on the table yet for final sign-off.  So we don’t want to put the cart before the horse here, and that is why in the past we’ve taken a rather dim view of legislative attempts to circumvent this well-established process.

So all that said, I’m not prepared at this point to issue a veto threat related to that specific piece of legislation, but we will take a careful look at it with all those things in mind.

Q    Is it fair to say that the President would be urging Democrats to vote against the legislation approving the pipeline?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’ll see what the legislation actually includes before we start urging people to vote one way or the other.

Q    Okay.  And if I can just ask on one other topic, just on something that came up while the President was in Hawaii.  Representative Steve Scalise apologized for speaking to a white supremacist group 12 years ago.  Does the President believe that Scalise should stay in leadership?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Julie, it is the responsibility of members of the House Republican conference to choose their leaders.  And I’m confident that in previous situations we’ve seen members of the conference actually make the case that who they choose to serve in their leadership says a lot about who they are, what their values are, and what the priorities of the conference should be.  Now, we’ve also heard a lot from Republicans, particularly over the last few years, including the Chairman of the Republican Party, about how Republicans need to broaden their appeal to young people and to women, to gays and to minorities; that the success of their party will depend on their ability to broaden that outreach.

So it ultimately will be up to individual Republicans in Congress to decide whether or not elevating Mr. Scalise into leadership will effectively reinforce that strategy.

Q    So far, Republican leadership seems to be standing by Scalise.  Does the President feel that’s appropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, he believes that it’s ultimately their decision to make.  But there is no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are.  I mean, ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage.  So it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.
Jeff.

Q    Josh, the Afghan President said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that the United States should consider reexamining its timetable for taking U.S. coalition troops out of Afghanistan.  Is that something that the White House has discussed with him?  And is it something that the U.S. would consider at this point?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, Jeff, what the President has been really clear about is what our strategy in Afghanistan is; that after the end of the year, we are now in a situation where the combat mission in Afghanistan for U.S. military personnel has ended.  The Afghans are now solely responsible for the security of their country.

There is an enduring U.S. military presence and NATO coalition military presence in Afghanistan to carry out two other missions.  The first is a counterterrorism mission.  We continue to see remnants of al Qaeda that do have designs on destabilizing the region and U.S. interests.  We also continue to see a need for U.S. military personnel to play an important role in training and equipping Afghan security forces to continue to take the fight to those terrorist elements and to preserve the security situation in the country of Afghanistan.

There are a lot of hard-won gains that have been made in Afghanistan as a result of the bravery of U.S. military personnel and our coalition partners.  Much of that work — many of those accomplishments are due to the effective coordination between United States military and Afghan security forces, and we want to see that kind of coordination continue, even as Republicans take on — Republicans — even as Afghans take sole responsibility for their security situation.

Q    Freudian slip?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  We’re all sort of working out the cobwebs from the layoff. 

Q    What was your reaction then, or the White House’s reaction, to his comments in that interview?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, and I guess this is the other part of the answer that’s also important is the fact that we continue to have military personnel in Afghanistan to carry out these two missions.  The counterterrorism mission and the training mission, the training of Afghan security forces, is indicative of the ongoing commitment that the United States has to the government of Afghanistan; that we built a strong working relationship with the unified government there and the United States and countries around the world who have invested so much in Afghan security continue to be invested in the success, both political and economic, of the Afghan people.

And the United States is prepared to continue that partnership.  But as it relates to the strategy associated with our military footprint, we’ve been pretty clear about what that strategy is.  More importantly, the Commander-in-Chief has been clear about what that strategy is.

Q    On a separate topic, oil prices continue to fall with some resulting falls in the stock market today.  Is the White House concerned about this trend?  And are you watching it?  What is your reaction to it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple of things about that.  The first is, I’m always very hesitant to draw any conclusions or offer any analysis about movements in the stock market.  I know that there are some who have observed — this is a little of a chicken-and-the-egg thing — that some of the fall in energy prices is a direct response to a weakening economy and a fall in the stock market.  So it may not be that one is causing the other; there could sort of be a reinforcing effect there.

What I will say more broadly is that we’ve talked before about why we believe that falling gas prices are, as a general matter, pretty good for the economy and it certainly is good for middle-class families that are being pinched.  And when they go to the pump and they see that the prices at the pump are up to a dollar cheaper than they were last year, that certainly means more money in the pocket of middle-class families.  That’s good for those middle-class families that the President believes are so critical to the success of our economy.

It also is a testament to the success that the U.S. has had over the last several years, in part because of the policies put forward by this administration, to increase production of domestic oil and gas.  It also is a testament to some of the policies this administration put in place five years ago to raise fuel-efficiency standards.

Q    But, Josh, I understand all these things that you want to list, but is the White House concerned about the economic implications of these falling oil prices?

MR. EARNEST:  This is something that we’re always monitoring.  I believe we talked about this a little bit at the end of last year.  But we’re always monitoring the impact that any sort of policy area would have on the economy, so it’s certainly something that we’re watching.  I think that as a general matter, speaking broadly, the impact of falling energy prices has been good for the U.S. economy.

Michelle.

Q    Any response to these recent statements by North Korea?  And are you surprised by the nature of some of them — that they’re coming from a state, even though that state is North Korea?

MR. EARNEST:  They’re not particularly surprising.  We’ve seen comments from the North Koreans in the past.  As it relates to the subject that’s received so much attention in the last few weeks, the hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment, the administration spoke pretty clearly at the end of last week by putting in place a new economic sanctions regime against three North Korean entities and 10 individuals as part of our proportional response to that specific hacking incident.

Q    And the speculation that’s been out there from some analysts that it actually might have come from somewhere else besides North Korea, does the administration see no merit to some of those sort of statements out there?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, this is an investigation that’s being conducted by the FBI.  They’ve obviously devoted significant resources to this.  They have their own area of expertise when it comes to these matters, and they have come to the conclusion, based on the evidence, that North Korea was responsible for this.  And I don’t see any reason to disagree with the conclusions that they’ve arrived at.  If you have questions about why they’ve arrived at that conclusion, you can direct it to them.

Q    And the President called this incident an act of “cyber vandalism.”  But we know that there is a review going on as to whether North Korea should be on the list of state sponsors of terror.  So does that mean that there’s a possibility the President is going to reconsider what he called this hack?  Or is that review of North Korea possibly being on the list based on purely other activities by North Korea? 

MR. EARNEST:  It does not mean that the President is reconsidering the way that he talks about this, but what is prudent is that our national security team is always reviewing the actions, particularly of nations like North Korea, to determine the proper policy response, and in some cases, whether or not that includes including them on the state sponsor of terrorism list.

Now, there are — I will say that there is a very specific technical definition for how states, or why individual countries, should be added to that list.  And so we will work very carefully to determine whether or not the actions that have been taken by North Korea meet that very specific technical definition.

Q    And I mean, the fact that North Korea is not on that list, Cuba is, both are under review — that doesn’t say a lot about that list and its weight.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I actually think that it might actually say quite a bit about the weight of that list.  The fact that we take so seriously those nations that do sponsor acts of terrorism, that they are in a very small club.  But that is a list that you don’t want to be on, and it’s a list that we take very seriously as we formulate a foreign policy that protects the national security interest of the United States. 

And the fact that we make a very — take a very deliberative approach to determining whether or not a country should be added to the list or removed from the list I think is an indication of just how serious a matter a state sponsor of terrorism is.

Q    Thanks, Josh.

MR. EARNEST:  Move around a little bit.  Justin.

Q    I want to go back to Mitch McConnell.  He, in an interview this morning — from the Washington Post, said that the single best thing that the Republican Congress can do is not mess up the playing field for 2016, the Republican presidential nominee.  So I’m kind of interested in the inverse of that question, which is, is that President Obama’s kind of number-one priority headed in for the last two years?  Or to what extent is preparing the Democratic Party for the 2016 elections and the leader that would presumably continue his vision a priority or something that’s on your guys’ agenda?  And conversely, to what extent are you guys trying to foil Mitch McConnell’s plan to sort of — he wanted the Republicans to seem less crazy, I guess —

MR. EARNEST:  Scary, I think is the —

Q    Scary, yes.

MR. EARNEST:  Typically, the beginning of the year is a time for optimism, where we set our sights high, where we really pursue our grandest ambitions, we make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves about how much we’re going to read more books or go to the gym more often.  And suggesting that they’re going to be less scary is not exactly the highest ceiling I can imagine for their legislative accomplishments this year, but a worthy pursuit nonetheless.

What I will say is that the President does have, in the vein of ambition, a lot that he wants to try to get done this year.  And over the course of this week even, you’ll hear the President talk quite a bit about steps that he can take to strengthen our economy, particularly to benefit middle-class families.  The President believes our economy is strongest when we’re growing from the middle out.  And I do think you can hear the President — expect to hear the President talking in detailed fashion about some of the executive actions that he can pursue and some of the legislative proposals that he’ll put forward that he believes deserve bipartisan support.

And this is something — this is a little different than what we’ve done in the past — this is an opportunity for him to talk about the State of the Union address as we get closer to the date where he’ll actually give the speech.  So a little bit more of a preview than we’ve seen in previous years. 

And I do think it is indicative of the kind of energy that the President is feeling, and, frankly, even optimism that the President is feeling; that we can build on the kind of momentum that we’re seeing in our economy right now to put in place policies that will be good for middle-class families and be good for the broader U.S. economy.

Are Democrats and Republicans going to agree on every aspect of the President’s strategy?  Probably not.  But are there some things where we feel like we can work together to get things done that will be consistent with the ambitions of both parties, and consistent with a strategy that will be in the best interests of the country and middle-class families in the country?  Yes, I think we can.  And whether it’s — I also noted in that same interview, Senator McConnell talked about finding new ways to invest in infrastructure.  He talked about policies we can put in place to open up markets for U.S. businesses.  And he talked about tax reform. 

So these are all areas where there does stand the potential for bipartisan agreement, and the President is certainly going to pursue them.  The President is also going to pursue some other things that Republicans may not like that he can do on his own.

Q    So I mean, I recognize I kind of teed you up there to talk about the next week, but I am actually interested in the sort of 2016 question, the extent to which this is starting to enter your guys’ kind of calculations.  Politically, obviously the President’s time in office is waning, but his legacy and — will be extended and especially influenced by his successor.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, the President, as you may have heard from some of my colleagues after the last midterm election, that the way — the President sees it a little bit differently; that essentially, today marks the beginning of the fourth quarter of his presidency.  And as the President, an avid basketball fan, has observed, a lot of really important things happen in the fourth quarter.  And I think the President believes that’s true not just in an NBA basketball game, it’s also true of a presidency.  And he wants to make it true of his presidency.

And that I do think is why you will see the President pretty energized when he appears later this week, that he’s going to have a pretty ambitious list of priorities that he wants to achieve.  We’re going to look for opportunities to work with Republicans to make progress on those priorities.  And where Republicans don’t agree, you’re going to see the President take decisive action to make progress on his own where he can.

And that is, I recognize, not a significant departure from the strategy that we have employed in the last couple of years, but I do think that you’re going to see the President be even more energized and even more determined to make progress on behalf of middle-class families.  That’s, after all, the reason the President ran for this office in the first place.  And the President is going to spend a lot of time focused on that here in the fourth quarter of his presidency.

And I guess — so I guess the last part of that is — and all that is to say, that means that the presidential election in 2016 is quite a ways off still.  And the President believes that we should be focused on the kinds of policy priorities that are going to benefit middle-class families.  There will be plenty of time for politics.

Q    And then just on Steve Scalise, I know that you talked a little bit about it with Julie, but I’m wondering, did the President have a reaction to hearing that he had attended these rallies or the statement that you attributed to him?  Have you had a conversation with him about it?  Or does he think Steve Scalise should resign over this?  Are there those sorts of kind of feelings or sentiments coming from —

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to him directly about this specific issue.  I can tell you that — but I do feel confident in relaying to you that the President does believe that ultimately it’s the responsibility of individual members of the House Republican conference to decide who they want to elect as their — as the leader of their conference.  And certainly, who those elected leaders are says a lot about who the conference is and what their priorities and values are.  And they’re going to have to answer for themselves whether or not elevating somebody who described himself as “David Duke without the baggage” sort of reinforces the kind of message that the House Republican conference wants to project.

Cheryl.

Q    Yes, thanks.  Just on the legislative agenda, do you see the omnibus as sort of the model where you’re going to start seeing legislation that may have some things that you really don’t like but you’re going to sign it anyway because it’s probably the best compromise you’re going to get?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question.  I would anticipate that anything — that the most substantial pieces of legislation that we hope to get done will necessarily be compromises.  It doesn’t necessarily mean that those pieces of legislation will include things that we strenuously oppose, it just may be that there are pieces of legislation that we feel like don’t go quite far enough but are certainly a positive step in the right direction.

But I think either of those scenarios fits what would be an acceptable definition of a compromise.  And I would anticipate that when we’re operating in an environment where we have Republicans in charge of the Congress and a Democrat in charge of the White House, that compromise is going to be the name of the game. 

And I certainly will hope, and the President certainly hopes, that Republicans are in — will pursue our work together in that spirit.

Olivier.

Q    Josh, the country’s largest police union today said the national hate crime statute should be expanded to include attacks on police officers.  Does the President agree?

MR. EARNEST:  I hadn’t seen that statement.  I think that’s something that we’ll have to consider.  Obviously, we certainly condemn in the strongest possible terms any sort of violence against police officers.  And just a couple of weeks ago in New York we saw a brazen act of violence that really shook that community in New York.  And even here a couple weeks later, the thoughts and prayers of everybody here at the White House, including the President and First Lady, continue to be with the families of those two officers who were killed in that terrible attack.

So I think the question, though, is ultimately, what are the kinds of things that we can do to make it safer for police officers to do their important work.  And this will be among the things that will be considered by the taskforce that the President appointed at the end of last year.  They’re going to be holding their first public meeting next week.  They’ll hear from the representatives of law enforcement organizations.  Because the President does believe that building stronger bonds of trust between the community and the law enforcement officers who are sworn to serve and protect that community is in the best interest, both of the police officers and the citizens of those communities. 

So trying to find that common ground and putting in place policies and looking for best practices where other communities have been able to identify that common ground is going to be part of the very important work of this taskforce and the President is looking forward to their findings.

Jon.

Q    Back to North Korea.  Given that there have been some doubts raised about — private-sector analysts looking at this and raising doubts about whether or not North Korea was actually responsible for the hack, is there some consideration to declassifying the evidence that shows that, in fact, North Korea has done this to give some confidence in the finding of the FBI on this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I know that I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there were a couple of private-sector organizations that have endorsed the findings of the FBI.  So there are some people who have looked at the evidence and come down on a couple different sides of this.  Obviously what they’re dealing with here is something that’s pretty sensitive.  The evidence that they have reviewed and obtained by making it public does give a pretty strong indication to the North Koreans and, frankly, to other bad actors about the techniques that we use to investigate and to attribute these kinds of attacks. 

So it’s a tricky business here.  I wouldn’t rule out in the future that the FBI may be able to be more transparent about their findings.  But I’d refer you to them in terms of what they feel like they can comfortably release without undermining some of the strategies that they use, both to protect our infrastructure but also to investigate intrusions.

Q    And by using the phrase or the word cyber vandalism to describe this, is the President downplaying the significance of it?  Cyber vandalism, or the word “vandalism” sounds a lot less serious than the word terrorism, as some others have suggested.

MR. EARNEST:  I think it sounds less serious, but the President certainly believes — takes this incident, this attack, as something serious.  It had a serious financial impact on this American company.  It obviously had a serious impact on some of the values that we hold dear in this country about freedom of expression and freedom of speech. 

So it was not the President’s intent to downplay this at all.  I think the President was looking for a way that most accurately described exactly what had occurred.

Q    Okay.  Two other topics.  One, the news over the weekend that Boko Haram has taken over a Nigerian base on the border with Chad.  How much confidence does the White House have in the ability of the Nigerian government to deal with this threat?  How significant do you think the threat of Boko Haram is, and what’s the United States — is there any role for the United States to do anything about it?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’ll say a couple things about this, Jon.  The first is, there obviously is a counterterrorism cooperation relationship between the United States and a number of countries in Africa, including Nigeria.  And that kind of cooperation has been valuable in the past in trying to help central governments in Africa and other places in the world, frankly, combat some of these extremist elements in their countries. 

So that counterterrorism relationship is ongoing.  The clearest manifestation of that cooperation is the deployment of some military personnel that are on the ground in Nigeria to try to help recover those girls who were kidnapped from that school relatively early last year.  So that work is ongoing, but this is very difficult work and we’re going to continue to cooperate with the Nigerians as they try to do a better job of securing their country.

Q    But isn’t this an indication that that cooperation is not working at all?  I mean, first of all, the girls haven’t been rescued.  That’s on one side.  The other side, Boko Haram seems to be on the march.  I mean, they’ve actually overtaken a military base that was set up, in large part, to fight Boko Haram.  I mean, doesn’t this show that whatever cooperation we have with the Nigerians just isn’t working?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, it shows that there is — that they face a very serious threat in Nigeria.  And the United States, it does have this relationship with Nigeria that we value, it’s a military-to-military relationship.  We also share some other intelligence assets that have been deployed to fight Boko Haram.  But this is certainly something that we’re concerned about.

Q    And just one last question on the Cuba deal.  Part of it was the Cuban government agreeing to release 53 political prisoners.  Do you have an update for us on how many of the 53 have been released?  Have they all been released, and who they are?

MR. EARNEST:  For a specific update — I’m going to have to take the question and we’ll get back to you — it’s my understanding that not all of them have been released at this point.  But as part of the agreement that was brokered that this prisoner release that the Cuban government decided to undertake on their own in the context of these discussions would take place in stages.

Q    so you’re confident they’re going to follow through on this?  I mean, there’s also been reports that the Cubans have arrested some additional political prisoners.

MR. EARNEST:  What I would say is, at this point, there is no reason to think that they are walking back any part of the agreement.  But we’ll see if we can get you some more details.

J.C.

Q    How concerned is this administration and how closely has this administration been and how closely has this administration been monitoring what is going on in Wall Street right now where the Dow has gone below 300, and the Euro has reached its lowest mark in nine years?  The concerns are the instability of the Greek government and new elections there; that Greece will, in fact, abandon the Euro.  What is the situation?  How does the White House look at this?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, JC, I can tell you that we’re always monitoring movements in the financial markets.  But in terms of sort of ascribing what may be driving those fluctuations in the market, I wouldn’t speculate on that.  But obviously this administration has been working very closely with our partners in Europe as they’ve worked to deal with some of the financial challenges that they faced over the last several years, both as it relates to some members of the EU, but also as it relates to the broader economic trends over in Europe.
You’ll recall that the Chairman of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, Jason Furman, spoke at this podium a couple of weeks ago, and he discussed some concerns about headwinds from Europe, that their weakening economy is certainly in the best interest of the U.S. economy.  But at the same time, the strength of the U.S. economy is due at least in part to some of the very important and difficult policy decisions that the President made early on in his presidency.
Mark.
Q    Gas taxes, Josh.  For the new year and of course the plunging oil prices and plunging price of the gallon has renewed the talk of raising gas taxes to help pay for infrastructure.  In the past, you guys have said that’s not on the table.  Is it on the table now?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it’s not something that we have proposed, and that’s been our policy.  We have put forward our own very specific proposal for how we believe we can make the investment that’s needed in infrastructure in this country.  That’s typically what the gas tax revenue is dedicated to, is investing in infrastructure.  And we have put forward our own specific plan for closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations, and using the revenue from closing those loopholes to investing in badly needed infrastructure upgrades.
There are some in Congress that have different ideas, including raising the gas tax.  That’s certainly something that we’ll take a look at it, but it’s not something that we have considered from here.
Q    Okay.  I ask because, among those proposals, Bob Corker and Chris Murphy have wanted to raise the gas tax by 12 cents a gallon over two years, I guess it is; you say there are others.  Two questions:  Are you, A, ruling a gas tax increase out?  And, B, is the President going to say something specific on infrastructure and gas taxes in the State of the Union speech?
MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have anything to preview at this point about — from the State of the Union on this specific topic.  But we may have more in advance of the speech, so stay tuned.
As it relates to specific proposals from Congress, we’ll certainly consider proposals that are put forward, particularly bipartisan proposals like that one that you mentioned.  But we’ve been really clear about what we think is the best way to get this done, and that is simply to close loopholes that benefit only the wealthy and well-connected corporations, and use that revenue to make badly needed investments in infrastructure that everybody benefits from.  I recognize that there are some other ideas out there, and we’ll consider those too, but we’ve been really clear about what we support.
Mara.
Q    Just to follow up on that — the gas tax is a kind of permanent, ongoing way to fund infrastructure.  What you’re talking about is a one-time-only closing of loopholes to get some money for infrastructure investments.  Do you think, as others have suggested, that the gas tax as a funding mechanism for infrastructure is broken and should be replaced by another mechanism?
MR. EARNEST:  I’m not saying that, although some have pointed out that the fact that we have — that our vehicles that are on the road are becoming more fuel efficient, which means they’re using less gas, which means that there’s likely to be less revenue from a gas tax.  But what we have said is that we believe there is a very specific way that we can close some loopholes that will generate revenue that will allow us to make some badly needed investments in infrastructure.
Q    But that’s not a permanent funding stream for infrastructure.  That’s just a one-time-only —
MR. EARNEST:  Well, it could be, because we’re talking about permanently closing the loopholes. 
Q    And that amount of money —
MR. EARNEST:  That would be a change in the tax policy.  It could be.
Q    I know.  But do you envision it as something that funds infrastructure over time?  I don’t really understand how that becomes a permanent infrastructure funding source.
MR. EARNEST:  Well, we’re not suggesting that we abolish the gas tax, right?  But there is revenue that could be gleaned from reforming the tax code, and generating revenue that could be used to invest in infrastructure.  And so that’s what our strategy is. 
I recognize that there are other people that have other ideas, and we’ll certainly consider those ideas as they put them forward.
Major.
Q    Is there reluctance to talk about the gas tax because you believe gas prices trending downward are likely to reverse in the not-too-distant future and you don’t want to mess with anything in the price market or taxes for fuel?
MR. EARNEST:  I think the reluctance that you’re perceiving from me is that we believe, frankly, that we have a better idea for how to do this, which is that by closing loopholes that only benefit wealthy and well-connected corporations we can actually invest in the kind of infrastructure that will create jobs, stimulate economic growth and put in place modern infrastructure that we can all benefit from.  So we’re open to these other ideas that others have put forward, but we believe our idea is better.  But I’m not willing to —
Q    But no matter what the price of gas is?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I mean, this is a position that we’ve had for some time, right?
Q    I know.  And there are a lot of energy economists who have said, well, look, this is a different — this is a time for a different conversation, because the prices are down and there is more room within what people used to budget, and the infrastructure needs of the country haven’t gotten any better, they’ve become more pronounced, if anything; and it’s time for a fresh look at this.  And I hear from you, you’re not inclined to give it a fresh look, and I’m just trying to figure out why.
MR. EARNEST:  I think what I’m trying to say is that we continue to remain open to giving it a look if somebody wants to put forward their own proposal.  Again, this sort of goes to Cheryl’s question, in some ways, about compromise.  We don’t believe that the best way to fund modernizing our infrastructure is to raise the gas tax, but some people do.  And we’re willing to consider those proposals.  We believe that the best way to do that is to close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and well-connected corporations.
Q    And interpreting your comments earlier that you may or may not have a meeting — the President may or may not have a meeting with congressional leaders on the Republican side this week, it sounds like he probably won’t, looking at the schedule.  Is it fair to say that that is a lesser priority than getting out on the road and sort of previewing the State of the Union and displaying the President’s energetic pursuit of his own agenda, and not treating the new congressional Republican majority as a secondary item, but not as important as his own rhetorical flourishes for this week?
MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think we’re less focused on rhetorical flourishes and more interested in substantive policy ideas that will get our economy moving and benefit middle-class families.  That’s what we’re going to be focused on on the road, and that’s what we’re going to be focused on in our conversations with Democrats and Republicans who are in leadership positions in Congress. 
Look, the President met with congressional leaders a couple of times during the lame duck session, and I’m confident that he’ll do it again early this year.
Q    Right, but it’s just a different crew and a different power structure than during the lame duck.  I mean, I know this is many of the same participants, but they’re — 
MR. EARNEST:  Pretty much all of the same participants, isn’t it?
Q    Right, but they have different levels of power, and their proximity to them is completely different. 
MR. EARNEST:  But even in the context of those meetings that they had in the lame duck, they were talking about this — everybody knew what was going to happen after the first of year, right?  Everybody knew that the President wasn’t just meeting with the Senate Minority Leader, he was also meeting with the incoming Senate Majority Leader.
So I don’t think that that will substantively change the kinds of conversations that they’ll have early this year, which the President believes is important and he’ll do, but certainly there’s no reason we can’t do both, right?  What the President wants to do is he wants to make progress by debating and putting in place where possible substantive economic policy ideas that will benefit the middle class.  Some of those he can do on his own and he is going to do it.  Some of those he is going to require cooperation with Republicans in Congress to get it done and he is eager to do that, too.

Q    Right.  I know you don’t want to preview the State of the Union but the last time the President gave an address like that there was no war against ISIS.  There was no ongoing airstrike and a coalition to confront in two different countries.  Now there is.  So two questions.  To what degree will the President use the State of the Union to give the country an assessment of what has been accomplished and what remains to be done?  And how does the ongoing conflict influence the Defense budget that’s being put together and the ongoing discretionary cap limits that have one more year to go in a full budget cycle after this?

MR. EARNEST:  Again, the State of the Union hasn’t been written yet, so I wouldn’t want to speculate —

Q    Yes, but Cody has been working on it, as you and I both know.

MR. EARNEST:  He is — he has been — but ultimately he’s not the author of it, even he has been working on it.

Q    No, I know, but it’s not like there’s a bunch of blank pieces of paper hanging around.

MR. EARNEST:  No, but it’s not as if the final words that are on the page are going to be the ones that will be read by the President of the United States on January 20th.

Q    But you know these things get blocked out.  What I’m just trying to figure out is how much does the President feel it’s necessary or worthwhile to assess what is a not-insignificant national —

MR. EARNEST:  You’re asking a very legitimate question.  I’m just trying to make it clear that those are — we’re still having those kinds of discussions about what actually is going to be included in there and to what extent it will be included.  But I am confident, as a general matter, that the President will use the opportunity of that national address to talk about the threat that we face from ISIL and what the United States continues to do by leading this broader international coalition of more than 60 countries to degrade and ultimately destroy them.  This is a multi-front strategy that includes airstrikes that were taken in support of troops on the ground; it involves combatting foreign fighters; it involves counter-finance, which you’ve heard David Cohen from the Treasury Department talk about from here.  It talks about important work that needs to be done on the humanitarian front.  And it continues — it also includes the efforts that we have undertaken, working closely with our allies, to counter ISIL’s message in the Muslim world.  So this is a multifaceted effort and I am confident that you’ll hear the President talk about this a little bit at least.

As it relates to the second question about the Defense Department budget, there obviously are — there is an impact on the Defense Department budget as a result of these ongoing efforts.  It’s one of the reasons that our priorities for the lame duck was getting some increased funding so we could ensure that we had the necessary resources to carry out this strategy.  And one of the other things that we talked about in the context of the omnibus was how disappointed we were that Congress didn’t act on the kinds of budgetary reforms that both the civilian and military leadership at the Pentagon said were desperately needed.

And so I would anticipate that all of that — maybe not discussed in that much detail in the State of the Union, but it certainly will be a priority as we talk to Congress about the FY16 budget.

Q    And during the holiday break, several more detainees were repatriated from Guantanamo.  And the indication is that that’s going to be something that will be rather common in the next three or four months.  Would you be willing to say that this is something that this administration intends to accelerate in the early part of 2015 — to move as many detainees as are moveable out of Guantanamo in the early part of this year?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have, frankly, a lot of insight into what the short-term plans are in terms of who is — and sort of what sort of agreements are being contemplated and what troops are up for transfer in the short term.  I can tell you that it continues to be an important priority of this administration to ultimately transfer all of the detainees out of Guantanamo.

Q    But the President has conceded publicly that’s not possible.  That some of them are too dangerous, it can’t be tried.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, which is why we need Congress to take some action to remove some of the obstacles that are preventing the President from doing something that he believes is clearly in the national interest, which is closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

Q    One last thing.  David Cameron said over the weekend that the President calls him “bro.”  Is that true?  And is there any other pet names he has for world leaders?  (Laughter.)

MR. EARNEST:  Well, to paraphrase a local baseball player here in Washington, D.C., that’s a clown question, bro.  (Laughter.)  I’m just teasing.

Q    You don’t mean that.

MR. EARNEST:  No, I don’t.  Mostly because I just wanted to use “bro” in my own response.  (Laughter.)  I am not able to give much more insight about the private communications between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom other than to —

Q    Having been revealed publicly, do you have any reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s assertion?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t because, as you know, they have a special relationship.  (Laughter.)

Peter.

Q    Given Mitch McConnell’s unusual admonition to the Republican majority that they should not be scary, I want to get a sense from you right now.  Does the President think the American people should be scared of a Republican governing majority?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s an interesting question.  (Laughter.)  I think the President has been pretty clear that there is a pretty stark difference of opinion about which policies are actually in the best interest of the country, about which — what kinds of policies are going to be in the best interest of middle-class families.  That is, after all, the President’s priority.  And I think by some of the policy choices we’ve seen some of the Republicans make, they don’t share that priority.  And that certainly is a strong difference of opinion. 

But, ultimately, I guess we’ll have to sort of see whether or not members of Congress choose to abide by the admonition of the new Senate Majority Leader.

One example I guess I can think of is the prospect of defaulting on the debt for the first time in our nation’s history is a scary prospect.  Hopefully it’s not going to come to that.  But we’ll have to see.

I guess I would say it this way.  The President does believe that there are some areas where we can cooperate.  So setting aside whether or not they’re scary or not, we do believe that there may be an opportunity for us to find some areas of common ground where Democrats and Republicans can come together to open up overseas markets for American businesses or to reform the tax code in a way that would actually make it more simple and more fair, and close loopholes that only benefit the wealthy and the well-connected.  So there may be some things that we can do to cooperate and actually make some progress for the American people.

Q    We know mayor — back to law enforcement and New York City Police Department but police departments nationwide, some of which have indicated the rank and file, they feel betrayed by the President, by Attorney General Eric Holder.  Earlier you indicated that the President basically feels — certainly feels a sympathy for the loss experienced by the families in New York, but does the President feel a sympathy with those police — members of police departments right now who feel targeted?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think what the President believes is that it’s clearly in the best interests of people who are living in communities that have legitimate concerns and clearly in the best interests of law enforcement officers that have legitimate concerns to come together and try to strengthen the bond of trust between law enforcement officers and the communities that they’re sworn to serve and protect.  And that is a pursuit that is important and would benefit communities all across the country.  And it certainly would stand to benefit law enforcement officers who do the heroic work every day of getting up and putting on a blue uniform, and putting their lives on the line to protect the community that they work in.

And that is a calling that the President believes is worthy of our honor and respect.  And if there are things that we can do to make it safer for them to do that important work while at the same time inspiring greater trust in the communities that they are sworn to serve and protect, that that’s a good thing, that that is a laudable goal and ultimately it will have the effect of fighting crime in communities all across the country.

Q    Mayor Bill de Blasio is going to speak in a matter of moments — when we leave this briefing, we’ll hear some of his remarks given the latest that’s been taking place up there.  Recently, Police Commissioner Bratton has called it very inappropriate that the officers turned their back to the mayor during the eulogy for officer Ramos.  Does the President agree with Bratton?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I haven’t spoken to the President about it.  I do think that Commissioner Bratton did have I think an important view that he expressed on this.  He described — this is a letter that he sent to police precincts all across the city of New York.  And he said, “It was not all officers, and it was not disrespect directed at Detective Ramos.  But all the officers were painted by it, and it stole the valor, honor and attention that rightfully belonged to the memory of Detective Rafael Ramos’s life and service.  That was not the intent, I know.  But it was the result.” 

Q    So I guess, simply, even if — broadly speaking, does the White House think that action is inappropriate?

MR. EARNEST:  I think what I will say is that the part of Commissioner Bratton’s letter I think that resonates most strongly here at the White House is that those who are attending those funerals are there to pay their respect for the service and sacrifice of the two officers who were being laid to rest.  And certainly the President has — believes that their service and their sacrifice is worthy of celebration and respect, and should be afforded all of the outward symbols of honor that they’ve been given.  And I think that’s what the vast majority of the people who attended those funerals, including police officers who attended those funerals, actually gave.

Q    Digressing very briefly, we just learned a short time ago that two aspiring U.S. ski team members were killed in an avalanche in Austria.  That information is just coming to us, I don’t know whether you guys have been made aware or if the President was aware or had any thoughts, given that tragedy to U.S. aspiring Olympic athletes.

MR. EARNEST:  Peter, I was not aware of that report.  Obviously, the President has on a number of occasions had the opportunity to welcome Olympic athletes to the White House, both as they’re preparing for competition and after they have competed.  And, obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with those who were apparently lost in this specific incident.

These are young men and women who make our country proud, and certainly they dedicate their lives to their pursuit and their calling and their passion, which is the performance in their sport.  And so I am not aware of this specific report but certainly if it’s true it is a tragedy.

Q    Josh, another update over the holidays would be these recommendations to reform the Secret Service.  And I wonder, has the President actually been given some sort of a report or a briefing?  And where is the White House specifically on this increased speculation that we might see the security fence outside raised?  That was one of the recommendations.  So where specifically is the President, White House staff on that?

MR. EARNEST:  That’s a good question, Ed.  I don’t know whether or not the President has received this specific briefing but we’ll follow up with you on this.  And as you’ll recall, the President did have interest in reviewing this report.

Q    Right.  I just wanted to get it on the record.

MR. EARNEST:  We’ll follow up with you.

Q    Specifically working with Congress, following up on both Julie and Major on the meeting — not just the meeting itself, but why not meet with Republican leaders this week.  But you and others are giving this impression the President is ready to work with Republican leaders but no meeting this week probably.  Instead, he is going out on the road on his own and he did this interview with NPR over the holidays where he said, I’m ready to start vetoing a lot more stuff and there’s going to be a lot more executive action.  So aren’t you saying he’s going to work with Republicans, but his actions are actually speaking louder than those words?

MR. EARNEST:  Well Ed, I think the President’s action to invite Congressional leaders, both Democrats and Republicans to the White House just a couple of days after the midterm elections, and talk about where that common ground is, I do think that speaks to the President’s — the priority that the President places in working with Republicans to make progress for the American people.  But you’re also right that the fact that the President is going to start the new year by announcing some new executive actions and some new policy proposals that will benefit middle-class families indicates that he’s most focused on results.  He’s mostly focused on substantive policy ideas that will benefit middle-class families.

Q    But they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re already talking about, he’s moving forward on executive action.    He’s going out on the road to go directly to the American people — he’s free to do that but they haven’t even been sworn in yet, and you’re saying he’s getting ready to do more executive action.

MR. EARNEST:  Yes, he is.  And the President is determined to make progress where he can on his own.  As the President has said many times, particularly in the aftermath of the midterm elections, we can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others.  So, I have no doubt that there will be some Republicans who are going to be critical of policy proposals that the President pursues on his own to benefit middle-class families.  That may be an area where an honest disagreement exists. 

What we’re mostly focused on when we have conversations with Republicans, though, is figuring out, where is there common ground?  Where do we agree?  And the disagreements may be more plentiful, but that’s all the more reason we should spend a lot of time looking for that area of common ground and the President will do that.  He did that at the end of last year, he’ll do it as this year gets underway as well.

Q    Last thing.  Republicans talking again as they have many times before about trying to change the President health care law.  And I want to ask you specifically, not about that, but about this new book from Steven Brill, because this was not a quick drive-by.  He spent I believe 19 months interviewing a lot of people around here and from what I’ve seen of it so far, he points out the good of getting millions more people insurance, but both in the book and some of his early television interviews he’s indicating that he believes — this is after studying it very closely — it’s a raw deal for taxpayers; that a lot more people are getting insurance but the taxpayers are picking up that tab.  And that the health care costs are not coming down because of the law itself, despite what was promised.

MR. EARNEST:  Well let me say a couple things about that, Ed.  The first thing is it’s important for people to remember the Affordable Care Act substantially reduced the deficit, which is good for the economic health and the fiscal health of the country, and also good for taxpayers.  And we have seen that the growth in health care costs has been lower than at any other time in recorded history — in almost 50 years since they’ve been measuring that specific statistic.

We’ve also seen the average premium for employer-based health care coverage — these are individuals who are essentially not really affected by the Affordable Care Act and certainly aren’t getting health insurance because of the Affordable Care Act — they saw that their premiums only went up 3 percent, even though in previous years it had been going up by double digits every year.

So one of the goals, as Mr. Brill points out in this book, has been to limit the growth in health care costs and the numbers indicate that very early on, that there has been very important success associated with the Affordable Care Act in doing exactly that.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do in addition to expanding coverage and getting more people covered with health care; in addition to putting in place the kind of patient protections that the President has long advocated — everything from ensuring that men and women can get the kind of preventative health care maintenance, annual checkups and things;  that those can be covered free of charge; that you can’t be discriminated against because you have a preexisting condition.  We can put in place all of those things and we can actually limit the growth in health care costs, and that’s what the Affordable Care Act has done.

Q    And he also has this conclusion that from talking to the President own advisors, that people in the West Wing believe that the real chief of staff is Valerie Jarrett, and that when the author pressed the President himself in an interview, he just wouldn’t comment on that.  Why wouldn’t the President knock that down, why wouldn’t he say Valerie Jarrett is not my chief of staff?

MR. EARNEST:  I think because everybody already knows that.  And I think that Ms. Jarrett obviously plays a very important role here in the West Wing and in advising the President of the United States, but I think even she would tell you that she’s not the chief of staff and doesn’t want to be.

Alexis.

Q    Josh, can I follow up?  I have two quick questions.  One is a personnel question.  You had anticipated that the President’s Counselor, and maybe his senior advisor — I’m talking about Podesta and Pfeiffer — might leave in a few weeks.  Can you update us on whether they’re going to be departing the White House soon?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any updates on any personnel matters at this point.

Q    You can’t say whether John Podesta will indeed be leaving?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I can say — I mean, we said that when he started last year that he would essentially be serving through the end of the calendar year.  He’s going to stay on at the beginning of this year to help with the State of the Union.  I don’t have an exact date for his departure though.

Q    But maybe February?

MR. EARNEST:  I don’t have any guidance on that, but we’ll keep you posted.

Q    Ok.  And you don’t want to say anything about Dan?

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I’d say lots of things about Dan.  (Laughter.)  But in terms of any personnel announcements associated with Dan I’m not aware of any.

Q    The second question is, at the end of the year, the percentage of people who said that they approved of the job that the President was doing went up.  And lots of people have analyzed the polling numbers and why that is, and I was just wondering if the White House could share its own interpretation of why that percentage went up at the end of the year.

MR. EARNEST:  Well, I think, like financial markets, it’s always a tricky, risky business to try to analyze what’s actually driving fluctuations in poll numbers.  I can tell you that — I think what I’d rather do is sort of convey to you why so many people in this building felt really optimistic heading into the holidays at the end of last year, and that is because we did feel like over the course of the last six weeks or so of last year that we had been able to make a lot of progress on a variety of important policy priorities that the President ha

The EU at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, Australia – Supporting global recovery

On 15 and 16 November 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy will participate in the 9th edition of the G20 summit in the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, Brisbane, Australia.

At the G20 summit in Brisbane (Australia) the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, will push for the adoption of a strong Brisbane Action Plan on Growth and Jobs to put the G20 collectively on a higher growth trajectory.

This and the European Union’s views on other key issues on the summit agenda (financial regulation, tax avoidance/tax evasion, development, anticorruption and energy matters) are reflected in the joint letter by the two Presidents to EU Heads of State and Government of 21 October 2014.

A background briefing by Commission and Council representatives will be held in the Berlaymont press room (for accredited journalists only) on Monday 10 November at 9am.

Background

The G20 leaders’ process has been co-initiated in 2008 by the European Union. The G20 members are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Italy, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.

The European Union thus is a full member of the G20 and is usually represented at G20 summits by the President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council.

The Brisbane Summit is the 9th edition of the Group of 20 (G20) Summit of the world’s major advanced and emerging economies. Together, the G20 members represent around 90% of global GDP, 80% of global trade and two-thirds of the world’s population. This year, Australia welcomes Spain as a permanent invitee; Mauritania as the 2014 chair of the African Union; Myanmar as the 2014 Chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN); Senegal, representing the New Partnership for Africa’s Development; New Zealand; and Singapore. The 10th edition of the G20 Summit will be hosted by Turkey in 2015.

For more information:

Joint letter from the Presidents of the European Commission and the European Council ahead of the Brisbane G20 Summit: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-600_en.htm

G20 website of the Australian Presidency: https://www.g20.org/

Press Releases: Remarks With Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop, and Australian Minister of Defense David Johnston

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Ladies and gentlemen, today we have welcomed to Sydney and to AUSMIN Secretaries John Kerry and Chuck Hagel, and this is the second AUSMIN meeting that the four principals here have participated in. The United States alliance is the most important security relationship for Australia, and AUSMIN is an annual opportunity for us to take stock of this relationship. And today’s discussion was broad in its scope. We were frank in our exchanges, and there was a clear instinct for collaboration across a wide area of endeavor. There’s a desire to share the burden of implementing our mutual vision and mutual goal of regional and global peace and prosperity, security and stability.

At a bilateral level, we signed the Force Posture Initiatives, the formal, legally binding document about a presence of U.S. Marines in the north of our country, and we focused particularly on the humanitarian disaster relief aspects of having the assistance of the U.S. in our region, which is, sadly, prone to natural disasters and other tragedies. Now at a regional level, we discussed the tensions in the South China Sea. Secretary Kerry and I have just returned from the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, where the South China Sea was discussed at length, and we went over some of those issues. But we also discussed the tensions on the Korean Peninsula and our mutual desire to see North Korea denuclearized in a verifiable way and returned to the Six Party Talks.

We discussed the regional architecture and the need for the East Asia Summit to be the premier regional forum. It has the right mandate, the right membership to discuss matters of regional strategic significance. We talked about the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This is where the U.S. rebalance finds its economic expression and how important the TPP will be to opening up and liberalizing markets in our region. We discussed the emergence of China and other major powers in our region.

Globally, in the wake of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17, we talked about the situation in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s intentions and the behavior of Russia in recent months and weeks involving the breach of sovereignty in Ukraine and elsewhere. We had a long discussion on the Middle East and the significant conflicts there, whether it be Syria, Iraq, or in Gaza, and we also talked about Afghanistan and our commitment to Afghanistan post-2014.

A considerable focus of our discussion was on counterterrorism and, more specifically, on the issue of foreign fighters. People going to fight in conflicts around the world, leaving their countries, going to Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere and becoming radicalized and taking part in extremist terrorist activities is, in fact, an international problem. It’s a concern for Australia, it’s a concern for the United States, but it’s a topic that’s raised increasingly in countries in our region and across Europe. It’s an international problem, but the barbaric ideology that these extremists embrace is, in fact, a threat to our way of life, a threat to our values, and we discussed ways that we can bring this issue to international attention. So a major focus on the issue of foreign fighters.

Overall, it was a most productive and most useful exchange from Australia’s point of view. We came up with a number of significant initiatives. The communiqué sets out the detail of it, but I want to thank both Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel for making the trip down under. We are always delighted to see you in our part of the world. You’ve been in Asia and Southeast Asia on so many occasions, and we always want you to come to Australia and count us in on your discussions. The relationship has never been stronger, and we have appreciated your commitment and focus on the issues that are of mutual concern and of concern to Australia’s national interest.

I’ll ask the Minister for Defense to say a few words and then pass over to our American friends.

DEFENSE MINISTER JOHNSTON: Well, thank you, Julie. To Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hagel, firstly, thank you for the magnanimous, generous, and gracious way that you’ve entered into our discussions. I must say I know I speak for Julie, it’s an absolute delight to be with you in your busy schedules to discuss matters that are regionally significant, but also in the wider area of world events, the problems we both are worried about, how best to confront them and how best Australia can help the United States in its very excellent leadership, particularly in this region.

Part of that is, of course, the rebalance, and we’re delighted to have 1,200 – approximately 1,200 U.S. Marines in Darwin. That, ladies and gentlemen, is going very seamlessly, very well, and it is a classic win-win situation. So today’s discussions have gone very cordially, very constructively, and very frankly as you would expect with partners and friends of long standing. So the rebalance has been, from our point of view, delivering the Marines into Darwin very, very successful so that our region has, of course, benefitted – and I reiterate this to the Secretaries – benefitted from the stability of the past 20, 30 years. That stability has been delivered by U.S. leadership and of course the booming middle class of Southeast and East Asia has been the end dividend of that stability.

And so today we’ve enjoyed discussing the challenges, what we perceive coming over the horizon in the future, matters such as counterterrorism, foreign fighters, which we both, as two countries have to deal with. Can I say that both Secretary Hagel and Secretary Kerry bring enormous amount of wisdom and wit to our discussions. And I must say to you the discussions have been most enjoyable. We share interoperability across so many fronts. We have very large numbers of people embedded in the United States in the U.S. military. We’ve got 400 people still in Afghanistan working with the Americans and our other ISAF partners going forward. I want to end on that note by just saying thank you very much for the trust. When we are doing things together in the defense space, trust is a really important part of that, and trust leads to great friendship, and I think we have great friendship, and I thank you both for that.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Julie. Good afternoon to all of you. And let me just – let me begin by saying that I am really delighted to be here with Secretary Hagel at the Australia-United States Ministerial Meeting. This is my first AUSMIN, as we call it, in Australia, and I really want to thank Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston for their unbelievably warm welcome over the course of these two days. We had a very productive dinner discussion last night just over the way from here, and today we both join together in thanking Governor-General Cosgrove for opening up his magnificent residence to us. It afforded a really superb venue to be able to sit here quietly and be able to really dig in in very personal ways to very complicated issues, and we thank them for this special venue and special friendship that goes with it.

Secretary Hagel and I both want to begin any comments that we make here today with an expression of our deepest condolences to the families and the loved ones of the 38 Australians who lost their lives in the Flight 17 – Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. We both want to affirm to Australia and to the world that we absolutely demand, as does Australia, justice for this unconscionable crime. And just as we stand together on so many issues from the Asia Pacific to the Middle East to Afghanistan and beyond, we will see this through together.

I’ve also had the very good fortune to work with our Australian friends for many years, 29 years in the United States Senate and a number of years as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. So when Secretary Hagel and I served in Vietnam – slightly different times, but we both served there – we also fought alongside, side by side, with our Australian brothers who are great soldiers and great friends. In fact, Australian men and American men and women – men and women on both sides – have fought side by side in every major conflict since World War I, and we’re proud of the friendship and the trust, as Minister Johnston was just saying, that has grown out of this longtime relationship.

I was very privileged to join Secretary Hagel and Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston last year at Arlington National Secretary where we honored this special bond between Australians and the United States, a bond that can only be forged through the sacrifice of war, which we both understand. So I thank Australia at this moment, particularly for stepping up yet again with their offer of humanitarian assistance in Iraq at this moment of crisis. The new Iraqi leadership has a very difficult challenge. It has to regain the confidence of its citizens by governing inclusively, but also by taking steps to demonstrate their resolve, and we’re going to continue to stand with the Iraqi people during this time of transition.

And though we live in different hemispheres and at opposite ends of the globe, the United States could ask for no better friend and no closer ally than Australia. Australia is a vital partner in so many different endeavors. It is vital as we deepen the U.S. economic engagement throughout the Asia Pacific, as we engage in the rebalances of – both ministers have referred to it, which will bring the United States even more to the effort to help create a larger economic transformation in the region and to bring about a rule of law-based structure where everybody understands the rules and where it is a race to the top, not to the bottom. We also are working hard together to try to complete a critical component of that race to the top, which is the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

We also discussed, as has been mentioned by both ministers, difficult regional and global security challenges. We didn’t need to struggle to find commonality in our understanding of the fact that we are living in one of the most complicated moments of transformation and transition all across this planet. Instant communications, massive numbers of mobile devices, massive amounts of information moving at lightning speed around the globe informing everybody about everything all of the time. And that has changed politics, and it has changed international relations. It raises expectations among people all over the world. And it challenges politics in terms of building consensus around decisions.

So we face a lot of these challenges together in today’s world, and that is why it is so important to have the kind of discussion that we had here today where we lay out every one of those challenges and try to figure out how do we do this better, how can we have greater impact, how do we bring more people to the table in order to affect change. It has enabled both of our countries to stand with the people of Ukraine, support long-term progress in Afghanistan, reduce tensions in the South China Sea, collaborate in the United Nations Security Council on everything from Iran to Syria to restricting trade in illicit small arms and weapons and even in our fellow human beings.

Today’s session allowed us to consult and coordinate in depth on these issues and on the challenges that we face in Iraq and Gaza, and we also agreed in conjunction with our discussion about the foreign fighters that Julie raised a moment ago that we are going to work together to assemble a compendium of the best practices in the world today regarding those foreign fighters, and we intend to join together in order to bring this to the United Nations meeting next month and put it on the agenda in a way that will elicit support from source countries as well as those countries of concern.

Earlier today, as you all know, we signed a Force Posture Agreement that will further strengthen and deepen the U.S.-Australian defense relationship, and we agreed to expand our trilateral cooperation with Japan. So you can see that we covered a range of very important issues in the Asia Pacific region, including our commitment to the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And the United States – I want to make this clear – is absolutely prepared to improve relations with North Korea if North Korea will honor its international obligations. It’s that simple. But make no mistake we are also prepared to increase pressure, including through strong sanctions and further isolation if North Korea chooses the path of confrontation.

So I join Secretary Hagel in thanking Foreign Minister Bishop and Defense Minister Johnston for very productive discussions over the past day, and we all look forward to continuing our work together in the years to come in order to address these complex challenges.

SECRETARY HAGEL: John, thank you, and I, too, appreciate an opportunity to be with Secretary Kerry here for the AUSMIN meetings that we are concluding this afternoon. I want to add my thanks as well to our hosts, Minister Bishop, Minister Johnston, and also to Governor-General Cosgrove for his hospitality here at Admiralty House. So thank you.

On a visit to the United States in 1960, the great Australian prime minister, Robert Menzies, said that strength is admirable, but only for the responsibilities it accepts and discharges. America, Australia, and this historic alliance has always, always sought to live up to those responsibilities around the world. Today’s agenda for the U.S.-Australia alliance, you have heard, span issues ranging from the South China Sea to Iraq where Secretary Kerry and I expressed our appreciation for Australia’s offer to contribute to the humanitarian and relief operations and where America is prepared to intensify its security cooperation as Iraq undertakes and makes progress towards political reform.

We also addressed the crisis in Ukraine as has been noted and Australia’s tragic loss of 38 citizens and residents aboard MH-17. And as I have said, as Secretary has – Secretary Kerry has expressed, our condolences to the people of Australia and especially the families of those who were lost in that tragedy. America will continue to work with Australia as we have said clearly and plainly to provide requested support and assistance.

Today we have reinforced the foundation of our alliances, defense, and security cooperation by, as Secretary Kerry noted, signing the U.S.-Australia Force Posture Agreement. This long-term agreement on rotational deployment of U.S. Marines in Darwin and American Airmen in northern Australia will broaden and deepen our alliance’s contributions to regional security and advance America’s ongoing strategic rebalance in the Asia Pacific. At today’s AUSMIN having just come from New Delhi and having consulted closely with our Japanese and Korean allies and ASEAN defense ministers, I see a new, committed resolve to work together, to work together to build a security system across this Indo-Pacific region, recognizing the independent sovereignty of nations, respecting that sovereignty, but also recognizing the common interests that we all have for a stable, peaceful, secure world.

The U.S. Australia alliance is spurring this progress and will remain a bedrock for a stable and secure order. Along with Secretary Kerry, let me again thank our hosts, Minister Bishop, Minister Johnston, and Governor-General Cosgrove for hosting this year’s AUSMIN and what they continue to do as we continue to collaborate and work together on some of the great issues of our time. As Secretary Kerry has noted, we live in an immensely complicated world, but a world that is still full of hope and promise if we endeavor to bring resolute, strong leadership, leadership that is committed to these virtues and values and principles that we all share and living up to the highest responsibilities as Prime Minister Menzies once said. Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you. We’re now going to have four questions, and I think Laura, you’re going to kick off. Thank you.

QUESTION: Laura Jayes from Sky News. Secretary Kerry, Secretary Hagel, thank you. Ministers, thank you. I wanted to first go to Russia, and our Australian Government has talked about greater sanctions on Russia, leaving that option open, uranium perhaps. Secretary Kerry, is that a path you would like to see Australia go down? There’s also the question of Vladimir Putin attending the G20 Summit. I wondered if you have a comment on that.

And also, as I guess a little bit out of that direct realm, China in all of this. We’ve seen the U.S. and EU impose quite strong sanctions against Russia in the last couple of months, but China has, I think, helped to dilute that in some ways, if you, Secretary Kerry, could address those questions, also, Minister Bishop as well.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much. On the subject of sanctions with respect to Russia, we are very understanding of our friend, Australia’s deep, deep anger and its need for justice with respect to what has happened. This is an unconscionable crime on a huge international order that findings already, without the full investigation being done – and we are pressing for a full investigation, because nothing is complete until you have a full investigation. But there is no question – and we’ve said this publicly previously, but that this type of weapon and all the evidence of it was seen on our imagery. We saw the takeoff. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this airplane disappear from the radar screen. So there’s really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.

But we need to have the complete investigation, obviously, to legitimize whatever steps are going to be taken as we go down the road, and that’s why we’re all pressing so hard for that. The foreign minister of Australia traveled to New York, made an eloquent plea working with our ambassador and others there, Frans Timmermans of – the Dutch foreign minister spoke eloquently about what had happened. And the world can’t just sort of move by this and gloss by it. People need to remember this, because holding people accountable is essential not just to justice for what happened, but to deterrence and prevention in the future, and we don’t want to see these kinds of things ever repeated again.

So we’re open, but we haven’t made any decisions. I’m not sure Australia has either yet. We need to see what’s happening, but our hope and prayer – our hope is that in the next days and weeks we can find a way for President Poroshenko and Ukraine to be able to work with the Russians to provide the humanitarian assistance necessary in the east to facilitate the thoroughness of the investigation, to begin to bring the separatists to the degree that they are Ukrainian into the political process, and for those who are not Ukrainian, they need to leave the country, and there needs to be a process worked out where the supplies stop coming in both in money and arms and support and people and Ukraine is allowed to begin to protect its sovereignty and define its future. Our hope is that that can happen through the diplomatic process, but we’ve all learned that we need to be cautious and strong at the same time in our responses and clear about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.

With respect to the G20 Summit, et cetera, no decisions have been made at this point in time. I think a lot of the attitudes about the – about that issue from the various countries attending can, frankly, be determined and impacted to some degree in what happens in these next days and weeks.

And finally, with respect to China and what is going on, we have said again and again – and we just had a Strategic and Economic Dialogue in China, Secretary Jack Lew of the Treasury and I were there, with two days of discussions, and we made it very clear to China that we welcome the rise of China as a global partner, hopefully, as a powerful economy, as a full participating, constructive member of the international community, and we want China to participate in constructive ways, whether it’s in the South China Sea or with respect to Japan and South Korea, with North Korea, with other issues that we face. We are not seeking conflict and confrontation, and our hope is that China will, likewise, take advantage of the opportunities that are in front of it to be that cooperative partner.

And so there are always differences, shades – there are differences with respect to certain issues, and we’ve agreed to try to find those things where we can really cooperate. We’re cooperating in Afghanistan, we’re cooperating on nonproliferation with respect to Iran, we’re cooperating to get the chemical weapons out of Syria, we’re cooperating on counterterrorism, we’re cooperating on nuclear weaponry and on the reduction of nuclear arms. So there are plenty of big issues on which we cooperate with Russia even now every day, and our hope is that on those things where we’ve obviously had some disagreements with China or with Russia that we can both find a diplomatic path forward, because everybody in the world understands the world will be better off if great power nations are finding ways to cooperate, not to confront each other.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: If I could put this question of sanctions in context, MH-17 was a commercial airplane flying in commercial airspace carrying 298 civilians. Passenger numbers included 80 children, and this plane was shot down, we believe, by a surface-to-air missile just inside eastern Ukraine. The deaths of so many people, including 38 Australian citizens and residents was shocking, and the implications for international aviation are profound. So after completing our humanitarian mission of removing the remains and personal effects from the crash site, we are now focused on the investigation into how this came to be, how this plane was shot down, and who did it, because those culpable for creating the circumstances or for actually causing the downing of this plane must be held to account, and the grief of our citizens demands answers. They must be held to account, the perpetrators, and brought to justice.

All the while, when Australian and Dutch teams, unarmed police, humanitarian teams were seeking to get to the crash site, all the while, Russia was supplying more armed personnel, more heavy weaponry over the border into eastern Ukraine. They didn’t cease, and in fact increased their efforts. And instead of listening to international concerns about a ceasefire and the need for a humanitarian corridor for us to conclude our work, on the very day that Australia was holding a national day of mourning to grieve the loss of so many Australian lives, Russia chose to impose sanctions on Australia through an embargo on our agricultural exports.

We are rightly focused on the investigation, supporting the Netherlands, Malaysia, Belgium, and Ukraine as part of an investigation team. But on the question of sanctions, we will consider the options available to us, but our focus at present is to bring closure to the families who are still grieving over this barbaric act of shooting down a plane that killed their loved ones.

As far as the G20 is concerned, as Secretary Kerry indicated, there’s been no decision. The G20 is an economic forum. There would have to be a consensus view as to whether or not steps should be taken in relation to President Putin’s presence here in Australia.

On China, I must say that China was extremely supportive of our resolution in the United Nations Security Council. As you’d be aware, it was a unanimous resolution. It was supported by all 15 members of the UN Security Council, and China has suffered a great loss through the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370. Australia has done what we can to help in that search effort, and I have committed to Foreign Minister Wang Yi last weekend that Australia will continue to help search for that missing plane. So China grieves with us over the loss of people aboard airplanes that have crashed or disappeared in such extraordinary circumstances.

On the question of China’s support beyond MH-17, Russia’s behavior in recent months has been to breach the sovereignty of Ukraine, a neighbor, and this is not behavior that China, one would think, would condone. It’s behavior that China has pointed out to others would be unacceptable if it were to occur in China’s sphere of the world. So we’ll continue to consult, discuss with China the impact of the Russian-Ukrainian tensions, the conflict, the need for ceasefire, the need for humanitarian assistance and hope that China sees it as we do, an unacceptable breach of Ukraine’s sovereignty and urge Russia to stop the flow of weapons, stop the flow of armed personnel. Russia claims to be concerned about a humanitarian situation in Ukraine when the first thing it should do is stop sending weapons and armed personnel to the so-called separatists.

QUESTION: I’m (inaudible). I’m a reporter with Bloomberg News. Questions on Iraq first to Secretary Hagel: What kind of direct military assistance is the Pentagon prepared to offer the Kurds, and does it include sending heavy weapons to them?

And if I can ask Secretary Kerry: Can you talk a little bit more about what the United States is prepared to do once there is a new Iraqi Government? And both of you, do you share any concern that directly aiding and supporting the Kurds could potentially encourage them to break away from a united Iraq in the future?

And to the Australian officials, the U.S. has said it will assist and train Iraqi troops to combat ISIL. And have you been asked and are you prepared to send any of your troops to train the Iraqi forces? Thank you.

SECRETARY HAGEL: The United States Government is working with the Iraqi Government, the Iraqi security forces to get military equipment to the Peshmerga. That is Iraqi military equipment. We – our American forces through CENTCOM are helping get that equipment to Erbil. As to your question regarding a breakaway status of the Kurds into an independent Kurdistan, I think it’s important that – and we have taken this position and Secretary Kerry, who has been directly involved in this, may want to amplify on this point – but it’s important to note that America’s position is a unified Iraq.

You all know that the Council of Representatives announced today that it had selected a new prime minister, a new Shia prime minister. That then completes the new senior officers that the Counsel of Representatives have put forth, a new speaker of the parliament, a new president, a new prime minister. That’s good news. Now the next step has to move forward in getting that government ratified and in place, and we look forward to working with that new government.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well – sorry, go ahead. No, please.

DEFENSE MINISTER JOHNSTON: With respect to the Australian contribution to those people who are in the mountains around Erbil, we are going to be participate and deliver humanitarian relief in the nature of being able to drop supplies to them, and that is a (inaudible) capability we have long held probably since East Timor. And that’s the role that we’ll carry out, and we’ll fit into and be part of the planning of the United States and other partners who want to assist on that humanitarian basis, and that’s the way we’ll go forward. Sorry, John.

SECRETARY KERRY: No, no, no. That’s important, and I appreciate it. Let me just begin by congratulating Dr. Haider al-Abadi on his nomination, which now offers him an opportunity to be able to form a government over the next 30 days. And we urge him to form a new cabinet as swiftly as possible, and the U.S. does stand ready to fully support a new and inclusive Iraqi Government, particularly in its fight against ISIL.

Now I’m not going to get into the details today before a new prime minister is there and a government is there and we’ve talked to them and we know what they think their needs are and how they define the road ahead, but I will tell you that without any question, we are prepared to consider additional political, economic, and security options as Iraq starts to build a new government and very much calculated to try to help stabilize the security situation, to expand economic development, and to strengthen the democratic institutions. Those will be the guidelines.

We also would note that there are already a significant group of programs in place under the strategic framework agreement, and we, with a new government in place, would absolutely look to provide additional options, and we would consider those options for sure in an effort to strengthen an effort. Let me be very clear we have always wanted an inclusive, participatory government that represents the interests of Shia, Kurd, Sunni, minorities, all Iraqis. That’s the goal. And our hope is that when there is a new government, we will all of us in the international community be able to work with them in order to guarantee that outstanding issues that have just stood there absolutely frozen for years now, like the oil revenue law or the constitutional reform, all of these things need to be resolved, and that will really determine the road ahead.

Now with respect to the Kurds, we welcome increased coordination and support between the Iraqi security forces and the Kurdish forces. That is taking place right now. It’s quite unique, and we think that’s a signal of a growing potential for cooperation between Baghdad and Erbil. So as we’ve said last week, ISIL has secured certain heavy weaponry, and the Kurds need additional arms, and what is happening now is through the government in Baghdad, some of that assistance is being provided directly to the Kurds. I think that raises as many questions about the possibility of greater cooperation as it does with the possibility of further efforts for separation.

What I do know is from my own meetings with President Barzani recently, he is very committed to this transition in Baghdad, in Iraq, in the government. He is committed to trying to be a force for a strong federal government that works for all Iraqis, and that’s the only subject on the table at this point in time.

QUESTION: Secretaries, Ministers, Greg Jennett from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. This is to any or all of you, but perhaps starting with you, Secretary Kerry. Following on from that question on Iraq and noting that you don’t want to get into details, but that stabilizing security is an option that the U.S. is prepared to explore with the government there, what are the circumstances in which the U.S. could look to allies, including Australia, to support security with further military commitments, if you could outline at least the parameters in which you would start that conversation.

And also on homecoming jihadists from the Middle East, what is the shared approach? Practically, what sort of initiatives are we talking about? As this – things before prosecution, after incarceration, before interrogation, is there any example of the types of actions you’d like to see the world take jointly?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me let a couple of my colleagues – I’ll turn to Julie to address the issue on the foreign fighters, because we had a pretty robust discussion, and perhaps even Mr. Johnston and Hagel want to tackle that. So let me just answer the first part of the question, and they can answer the second.

The question is: How can we look towards this issue of stabilization and military assistance? And you said: Where would the discussion begin? Well, let me tell you in the simplest terms where the discussion begins. There will be no reintroduction of American combat forces into Iraq. That is the beginning of the discussion. This is a fight that Iraqis need to join on behalf of Iraq, and our hope is and the reason President Obama has been so clear about wanting to get the government formation before beginning to tackle ISIL in the most significant way excepting the kind of emergency circumstances that have arisen is because if you don’t have a government that is inclusive and that works, nothing else will work plain and simply.

So you have to have a government that can begin to be inclusive where the forces of Iraq are not a personal force defined by one particular sect and sworn to allegiance to one particular leader, but they truly represent Iraq, and Iraq’s future in a broad-based sense. And I think that everybody understands that is the direction that we have to go. Lots of countries who have an interest in stability in the region have already offered different kinds of assistance of one kind or another, but nobody, I think, is looking towards a return to the road that we’ve traveled. What we’re really looking for here is a way to support Iraq, support their forces with either training or equipment or assistance of one kind or another that can help them to stand on their own two feet and defend their nation. That’s the goal. That’s where the conversation begins, whoever is prime minister, and I think everybody is crystal clear about that.

We are convinced that with a unified effort by Iraqis, and particularly if there is a return to the kind of localized efforts that existed in the Sons of Anbar or the Iraqi Anbar Awakening, as it’s referred to, that there will be plenty of opportunity here for a pushback against ISIL forces which is why the restoration of a unified, inclusive government is so critical as a starting point. I think the President felt that that process was well enough along the way with the selection of a speaker, the selection of a president, and the clear movement of people towards a candidate for prime minister that he felt comfortable that the urgency of the situation, of protecting potential people moving towards Erbil or the extraordinary atrocities that were beginning to take place with respect to the Yazidis that it was critical to begin to move in that regard, and that’s why he made that decision, and I think it was a wise decision.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Australia has long joined the international community in calling for a more inclusive government in Iraq, and the political instability that we have seen that hasn’t addressed the concerns of the Sunnis, hasn’t addressed the concerns of minorities, is of course a matter of grave concern. So political stability is the key for Iraq encountering the influence and impact of these extremist groups, including ISIL. And that brings me to the issue of foreign fighters. The Australian media has, this week, published some truly shocking photographs I assume have been verified of an Australian family in the Middle East holding up a severed head, a seven year-old child is involved in this barbarous display of ideology, and they’re Australian citizens.

So when the government says that there is a real domestic security threat from the phenomenon of foreign fighters, we have evidence that there are a significant number of Australian citizens who are taking part in activities in Iraq and parts of Syria, extremist activities, terrorist activities. Our fear is that they will return home to Australia as hardened, homegrown terrorists and seek to continue their work here in Australia. And it’s not a concern just of this country. As I mentioned earlier, at the East Asia Summit, a number of countries raised this issue of foreign fighters leaving countries, going to fight in these conflicts and coming home with a set of skills and experience as terrorists. That truly poses one of the most significant threats that we’ve seen in a very long time.

Our discussion today focused on what we can do to counter this risk. Australia, as the Australian media would be well aware, has announced a series of legislative reforms that deal with matters including the burden of proof for people’s presence in prescribed areas like Mosul, and why Australian citizens would be defying the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice to not go to Mosul demands explanation. We are looking at issues involving passports and the cancellation and the ability to suspend passports so that we can investigate the activities of people within Australia and deal with them on their turn.

We know that one of the Australian citizens involved in these activities in the Middle East in Iraq had, in fact, been convicted of terrorist activities in Australia, had served time and then left Australia under a false identity. We also know that in coming weeks and months, a significant number of those convicted of terrorist activities in Indonesia will be released. Now the question is: Have they been de-radicalized in their time in prison? Clearly in the case of the Australian citizen, not. And we hold similar fears for those inmates leaving Indonesian jails. So the whole question of what we can do when these people are detained and what we can do if they’re prosecuted and found guilty and spend time in jail, they are matters that we have to look at. The whole question of reaching out to the communities in Australia and getting communities to assist us in fighting this extremist threat is important.

So as we were discussing these issues, Secretary Kerry said this is something we’ve got to bring to the attention of the international community. It’s a shared issue across Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Europe, in Pakistan, in Great Britain, Canada. There are a number of countries across the globe reporting instances of citizens becoming extremist fighters in the Middle East. And so this idea of having a forum, discussion at UNGA Leaders’ Week is something that I believe will be well supported because so many countries are facing this threat, and if we can exchange ideas and practices and suggestions as how we can deal with it, then I think we will have made a great step forward, and so we certainly will support the United States and work very hard to ensure that we collectively deal with this growing threat to the security of our nation.

SECRETARY KERRY: Can I add one thing to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Sure.

SECRETARY KERRY: I apologize, but I just want to underscore this image, perhaps even an iconic photograph that Julie has just referred to is really one of the most disturbing, stomach-turning, grotesque photographs ever displayed, this seven year-old child holding a severed head out with pride and with the support and encouragement of a parent with brothers there. That child should be in school, that child should be out learning about a future, that child should be playing with other kids, not holding a severed head and out in the field of combat. This is utterly disgraceful, and it underscores the degree to which ISIL is so far beyond the pale with respect to any standard by which we judge even terrorist groups, that al-Qaida shunted them aside. And that’s why they represent the threat that they represent. And it’s no accident that every country in the region is opposed to ISIL.

So this threat is so real, an African – north African president of a country recently told me that 1,800 identified citizens of that country have gone to Syria to fight. Believe it or not, 1,100 of them they knew had already been killed because their bodies had been returned or they were tallied as killed. Well, that leaves 7 or 800 still out there that they fear are going to return to that country knowing how to fix an IED, knowing how to arm weapons, knowing how to explode a bomb, knowing how to build a suicide vest or something like that. And this ideology is without one redeeming quality of offering people a job or healthcare or an education or anything other than saying don’t live any other way but the way we tell you.

So this is serious business, and we understand that, and I think the world is beginning to come to grips with the fact, the degree to which this is unacceptable. And we have a responsibility to take this to the United Nations and to the world so that all countries involved take measures ahead of time to prevent the return of these fighters and the chaos and havoc that could come with that, and I just wanted to underscore that with the – with Minister Bishop, because we’re all joined together in this effort, and that’s why we’re going to take it to the United Nations in the fall and try to get best practices put together by which all countries can begin to act together in unison in order to react to it.

QUESTION: Leslie Wroughton from Reuters. Please excuse if I don’t stand up. I’ve got too much equipment going here. Turning back to Iraq, you said that the U.S. was prepared to consider security, political, and economic options as Iraq forms this new government. Can you get into more specifics about that? We’ve heard some vague statements on how you ought to prepare to support. Does this include further airstrikes to push back ISIS? Once the government comes in, how do you secure that stability?

And then number two, on Ukraine, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said today there’s a high probability of a Russian intervention in Ukraine. What specific steps, again, are you taking through diplomatic channels to address this. You talked about your hopes in the next days and weeks to – that you could find a way for President Poroshenko and Ukraine to be able to work with the Russians. Are you talking about a new diplomatic effort here? And what are you talking about? Thanks.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me make it clear with respect to Ukraine, diplomatic efforts have never ceased. It’s not a question of a new one; it’s a question of ongoing diplomatic efforts. We have never stopped. The President has not stopped, the Vice President, myself have all been in touch with the top leadership of Ukraine, with leadership of Russia, and others. The President of the United States talked to President Putin a few days ago. I talked to Foreign Minister Lavrov just a couple days ago. I talked to President Poroshenko a few days ago. There are a lot of conversations taking place.

And even now as we stand here, there are efforts being made with our friends, with Germany, with the Ukrainians, with Russia, with others to try to see if there’s a way to work out a way forward on the humanitarian delivery with direct contact with the ICRC. There is direct contact with the Germans and others in this effort, and the hope is that through the meetings that will take place this week, there is a way to find a means that is acceptable to deliver humanitarian assistance without the guise of a military delivery in an effort to do so against the will and wishes of the country where it is being delivered and against the norms of the ICRC, the International Red Cross, and how it would react to that.

So that’s the effort that’s underway now. It’s been a consistent, continued diplomatic effort to try to find a way forward, but obviously the humanitarian assistance needs to get there, and there are a clear set of meetings scheduled, so there’s a timeframe within which we think we’re operating, which is why I mention that.

With respect to Iraq and the stability, I want – I think Chuck Hagel should speak specifically to any of the security components of that, but I’d just say on the economic and political front, the best thing for stability in Iraq is for an inclusive government to bring the disaffected parties to the table and work with them in order to make sure there is the kind of sharing of power and decision making that people feel confident the government represents all of their interests. And if that begins to happen, then there is a way for both investment, trade, economic, other realities to help sustain and build that kind of stability.

But if you don’t have the prerequisite, which President Obama identified at the outset, of an inclusive, working government, there’s no chance for any of that. That’s why we think the steps taken, the selection of a speaker, the selection of a president, and now a prime minister-designate who has an opportunity to be able to form a government are just essential prerequisites to this process of providing stability.

Do you want to talk to the security?

SECRETARY HAGEL: I’ll just mention a couple of things. One, as you know, it was the Iraqi Government that requested the U.S. Government’s assistance with humanitarian delivery on Mount Sinjar. And we complied with that request, agreed with that request for carrying out those missions. It was also the Iraqi Government’s request of the United States Government to assist them in transferring, transporting military equipment to Erbil to help the Peshmerga. As Secretary Kerry noted and as President Obama has said, as a new government begins, takes shape, we would consider further requests from that new government.

But I would just also reemphasize what Secretary Kerry has already noted, and President Obama has made this very clear, the future of Iraq will be determined by the people of Iraq. It will not be determined by a military solution. It will require a political solution, and I think Secretary Kerry’s comments about an inclusive participatory, a functioning government is critically important to the future of Iraq. So we would wait and see what future requests that this new government would ask of us, and we would consider those based on those requests.

FOREIGN MINISTER BISHOP: Just on Ukraine, Australia welcomes the efforts of the United States to assist in preventative diplomacy between Ukraine and Russia. As I made, I hope, very clear to Vice Minister Morgulov in Naypyidaw over the weekend, yes, there is a humanitarian situation in Ukraine that is serious, and it’s likely to worsen. But if Russia were concerned about the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, the first step is to stop the flow of fighters and weapons into eastern Ukraine and the so-called separatists are very professional, very well armed with the most sophisticated of weaponry and equipment, so to cease that flow of personnel and weapons would be a start.

I also hope I made very clear that any intervention by Russia into Ukraine under the guise of a humanitarian crisis would be seen as the transparent artifice that it is, and Australia would condemn in the strongest possible terms any effort by Russia to enter Ukraine under the guise of carrying out some sort of humanitarian mission. Clearly that kind of support must come from donor countries, from the UN, from the International Red Cross, and that is our expectation.

I think that’s it, (inaudible). Yes, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. We will now depart, and I just want to place on record again our thanks to Secretaries Kerry and Hagel for taking part in this AUSMIN, and we look forward to seeing them next year.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you.

# # #

Speeches: ASEAN and America: Partners for the Future

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Phil. I’m glad to be in San Francisco, and with all of you here at the Commonwealth Club.

You’re here today because you understand the importance of Asia to America. This is especially evident in a Pacific Coast state like California. More than 5.5 million Asian-Pacific Americans live in California, and millions more Californians do business, study, or otherwise benefit from their ties with the region. California exported nearly $70 billion in goods to the region last year, more than any other state. And Asia matters to the entire United States – to our economy, to our security, to our families.

As a Pacific power and a trading nation, we can’t afford not to be in the Asia-Pacific. That’s why President Obama decided, before he even took office, to institute a long-term, strategic emphasis on the region. And I’m confident that strategy will extend far beyond his presidency, because we have strong bipartisan support for it – both parties understand the importance of Asia.

Now, there is a lot going on in Asia today, from the dramatic rise of China and the historic reforms in Burma, to the ongoing threat from North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, to the dangerous tensions in the South China Sea.

And while I know that as a topic, “strengthening regional institutions” probably ties for last place with “corporate tax policy” in its headline-grabbing power, it’s one of the most consequential undertakings in terms of American interests. And that’s what I’d like to discuss with you today — namely, the effort to shape a rules-based order that is stable, peaceful, open and free.

First let me say that the region I am responsible for–East Asia and the Pacific–is a diverse one. Northeast Asia, Oceania–which includes Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific island states–and then Southeast Asia, are all quite different.

Northeast Asia is home to two of our important treaty allies – Japan and the Republic of Korea. We’ve modernized defense cooperation with both countries to address the very real threat posed by North Korea. And we’ve deepened economic engagement through free trade agreements such as the one reached with South Korea.

Northeast Asia is also home, of course, to China–with which we’ve dramatically increased our engagement.

I was with Secretary Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, and other Cabinet officials earlier this month for the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue covering nearly every area of our relationship with China, from concrete steps to combat climate change and wildlife trafficking, to preventing nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula and in Iran, to facilitating business and investment between our two countries.

These exchanges show the conviction of both sides – as the world’s two largest economies, two of the strongest military powers, and the two largest carbon emitters – to cooperate on the world’s toughest problems whenever we can. And just as important, they show our shared commitment to tackle problem areas frankly and openly, instead of merely agreeing to disagree on issues like human rights or intellectual property protection.

Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific island states are extremely important partners. We’ve upgraded our defense cooperation with our Australian treaty ally, and we’re working to create jobs and shared prosperity with both Australia and New Zealand through the TPP trade agreement.

We’re also working with the vulnerable island states to protect the environment. Last month, Secretary Kerry hosted the “Our Ocean” conference, a first-of-its-kind diplomatic effort rallying heads of state, scientists and advocates from the Pacific Island nations and beyond to protect this shared resource.

But in many respects, the dynamic center of the region is Southeast Asia, and the ten countries that make up ASEAN.

Let me first say a few words about each.

Our ally the Philippines is a stable democracy with strong economic growth. We completed an enhanced defense cooperation agreement during President Obama’s visit in April, which enables us to better address common security challenges and provide relief for disasters, such as Typhoon Haiyan. Our economies also continue to grow closer, with two way trade reaching $24 billion last year.

We have strong partners in Indonesia and Malaysia, both pluralistic and tolerant Muslim-majority nations with growing economies. Indonesia’s recent presidential election shows the strength of their democracy. And President Obama’s recent visit to Malaysia highlighted our growing economic, people-to-people, and security ties.

Singapore is an influential and effective economic, diplomatic and security partner. Brunei is a major energy producer that, while small, has been a valuable partner for us on crucial regional issues like renewable energy and free trade.

Vietnam, of course, has a complicated history with the U.S. But our relations are now flourishing. Trade is increasing dramatically as Vietnam’s economy grows. And we’re forging closer security ties, even as we encourage greater political openness and respect for human rights.

We cooperate with Laos and Cambodia on a range of development issues, and we also push them to adhere to global standards of human rights.

With our longtime treaty ally Thailand, despite the recent setback of a military coup, we remain committed to our enduring friendship.

Perhaps no other country shows the promise of this region better than Burma, which has made a turn of historic proportions towards democracy and reform.

But that turn is by no means complete. Burma faces many challenges, and the success of its reform process is by no means certain. Burma is working to negotiate a lasting peace to end the world’s longest running civil war. It is grappling now with the key issue of constitutional reform, of military versus civilian control over its government, and of who it deems eligible to serve as head of state.

It continues to face hard choices in determining how to resolve an ongoing humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State. On that issue, we have seen some positive movement in the past week, as the government announced its intent to welcome the return of assistance providers, like Doctors Without Borders, and put forth its strategy on how to bring access to livelihoods and security back to populations that have been living tenuously for many months because of ethno-religious violence and discrimination.

Secretary Kerry will be very focused on seeing how this process is proceeding, when he visits in early August. He, and then President Obama when he visits in November, will be keen to get a sense of Burma’s preparedness for its landmark elections next year. The world will be watching, and we will continue to stand with the government and people of Burma as they enter this testing period. So we will continue to press Burma’s leaders to protect and respect all of their peoples, and their human rights and fundamental freedoms. And we will continue to support that country’s transformation.

That’s the overview of Southeast Asia today. The region’s economic dynamism and strategic importance has made it a particular focus of this administration – the ‘rebalance within the rebalance,’ if you will.

These ten countries have many differences, but they are bound by the conviction that they can achieve more together than they can apart. But before we talk about where they’re headed, it’s important to know how they came together.

Today’s ASEAN began in 1967 when the Vietnam War was heating up, and the Cold War seemed never-ending. In this uncertain world, five Southeast Asian nations signed a Declaration that they would support each other as they sought to build prosperous, independent states.

Now, nearly half a century after its founding, ASEAN has doubled to 10 nations with more than 620 million people, and a GDP of $2.2 trillion.

As Southeast Asia has grown and developed, ASEAN’s relations with the U.S. have grown as well. Under our Trade and Investment Framework Agreement signed in 2006, we have deepened our economic ties.

Since President Obama decided in 2009 to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation–a treaty that ASEAN has extended to key neighbors–we’ve deepened our political ties as well. This is shown by the President’s decision to participate annually in the East Asia Summit, as he will again this year in November. This commitment to enhanced engagement with ASEAN is a key feature of the rebalance.

And we’re strengthening our ties with ASEAN across the entire U.S. government. Take this past April, when Secretary Hagel, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, and U.S. Pacific Commander Admiral Sam Locklear hosted defense ministers from the ASEAN nations in Hawai’i. This was the first-ever ASEAN meeting here in the United States–a recognition that our security and prosperity are more intertwined than ever before.

For instance, California already sells over $11.6 billion worth of goods to ASEAN. Exports to ASEAN support more than 90,000 California jobs [in 2012]. And both of those numbers can grow a lot more. Your state also stands to gain from more tourists and students from the region.

And ASEAN matters to the entire United States. We had $206 billion worth of trade in goods last year. ASEAN is our fourth-largest export market and trading partner. With a diaspora reaching across America, the region contributes to our culture. And sitting astride vital trade routes, it is important to our security.

A stable Southeast Asia that meets the aspirations of its people–for economic growth, clean air and water, education, and a voice in how they’re governed–is in America’s national interest. And one of the best, most efficient ways for America to help the region meet its aspirations is by investing in ASEAN.

Strengthening regional institutions is a long-term strategy. We pursue it because it’s essential to building the foundations for progress–from ease of trade, travel and transport, to systems for resolving legal disputes, to the ability to act together on pressing issues like environmental protection. We all benefit from a rules-based system.

Strong institutions harness a powerful force. A force you see in both daily life and in international politics–peer pressure. In fact, ASEAN shows that the best way to create positive peer pressure in the long term is through strong institutions.

ASEAN is working towards forming a cohesive economic community by next year through lower barriers and increased trade volumes with each other. For the U.S. economy, this will mean easier and more efficient market access to all 10 ASEAN countries. And in the longer term, a more prosperous ASEAN will be able to buy more American exports–from farm products to manufactured goods, to services.

Even as ASEAN pursues its ambitious agenda of internal integration, it has taken on the challenge of bringing the entire Asia-Pacific region closer together. This fills an important gap – APEC is a forum for economic cooperation, but there was no forum in the region where countries could deal with political, security, and humanitarian issues.

So in 1997, ASEAN started meetings with Japan, South Korea, and China… then with Australia, India, and New Zealand… and four years ago with the United States and Russia, bringing the number of world leaders attending what is now known as the East Asia Summit to 18.

The growth of the East Asia Summit shows ASEAN’s measured advance on the international stage as the hub that connects the region.

Less visible than the leaders’ summit, but even larger, is the ASEAN Regional Forum, an annual gathering of foreign ministers and other senior officials representing 26 countries from Pakistan to the Pacific Rim, and the EU.

This is perhaps the region’s most important ministerial meeting of the year, and it takes place in a few weeks in Burma. Secretary Kerry and his counterparts will discuss political and security issues, and begin fleshing out the agenda for the East Asia Summit, or EAS, which President Obama plans to attend in November.

Why the emphasis on EAS? In Europe, we’ve seen for decades how a region can develop effective institutions tailored to their unique needs, such as NATO and the OSCE. Those organizations have helped tackle regional, political, security and humanitarian problems. We believe the EAS can become the premier forum for addressing pressing issues in the Asia-Pacific region. But it is relatively new, and members are still trying to shape it to increase its usefulness and effectiveness.

We joined EAS because, as an Asia-Pacific nation, we want to be at the table for a strategic discussion about how we build and shape the institution over time.

Let me give you a little preview of the issues that will be at the top of Secretary Kerry’s agenda. We expect to advance collaboration on issues ranging from non-proliferation to humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

Disaster response is incredibly important, since the Asia-Pacific is hit by 70 percent of all natural disasters, costing the region $68 billion annually over the past ten years.

We have worked closely with partners, including China, on improving regional responses to problems and accidents such as oil spills, for example. We are supporting the EAS declaration on Rapid Disaster Response, helping spread the lessons learned in the Philippines from the recent Super-typhoon Haiyan, and working to improve the capabilities of ASEAN’s Centre for Humanitarian Assistance and disaster relief.

We’ve also teamed up with regional partners to develop a strategic plan for exercises that will prepare us to better coordinate delivery of life-saving relief in future disasters. And we are preparing to host an ARF climate change adaptation workshop to help countries protect their people from this growing problem.

In addition to advancing these areas of collaboration, we will have frank discussions about pressing political and security challenges. In recent months, the main security challenge facing ASEAN has been tensions in the South China Sea.

This is, of course, most important to the countries with overlapping territorial and maritime claims there. Let me note up front that the U.S. is not a claimant and does not take a position on others’ claims to land features in the South China Sea. So the United States can be impartial. And we are impartial; we are not taking one claimant’s side against another.

However, peace and stability in the South China Sea is important to the international community, because the South China Sea is essential to the global economy. Up to 50 percent of the world’s oil tanker shipments, and over half of the world’s merchant tonnage, pass through the South China Sea. National interests like freedom of navigation, international law, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and unimpeded commerce are at stake.

Rival maritime and territorial claims have existed here for decades, as countries jostle over islands, shipping lanes, historically rich fisheries, and more recently, oil and gas reserves.

The claimants have, at various times, shown that cooperation in the South China Sea area is possible. They have jointly explored for and managed resources. The Philippines and Indonesia peacefully settled a 20-year maritime boundary dispute just outside the Sea earlier this year. China and Vietnam have settled similar issues in the past. And some claimants have jointly developed energy resources further away from disputed land features.

In 2002, the ASEAN nations and China signed a Declaration on Conduct in the South China Sea. The Declaration, among other things, said that the parties would resolve disputes peacefully and in accordance with international law, and would refrain from actions that would escalate disputes, such as setting up new outposts on unoccupied features. And they agreed to work toward a more detailed Code of Conduct.

But tensions have flared over the years as well, and this year, they are running high. No claimant is solely responsible for the state of tensions. However, big and powerful countries have a special responsibility to show restraint. China’s recent pattern of assertive, unilateral behavior has raised serious concerns about China’s expansive claims, and its willingness to adhere to international law and standards.

Tensions spiked recently when China sent a deepwater drilling rig and armed ships into an area near the Paracel Islands that Vietnam also claims. The resulting weeks-long confrontation resulted in damaged ships, including the sinking of a Vietnamese fishing vessel, and damaged relations, including anti-Chinese riots in Vietnam.

At the same time, public evidence indicates the claimants are upgrading outposts on small land features in the South China Sea. What worries me is that China’s projects are far outpacing similar upgrades that other claimants are making. This important, resource-rich area should not be heavily militarized.

And actions off the water can raise tensions as well.

All parties should be able to bring disputes for adjudication under international law if they conclude that regular diplomatic efforts will not succeed. The Philippines has done this in a dispute with China over the validity of its claim that a 1948 Nationalist Chinese map “proves” that China owns the land and water within a “9 dash line” in the South China Sea.

But instead of engaging constructively and arguing its case as the Tribunal has proposed, China has pressured the Philippines to drop its case, and attempted to isolate the Philippines diplomatically.

International law, not national power, should be the basis for pursuing maritime claims in the South China Sea.

The United States works to lower tensions and help the parties peacefully manage their disputes in several ways. We have told the claimants – including the Chinese – directly and at the highest levels, of our growing concern. And we’ve encouraged all sides to avoid provocations and make clear claims based on international law.

We’re working with ASEAN and the international community to promote regional structures and arrangements, like a meaningful Code of Conduct, to lower tensions and manage disputes.

Rules and guidelines work best when they’re agreed to by the parties, through institutions that build habits of cooperation.

The U.S. is also investing more than $156 million in the civilian maritime capabilities of allies and partners in the area over the next two years. This includes equipment, training, and infrastructure. And it augments our own security presence in the region, which has been enhanced by the rebalance.

These are steps the U.S. is taking. But the claimants are the ones who must manage and settle the disputes. They are the ones who must generate the peer pressure – who must hold themselves to high standards, and then set an example for each other.

For instance, China and ASEAN already committed under the 2002 Declaration on Conduct to avoid activities that “would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability.”

However, these problematic activities are not well defined. We are urging China and the other claimants to have a conversation about what activities are acceptable to each of them – both to help reduce tensions now, and manage differences in the long run.

We have called for claimant states to define and voluntarily freeze problematic activities. The exact elements of a freeze would be decided by consensus among the claimants, and would not prejudice the competing claims.

We’ve offered these ideas, in greater detail, both in public and in private. And we plan on advancing this important discussion at the upcoming ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Burma.

Over time, strong institutions can influence the conduct of all their members, helping to avoid conflict and incentivize peaceful resolution of disputes. We see beneficial outcomes of positive peer pressure with environmental issues, in trade, and human rights. It doesn’t work every time, but it’s responsible for enormous progress.

The Asia-Pacific region has almost limitless potential, if it can avoid the pitfalls ahead. Strong institutions are key – not just to avoid and resolve disputes, but also to lower barriers to trade, and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The U.S., as a resident Pacific power and participant in many of the region’s institutions, will do all we can to strengthen those institutions even further.

We do this through our alliances and our security partnerships–and through our growing business and people-to-people ties, in which California plays an incredibly large role. And together, the American people and our government will continue to help provide a foundation of peace and stability on which the region can grow.

The Brussels G7 Summit Declaration

Brussels, Belgium – 5 June 2014

1. We, the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, met in Brussels on 4 and 5 June 2014. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are profoundly committed to the values of freedom and democracy, and their universality and to fostering peace and security. We believe in open economies, open societies and open governments, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, as the basis for lasting growth and stability. For nearly forty years, we have shown through our actions that collective will can be a powerful catalyst for progress. Our efforts to address major global challenges have also been guided by a commitment to transparency, accountability and partnership with other concerned members of the international community. We remain bound together as a group by these values and this vision. Guided by these shared values and principles, we will continue to work together to meet the challenges of our times. We thank the European Union for hosting this Summit and welcome Germany’s Presidency.

Global Economy

2. Supporting growth and jobs remains our top priority. The global economy has strengthened since we met at Lough Erne, downside risks remain which will need to be managed carefully. Advanced economies are recovering, but continued and sustained growth is needed to bring down unemployment, particularly among young people and the long-term unemployed.

3. We will take further steps to support strong, sustainable and balanced growth, with a common goal of increasing the resilience of our economies. We will present ambitious and comprehensive growth strategies at the G20 Summit in Brisbane, to include action across a broad front including in the areas of investment, small and medium enterprises, employment and participation of women, and trade and innovation, in addition to macroeconomic policies. We will continue to implement our fiscal strategies flexibly to take into account near-term economic conditions, so as to support economic growth and job creation, while putting debt as a share of GDP on a sustainable path.

4. We agreed that 2014 will be the year in which we focus on substantially completing key aspects of the core financial reforms that we undertook in response to the global financial crisis: building resilient financial institutions; ending too-big-to-fail; addressing shadow banking risks; and making derivatives markets safer. We remain committed to the agreed G20 roadmap for work on relevant shadow banking activities with clear deadlines and actions to progress rapidly towards strengthened and comprehensive oversight and regulation appropriate to the systemic risks posed. We will remain vigilant in the face of global risk and vulnerabilities. And we remain committed to tackling tax avoidance including through the G20/Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan as set out in the agreed timetable, and tax evasion, where we look forward to the rapid implementation of the new single global standard for automatic exchange of tax information. We call on all jurisdictions to take similar action.

5. Trade and investment are key engines for jobs and growth. We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all forms of protectionism including through standstill and rollback. We are committed to strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system. We will protect and promote investment and maintain a level playing field for all investors. International standards for public export finance are crucial for avoiding or reducing distortions in global trade. Since we met at Lough Erne, we have made substantial progress on major trade negotiations: Canada-EU; Japan-EU; Canada-Japan; EU-US; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and the Trade in Services Agreement. We aim to finalise them as soon as possible. We are committed to liberalising trade in environmental goods and services, including through an Environmental Goods agreement. We will work to conclude an expanded Information Technology Agreement as soon as possible. These agreements and initiatives can help support and will be consistent with the multilateral trading system and act as building blocks for future multilateral deals. We welcome the successful outcomes of the 9th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference. We will prioritise full and swift implementation of the Bali Package, in particular the Trade Facilitation Agreement. We will continue to provide, within our current Aid for Trade commitments, substantial support and capacity building to help implement this agreement, in particular to the benefit of the Least Developed Countries. We fully support efforts in the WTO to secure swift agreement to a balanced work programme for completing the Doha Round.

Energy

6. The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable. The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the centre of our collective agenda and requires a step change to our approach to diversifying energy supplies and modernising our energy infrastructure. Under the Rome G7 Energy Initiative, we will identify and implement concrete domestic policies by each of our governments separately and together, to build a more competitive, diversified, resilient and low-carbon energy system. This work will be based on the core principles agreed by our Ministers of Energy on May 5-6 2014, in Rome:

  • Development of flexible, transparent and competitive energy markets, including gas markets.
  • Diversification of energy fuels, sources and routes, and encouragement of indigenous sources of energy supply.
  • Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy as a key contribution to sustainable energy security.
  • Enhancing energy efficiency in demand and supply, and demand response management.
  • Promoting deployment of clean and sustainable energy technologies and continued investment in research and innovation.
  • Improving energy systems resilience by promoting infrastructure modernization and supply and demand policies that help withstand systemic shocks.
  • Putting in place emergency response systems, including reserves and fuel substitution for importing countries, in case of major energy disruptions.

7. Based on these principles we will take the following immediate actions:

  • We will complement the efforts of the European Commission to develop emergency energy plans for winter 2014-2015 at a regional level.
  • Working with international organisations such as the International Energy Agency (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the international financial institutions, we will supply technical assistance, including leveraging the private sector, and facilitate exchanges with Ukraine and other European countries seeking to develop indigenous hydrocarbon resources and renewable energies, as well as to improve energy efficiency.
  • We will conduct assessments of our energy security resilience and enhance our joint efforts, including on critical infrastructure, transit routes, supply chains and transport.
  • We will ask the IEA, in close cooperation with the European Commission, to present by the end of 2014 options for individual and collective actions of the G7 in the field of gas security.

8. We will also:

  • Promote the use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in the countries which opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage) including those which work as a base load energy source; and
  • Promote a more integrated Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market, including through new supplies, the development of transport infrastructures, storage capabilities, and LNG terminals, and further promotion of flexible gas markets, including relaxation of destination clauses and producer-consumer dialogue.

9. We ask our Energy Ministers to take forward this Rome G7 Energy Initiative and report back to us in 2015.

Climate Change

10. Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change, as set out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. We therefore remain committed to low-carbon economies with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We affirm our strong determination to adopt in 2015 a global agreement – a new protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties – that is ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances. We will communicate our intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) and call on others to follow our lead. We welcome the Climate Summit of the United Nations Secretary General in September and his invitation to all Parties to prepare for ambitious contributions and to deliver concrete action to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. We look forward to a successful Summit.

11. We reaffirm our support for the Copenhagen Accord commitments to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, both public and private, to address the climate mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries in the context of their meaningful and transparent mitigation actions. We welcome the adoption of the Green Climate Fund’s operating rules and the decision to commence its initial resource mobilisation in the coming months. We remain committed to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and continued discussions in the OECD on how export credits can contribute to our common goal to address climate change. We will strengthen efforts to improve measurement, reporting, verification and accounting of emissions and improve the reporting of international climate finance flows, consistent with agreed decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We will work together and with others to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) under the Montreal Protocol. We will also continue to take action to promote the rapid deployment of climate-friendly and safe alternatives in motor vehicle air-conditioning and we will promote public procurement of climate-friendly HFC alternatives.

Development

12. The pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development and greater prosperity in all countries remains a foundational commitment that unites our people and our countries. We continue to implement the commitments we have made at previous Summits. To be accountable we will provide a report in 2015 on progress toward their attainment.

13. We commit to work with all partners to agree an ambitious and universal post-2015 agenda, anchored in a single set of clear and measurable goals. That agenda should complete unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be centred on people and focused both on the eradication of extreme poverty, promoting development and on balancing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development, including climate change. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all. We are committed to build a global partnership with shared responsibility and mutual accountability to ensure its implementation. We await the synthesis report of the United Nations Secretary General in the second half of 2014. We welcome the African Union’s common position.

14. We will continue to promote inclusive and resilient growth in Africa, working with governments and citizens in Africa to enhance governance and transparency, improve infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, eliminate trade barriers, facilitate trade and investment, and strengthen the responsible and sustainable management of natural resources and the revenues they generate. We welcome the active role of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the process of reforming the Africa Partnership Forum.

15. Security and development are the prerequisite of a lasting peace in regions affected by the scourge of war, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, instability and poverty, notably the Sahel region, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. We welcome efforts by African partners and the African Union, supported by the international community, aimed at building their capacities to respond to crises and support stabilisation.

16. We confirm our strong commitment to the Deauville Partnership and our support to Arab countries in transition in their efforts to improve governance and stimulate inclusive growth and job creation, particularly for their youth and women. Our Foreign and Finance Ministers will meet in the margins of United Nations General Assembly, and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual Meetings, to take forward the Partnership.

17. We remain committed to work towards common global standards that raise extractives transparency, which ensure disclosure of companies’ payments to all governments. We welcome the progress made among G7 members to implement quickly such standards. These global standards should continue to move towards project-level reporting. Those governments that are signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard will voluntarily report their revenues. We confirm our commitment to implement fully the extractive partnerships launched in 2013.

18. We today announce a new initiative on Strengthening Assistance for Complex Contract Negotiations (CONNEX) to provide developing country partners with extended and concrete expertise for negotiating complex commercial contracts, focusing initially on the extractives sector, and working with existing fora and facilities to avoid duplication, to be launched in New York in June and to deliver improvements by our next meeting, including as a first step a central resource hub that brings together information and guidance.

19. We will continue to work to tackle tax evasion and illicit flows of finance, including by supporting developing countries to strengthen their tax base and help create stable and sustainable states. We renew our commitment to deny safe haven to the proceeds of corruption, and to the recovery and return of stolen assets. We remain committed to prevent the misuse of companies and other legal arrangements such as trusts to hide financial flows stemming from corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes, ensuring that beneficial ownership information is available in a timely fashion to financial intelligence units, tax collection and law enforcement agencies, for example through central registries or other appropriate mechanisms, leading by example in implementing the Financial Action Task Force and other relevant international standards and our national action plans in line with the principles we agreed at Lough Erne. Greater transparency in this area will help developing countries.

20. Recent events illustrate that corruption undermines trust in governments and limits economic growth. We will build on existing efforts, including in the G20, to take additional steps to prevent this. We continue our engagement to and support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative. We welcome the outcomes of the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery and look forward to the third Arab Forum on Asset Recovery. The G7 remains committed to working with governments and global financial centres to follow up on asset recovery efforts.

21. We remain committed to the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, and welcome the call made at the Saving Every Woman, Every Child Summit in Toronto to accelerate progress on this global priority. In addition we are committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ending child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and other harmful practices. The health and well-being of women and children are improved through ensuring universal access to affordable, quality, essential health services, strengthening health, education and child protection systems and improving nutrition and access to immunisation. We recognise the impact of the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and welcome its efforts to expand access to vaccines to an additional 300 million children during 2016-2020. We welcome Germany’s offer to host the second replenishment in early 2015, reaffirm our commitment, and call on other public and private donors to contribute to the replenishment of the GAVI Alliance. We reaffirm our commitment to an AIDS free generation and to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce the burden of these three major infectious diseases on eligible countries and regions.

22. To address the threat posed by infectious diseases, we support the Global Health Security Agenda and commit to working with partner countries to strengthen compliance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations and enhance health security around the world. We commit to working across sectors to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or the result of a deliberate act by a state or non-state actor. That includes building global capacity so that we are better prepared for threats such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and working together, in close cooperation with WHO, to develop a Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance.

23. We continue to strongly support comprehensive approaches to achieve global food security and nutrition. We look forward to the second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014 and the Expo Milan 2015, which will provide a platform for the global post-2015 debate on sustainability and food and nutrition security. We continue to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition under strong African leadership and the successful completion of principles for responsible agricultural investment by the Committee on World Food Security. These will better enable smallholder farmers, especially women, to benefit from sustainable rural development. We continue to support the consistent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, including by building on the land partnerships we launched in 2013 and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme.

Ukraine

24. We welcome the successful conduct under difficult circumstances of the election in Ukraine on 25 May. The strong voter turnout underlined the determination of Ukraine’s citizens to determine the future of their country. We welcome Petro Poroshenko as the President-elect of Ukraine and commend him for reaching out to all the people of Ukraine.

25. In the face of unacceptable interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs by the Russian Federation, we stand by the Ukrainian government and people. We call upon the illegal armed groups to disarm. We encourage the Ukrainian authorities to maintain a measured approach in pursuing operations to restore law and order. We fully support the substantial contribution made by the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the de-escalation of the crisis through the Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE instruments. We commend the willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to continue the national dialogue in an inclusive manner. We welcome the “Memorandum of Peace and Unity” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May and express the wish that it can be implemented rapidly. We also encourage the Ukrainian parliament and the Government of Ukraine to continue to pursue constitutional reform in order to provide a framework for deepening and strengthening democracy and accommodating the rights and aspirations of all people in all regions of Ukraine.

26. The G7 are committed to continuing to work with Ukraine to support its economic development, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We encourage the fulfilment of Ukraine’s commitment to pursue the difficult reforms that will be crucial to support economic stability and unlock private sector-led growth. We welcome the decision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a $17 billion programme for Ukraine, which will anchor other bilateral and multilateral assistance and loans, including around $18 billion foreseen to date from G7 partners. We welcome the swift disbursement of macro-economic support for Ukraine. We support an international donor coordination mechanism to ensure effective delivery of economic assistance and we welcome the EU’s intention to hold a high-level coordination meeting in Brussels. We welcome ongoing efforts to diversify Ukraine’s sources of gas, including through recent steps in the EU towards enabling reverse gas flow capacities and look forward to the successful conclusion of the talks, facilitated by the European Commission, on gas transit and supply from the Russian Federation to Ukraine.

27. We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to de-stabilise eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop. These actions violate fundamental principles of international law and should be a concern for all nations. We urge the Russian Federation to recognise the results of the election, complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence. We call on the Russian Federation to meet the commitments it made in the Geneva Joint Statement and cooperate with the government of Ukraine as it implements its plans for promoting peace, unity and reform.

28. We confirm the decision by G7 countries to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who have actively supported or implemented the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and who are threatening the peace, security and stability of Ukraine. We are implementing a strict policy of non-recognition with respect to Crimea/Sevastopol, in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262. We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require.

29. The projects funded by the donor community to convert the Chernobyl site into a stable and environmentally safe condition have reached an advanced stage of completion. While recognizing the complexity of these first of a kind projects, we call upon all concerned parties to make an additional effort to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion and call upon project parties to keep costs under control. This remains a high priority for us.

Syria

30. We strongly condemn the Assad regime’s brutality which drives a conflict that has killed more than 160,000 people and left 9.3 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We denounce the 3 June sham presidential election: there is no future for Assad in Syria. We again endorse the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers and agreed by mutual consent, based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria. We strongly condemn the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime. There is evidence that extremist groups have also perpetrated grave human rights abuses. All those responsible for such abuses must be held to account. We welcome the commitment of the National Coalition and Free Syrian Army to uphold international law. We deplore Russia and China’s decision to veto the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution draft authorising referral to the International Criminal Court and demanding accountability for the serious and ongoing crimes committed in Syria.

31. We are committed to supporting the neighbouring countries bearing the burden of Syrian refugee inflows and deplore the failure to implement UNSC Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance. We urge all parties to the conflict to allow access to aid for all those in need, by the most direct routes, including across borders and conflict lines, and support further urgent action by the UNSC to that end. In our funding we decide to give particular support to humanitarian actors that can reach those most in need, including across borders. We call for the international community to meet the enormous funding needs of the UN appeals for Syria and its neighbours. We resolve to intensify our efforts to address the threat arising from foreign fighters travelling to Syria. We are deeply concerned by allegations of repeated chemical agent use and call on all parties in Syria to cooperate fully with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission. We call on Syria to comply with its obligations under UNSC Resolution 2118, decisions of the Executive Council of the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure the swift removal of its remaining chemical stockpile for destruction, and to destroy its production facilities immediately and answer all questions regarding its declaration to the OPCW.

Libya

32. We reaffirm our support for a free, prosperous and democratic Libya which will play its role in promoting regional stability. We express serious concern at the recent violence and urge all Libyans to engage with the political process through peaceful and inclusive means, underpinned by respect for the rule of law. We urge continued and coordinated engagement by the international community to support the Libyan transition and efforts to promote political dialogue, in coordination with the UN and with the UN Support Mission in Libya fulfilling its mandate in that respect. We ask all in the international community to respect fully Libyan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in its affairs. In this framework, we commend the proposal of the High National Electoral Commission, endorsed by the General National Congress, to convene the elections on June 25. We emphasise the importance of these elections in restarting the political process and appreciate the vital work of the Constitution Drafting Assembly.

Mali and Central African Republic

33. We welcome the ceasefire signed on May 23 by the Malian Government and armed groups in the North of Mali, thanks to efforts by the African Union, through its Presidency, and the UN. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a political solution and to an inclusive dialogue process that must start without delay, as prescribed by the Ouagadougou agreement and UNSC decisions. We fully support the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali efforts in stabilising the country and, with the commitment of neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Mauritania and the Economic Community of West African States, in working for a durable settlement respectful of the unity, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Mali.

34. We commend the role played on the ground in the Central African Republic by the AU-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, together with the forces sent by France and the European Union, to support the transition and encourage the Transitional Authorities to take urgent concrete steps toward holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. We fully support the UN efforts in the areas of security, reconciliation, preparation of the elections, and humanitarian assistance.

Iran

35. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and welcome the efforts by the E3+3, led by High Representative Ashton, and Iran to negotiate a comprehensive solution that provides confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. We underline the importance of the continuing effective implementation by the E3+3 and Iran of the Joint Plan of Action. We call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency on verification of Iran’s nuclear activities and to resolve all outstanding issues, including, critically, those relating to possible military dimensions. We strongly urge Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. We call on Iran to play a more constructive role in supporting regional security, in particular in Syria, and to reject all acts of terrorism and terrorist groups.

North Korea

36. We strongly condemn North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. We urge North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions and commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. We call on the international community to implement fully UN sanctions. We reiterate our grave concerns over the ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea documented in the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, and urge North Korea to take immediate steps to address these violations, including on the abductions issue, and cooperate fully with all relevant UN bodies. We continue to work to advance accountability for North Korea’s serious human rights violations.

Middle East Peace Process

37. We fully support the United States’ efforts to secure a negotiated two-state solution. We regret that greater progress has not been made by the parties and urge them to find the common ground and political strength needed to resume the process. A negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict. We call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any unilateral action which may further undermine peace efforts and affect the viability of a two-state solution.

Afghanistan

38. We renew our long-term commitment to a democratic, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan and our enduring partnership with the Government of Afghanistan based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. The first round of presidential elections and the provincial council elections marked a historic achievement, especially for the more than 2.5 million women who voted, and we look forward to the completion of the electoral process. We continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan to strengthen their institutions of governance, reduce corruption, combat terrorism, support economic growth, and counter narcotics. We continue to actively support an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation.

Maritime Navigation and Aviation

39. We reaffirm the importance of maintaining a maritime order based upon the universally-agreed principles of international law. We remain committed to international cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crime, consistent with international law and internationally recognised principles of jurisdiction in international waters. We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea. We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force. We call on all parties to clarify and pursue their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law. We support the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through legal dispute settlement mechanisms. We also support confidence-building measures. We underscore the importance of the freedom of navigation and overflight and also the effective management of civil air traffic based on international law and International Civil Aviation Organization standards and practices.

Other issues

40. We reaffirm our commitment to the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, for all persons. We recognise the need to show unprecedented resolve to promote gender equality, to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, to end child, early and forced marriage and to promote full participation and empowerment of all women and girls. We look forward to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict taking place in London later this month.

41. We reiterate our condemnation of terrorism and our commitment to cooperate in all relevant fora to prevent and respond to terrorism effectively, and in a comprehensive manner, while respecting human rights and the rule of law. We condemn the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram as an unconscionable crime and intend do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

42. We confirm that non-proliferation/disarmament issues remain a top priority and welcome the G7 Non-proliferation Directors Group statement issued today.

The Brussels G-7 Summit Declaration

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release

June 05, 2014

Brussels, Belgium
June 5, 2014

1.       We, the Leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission, met in Brussels on 4 and 5 June 2014. This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. We are profoundly committed to the values of freedom and democracy, and their universality and to fostering peace and security. We believe in open economies, open societies and open governments, including respect for human rights and the rule of law, as the basis for lasting growth and stability.  For nearly forty years, we have shown through our actions that collective will can be a powerful catalyst for progress. Our efforts to address major global challenges have also been guided by a commitment to transparency, accountability and partnership with other concerned members of the international community. We remain bound together as a group by these values and this vision. Guided by these shared values and principles, we will continue to work together to meet the challenges of our times. We thank the European Union for hosting this Summit and welcome Germany’s Presidency.

Global Economy

2.       Supporting growth and jobs remains our top priority. The global economy has strengthened since we met at Lough Erne, downside risks remain which will need to be managed carefully. Advanced economies are recovering, but continued and sustained growth is needed to bring down unemployment, particularly among young people and the long-term unemployed.

3.       We will take further steps to support strong, sustainable and balanced growth, with a common goal of increasing the resilience of our economies. We will present ambitious and comprehensive growth strategies at the G-20 Summit in Brisbane, to include action across a broad front including in the areas of investment, small and medium enterprises, employment and participation of women, and trade and innovation, in addition to macroeconomic policies. We will continue to implement our fiscal strategies flexibly to take into account near-term economic conditions, so as to support economic growth and job creation, while putting debt as a share of GDP on a sustainable path.

4.       We agreed that 2014 will be the year in which we focus on substantially completing key aspects of the core financial reforms that we undertook in response to the global financial crisis: building resilient financial institutions; ending too-big-to-fail; addressing shadow banking risks; and making derivatives markets safer. We remain committed to the agreed G-20 roadmap for work on relevant shadow banking activities with clear deadlines and actions to progress rapidly towards strengthened and comprehensive oversight and regulation appropriate to the systemic risks posed. We will remain vigilant in the face of global risk and vulnerabilities. And we remain committed to tackling tax avoidance including through the G-20/Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Action Plan as set out in the agreed timetable, and tax evasion, where we look forward to the rapid implementation of the new single global standard for automatic exchange of tax information. We call on all jurisdictions to take similar action.

5.       Trade and investment are key engines for jobs and growth. We reaffirm our commitment to keep our markets open and to fight all forms of protectionism including through standstill and rollback. We are committed to strengthening the rules-based multilateral trading system. We will protect and promote investment and maintain a level playing field for all investors. International standards for public export finance are crucial for avoiding or reducing distortions in global trade. Since we met at Lough Erne, we have made substantial progress on major trade negotiations: Canada-EU; Japan-EU; Canada-Japan; EU-US; the Trans-Pacific Partnership; and the Trade in Services Agreement. We aim to finalise them as soon as possible. We are committed to liberalising trade in environmental goods and services, including through an Environmental Goods agreement. We will work to conclude an expanded Information Technology Agreement as soon as possible. These agreements and initiatives can help support and will be consistent with the multilateral trading system and act as building blocks for future multilateral deals. We welcome the successful outcomes of the 9th World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference.  We will prioritise full and swift implementation of the Bali Package, in particular the Trade Facilitation Agreement. We will continue to provide, within our current Aid for Trade commitments, substantial support and capacity building to help implement this agreement, in particular to the benefit of the Least Developed Countries. We fully support efforts in the WTO to secure swift agreement to a balanced work programme for completing the Doha Round.

Energy

6.       The use of energy supplies as a means of political coercion or as a threat to security is unacceptable. The crisis in Ukraine makes plain that energy security must be at the centre of our collective agenda and requires a step change to our approach to diversifying energy supplies and modernising our energy infrastructure. Under the Rome G-7 Energy Initiative, we will identify and implement concrete domestic policies by each of our governments separately and together, to build a more competitive, diversified, resilient and low-carbon energy system.  This work will be based on the core principles agreed by our Ministers of Energy on May 5-6 2014, in Rome:

  • Development of flexible, transparent and competitive energy markets, including gas markets.
  • Diversification of energy fuels, sources and routes, and encouragement of indigenous sources of energy supply.
  • Reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, and accelerating the transition to a low carbon economy as a key contribution to sustainable energy security.
  • Enhancing energy efficiency in demand and supply, and demand response management.
  • Promoting deployment of clean and sustainable energy technologies and continued investment in research and innovation.
  • Improving energy systems resilience by promoting infrastructure modernization and supply and demand policies that help withstand systemic shocks.
  • Putting in place emergency response systems, including reserves and fuel substitution for importing countries, in case of major energy disruptions.

7.       Based on these principles we will take the following immediate actions:

  • We will complement the efforts of the European Commission to develop emergency energy plans for winter 2014-2015 at a regional level.
  • Working with international organisations such as the International Energy Agency  (IEA), the International Renewable Energy Agency, and the international financial institutions, we will supply technical assistance, including leveraging the private sector, and facilitate exchanges with Ukraine and other European countries seeking to develop indigenous hydrocarbon resources and renewable energies, as well as to improve energy efficiency.
  • We will conduct assessments of our energy security resilience and enhance our joint efforts, including on critical infrastructure, transit routes, supply chains and transport.
  • We will ask the IEA, in close cooperation with the European Commission, to present by the end of 2014 options for individual and collective actions of the G-7 in the field of gas security.

8.       We will also:

  • Promote the use of low carbon technologies (renewable energies, nuclear in the countries which opt to use it, and carbon capture and storage) including those which work as a base load energy source; and
  • Promote a more integrated Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) market, including through new supplies, the development of transport infrastructures, storage capabilities, and LNG terminals, and further promotion of flexible gas markets, including relaxation of destination clauses and producer-consumer dialogue.

9.       We ask our Energy Ministers to take forward this Rome G-7 Energy Initiative and report back to us in 2015.

Climate Change

10.      Urgent and concrete action is needed to address climate change, as set out in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report. We therefore remain committed to low-carbon economies with a view to doing our part to limit effectively the increase in global temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels. We affirm our strong determination to adopt in 2015 a global agreement – a new protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the convention applicable to all parties – that is ambitious, inclusive and reflects changing global circumstances. We will communicate our intended nationally determined contributions well in advance of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris (by the first quarter of 2015 by those Parties ready to do so) and call on others to follow our lead. We welcome the Climate Summit of the United Nations Secretary General in September and his invitation to all Parties to prepare for ambitious contributions and to deliver concrete action to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience. We look forward to a successful Summit.

11.      We reaffirm our support for the Copenhagen Accord commitments to mobilise USD 100 billion per year by 2020 from a wide variety of sources, both public and private, to address the climate mitigation and adaptation needs of developing countries in the context of their meaningful and transparent mitigation actions. We welcome the adoption of the Green Climate Fund’s operating rules and the decision to commence its initial resource mobilisation in the coming months.  We remain committed to the elimination of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies and continued discussions in the OECD on how export credits can contribute to our common goal to address climate change. We will strengthen efforts to improve measurement, reporting, verification and accounting of emissions and improve the reporting of international climate finance flows, consistent with agreed decisions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.  We will work together and with others to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFC) under the Montreal Protocol. We will also continue to take action to promote the rapid deployment of climate-friendly and safe alternatives in motor vehicle air-conditioning and we will promote public procurement of climate-friendly HFC alternatives.

Development

12.      The pursuit of sustainable and inclusive development and greater prosperity in all countries remains a foundational commitment that unites our people and our countries. We continue to implement the commitments we have made at previous Summits. To be accountable we will provide a report in 2015 on progress toward their attainment.

13.      We commit to work with all partners to agree an ambitious and universal post-2015 agenda, anchored in a single set of clear and measurable goals. That agenda should complete unfinished business of the Millennium Development Goals. It should be centred on people and focused both on the eradication of extreme poverty, promoting development and on balancing the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development, including climate change. It should also promote peace and security, democratic governance, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights for all. We are committed to build a global partnership with shared responsibility and mutual accountability to ensure its implementation. We await the synthesis report of the United Nations Secretary General in the second half of 2014. We welcome the African Union’s common position.

14.      We will continue to promote inclusive and resilient growth in Africa, working with governments and citizens in Africa to enhance governance and transparency, improve infrastructure, notably in the energy sector, eliminate trade barriers, facilitate trade and investment, and strengthen the responsible and sustainable management of natural resources and the revenues they generate. We welcome the active role of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development in the process of reforming the Africa Partnership Forum.

15.      Security and development are the prerequisite of a lasting peace in regions affected by the scourge of war, terrorism, organized crime, corruption, instability and poverty, notably the Sahel region, Somalia, Nigeria, South Sudan and Central African Republic. We welcome efforts by African partners and the African Union, supported by the international community, aimed at building their capacities to respond to crises and support stabilisation.

16.      We confirm our strong commitment to the Deauville Partnership and our support to Arab countries in transition in their efforts to improve governance and stimulate inclusive growth and job creation, particularly for their youth and women. Our Foreign and Finance Ministers will meet in the margins of United Nations General Assembly, and the International Monetary Fund/World Bank Annual Meetings, to take forward the Partnership.

17.      We remain committed to work towards common global standards that raise extractives transparency, which ensure disclosure of companies’ payments to all governments.  We welcome the progress made among G-7 members to implement quickly such standards. These global standards should continue to move towards project-level reporting. Those governments that are signing up to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative standard will voluntarily report their revenues. We confirm our commitment to implement fully the extractive partnerships launched in 2013.

18.      We today announce a new initiative on Strengthening Assistance for Complex Contract Negotiations (CONNEX) to provide developing country partners with extended and concrete expertise for negotiating complex commercial contracts, focusing initially on the extractives sector, and working with existing fora and facilities to avoid duplication, to be launched in New York in June and to deliver improvements by our next meeting, including as a first step a central resource hub that brings together information and guidance.

19.      We will continue to work to tackle tax evasion and illicit flows of finance, including by supporting developing countries to strengthen their tax base and help create stable and sustainable states. We renew our commitment to deny safe haven to the proceeds of corruption, and to the recovery and return of stolen assets. We remain committed to prevent the misuse of companies and other legal arrangements such as trusts to hide financial flows stemming from corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and other crimes, ensuring that beneficial ownership information is available in a timely fashion to financial intelligence units, tax collection and law enforcement agencies, for example through central registries or other appropriate mechanisms, leading by example in implementing the Financial Action Task Force and other relevant international standards and our national action plans in line with the principles we agreed at Lough Erne. Greater transparency in this area will help developing countries.

20.      Recent events illustrate that corruption undermines trust in governments and limits economic growth. We will build on existing efforts, including in the G-20, to take additional steps to prevent this. We continue our engagement to and support of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank’s Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative. We welcome the outcomes of the Ukraine Forum on Asset Recovery and look forward to the third Arab Forum on Asset Recovery. The G-7 remains committed to working with governments and global financial centres to follow up on asset recovery efforts.

21.      We remain committed to the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, and welcome the call made at the Saving Every Woman, Every Child Summit in Toronto to accelerate progress on this global priority. In addition we are committed to ensuring sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, and ending child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation and other harmful practices. The health and well-being of women and children are improved through ensuring universal access to affordable, quality, essential health services, strengthening health, education and child protection systems and improving nutrition and access to immunisation. We recognise the impact of the GAVI Alliance (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) and welcome its efforts to expand access to vaccines to an additional 300 million children during 2016-2020. We welcome Germany’s offer to host the second replenishment in early 2015, reaffirm our commitment, and call on other public and private donors to contribute to the replenishment of the GAVI Alliance. We reaffirm our commitment to an AIDS free generation and to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to reduce the burden of these three major infectious diseases on eligible countries and regions.

22.      To address the threat posed by infectious diseases, we support the Global Health Security Agenda and commit to working with partner countries to strengthen compliance with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations and enhance health security around the world.  We commit to working across sectors to prevent, detect and respond to infectious diseases, whether naturally occurring, accidental, or the result of a deliberate act by a state or non-state actor. That includes building global capacity so that we are better prepared for threats such as the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and working together, in close cooperation with WHO, to develop a Global Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance.

23.      We continue to strongly support comprehensive approaches to achieve global food security and nutrition. We look forward to the second International Conference on Nutrition in November 2014 and the Expo Milan 2015, which will provide a platform for the global post-2015 debate on sustainability and food and nutrition security. We continue to support the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition under strong African leadership and the successful completion of principles for responsible agricultural investment by the Committee on World Food Security. These will better enable smallholder farmers, especially women, to benefit from sustainable rural development. We continue to support the consistent implementation of the Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests, including by building on the land partnerships we launched in 2013 and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme.

Ukraine

24.   We welcome the successful conduct under difficult circumstances of the election in Ukraine on 25 May. The strong voter turnout underlined the determination of Ukraine’s citizens to determine the future of their country.  We welcome Petro Poroshenko as the President-elect of Ukraine and commend him for reaching out to all the people of Ukraine.

25.   In the face of unacceptable interference in Ukraine’s sovereign affairs by the Russian Federation, we stand by the Ukrainian government and people. We call upon the illegal armed groups to disarm. We encourage the Ukrainian authorities to maintain a measured approach in pursuing operations to restore law and order. We fully support the substantial contribution made by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to the de-escalation of the crisis through the Special Monitoring Mission and other OSCE instruments. We commend the willingness of the Ukrainian authorities to continue the national dialogue in an inclusive manner. We welcome the “Memorandum of Peace and Unity” adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on 20 May and express the wish that it can be implemented rapidly.  We also encourage the Ukrainian parliament and the Government of Ukraine to continue to pursue constitutional reform in order to provide a framework for deepening and strengthening democracy and accommodating the rights and aspirations of all people in all regions of Ukraine.

26.   The G-7 are committed to continuing to work with Ukraine to support its economic development, sovereignty and territorial integrity. We encourage the fulfilment of Ukraine’s commitment to pursue the difficult reforms that will be crucial to support economic stability and unlock private sector-led growth. We welcome the decision of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to approve a $17 billion programme for Ukraine, which will anchor other bilateral and multilateral assistance and loans, including around $18 billion foreseen to date from G-7 partners.  We welcome the swift disbursement of macro-economic support for Ukraine. We support an international donor coordination mechanism to ensure effective delivery of economic assistance and we welcome the EU’s intention to hold a high-level coordination meeting in Brussels. We welcome ongoing efforts to diversify Ukraine’s sources of gas, including through recent steps in the EU towards enabling reverse gas flow capacities and look forward to the successful conclusion of the talks, facilitated by the European Commission, on gas transit and supply from the Russian Federation to Ukraine.

27.   We are united in condemning the Russian Federation’s continuing violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.  Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, and actions to de-stabilise eastern Ukraine are unacceptable and must stop. These actions violate fundamental principles of international law and should be a concern for all nations.  We urge the Russian Federation to recognise the results of the election, complete the withdrawal of its military forces on the border with Ukraine, stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border and to exercise its influence among armed separatists to lay down their weapons and renounce violence. We call on the Russian Federation to meet the commitments it made in the Geneva Joint Statement and cooperate with the government of Ukraine as it implements its plans for promoting peace, unity and reform.

28.   We confirm the decision by G-7 countries to impose sanctions on individuals and entities who have actively supported or implemented the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and who are threatening the peace, security and stability of Ukraine. We are implementing a strict policy of non-recognition with respect to Crimea/Sevastopol, in line with UN General Assembly Resolution 68/262. We stand ready to intensify targeted sanctions and to implement significant additional restrictive measures to impose further costs on Russia should events so require.

29.   The projects funded by the donor community to convert the Chernobyl site into a stable and environmentally safe condition have reached an advanced stage of completion. While recognizing the complexity of these first of a kind projects, we call upon all concerned parties to make an additional effort to bring them to a satisfactory conclusion and call upon project parties to keep costs under control. This remains a high priority for us.

Syria

30.   We strongly condemn the Assad regime’s brutality which drives a conflict that has killed more than 160,000 people and left 9.3 million in need of humanitarian assistance. We denounce the 3 June sham presidential election: there is no future for Assad in Syria. We again endorse the Geneva Communiqué, which calls for a transitional governing body exercising full executive powers and agreed by mutual consent, based on a vision for a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.  We strongly condemn the violations of international humanitarian law and human rights and indiscriminate artillery shelling and aerial bombardment by the Syrian regime. There is evidence that extremist groups have also perpetrated grave human rights abuses. All those responsible for such abuses must be held to account. We welcome the commitment of the National Coalition and Free Syrian Army to uphold international law.  We deplore Russia and China’s decision to veto the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution draft authorising referral to the International Criminal Court and demanding accountability for the serious and ongoing crimes committed in Syria.

31.   We are committed to supporting the neighbouring countries bearing the burden of Syrian refugee inflows and deplore the failure to implement UNSC Resolution 2139 on humanitarian assistance. We urge all parties to the conflict to allow access to aid for all those in need, by the most direct routes, including across borders and conflict lines, and support further urgent action by the UNSC to that end. In our funding we decide to give particular support to humanitarian actors that can reach those most in need, including across borders. We call for the international community to meet the enormous funding needs of the UN appeals for Syria and its neighbours. We resolve to intensify our efforts to address the threat arising from foreign fighters travelling to Syria. We are deeply concerned by allegations of repeated chemical agent use and call on all parties in Syria to cooperate fully with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission. We call on Syria to comply with its obligations under UNSC Resolution 2118, decisions of the Executive Council of the OPCW and the Chemical Weapons Convention to ensure the swift removal of its remaining chemical stockpile for destruction, and to destroy its production facilities immediately and answer all questions regarding its declaration to the OPCW.

Libya

32.   We reaffirm our support for a free, prosperous and democratic Libya which will play its role in promoting regional stability.  We express serious concern at the recent violence and urge all Libyans to engage with the political process through peaceful and inclusive means, underpinned by respect for the rule of law.  We urge continued and coordinated engagement by the international community to support the Libyan transition and efforts to promote political dialogue, in coordination with the UN and with the UN Support Mission in Libya fulfilling its mandate in that respect.   We ask all in the international community to respect fully Libyan’s sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention in its affairs. In this framework, we commend the proposal of the High National Electoral Commission, endorsed by the General National Congress, to convene the elections on June 25. We emphasise the importance of these elections in restarting the political process and appreciate the vital work of the Constitution Drafting Assembly.

Mali and Central African Republic

33.   We welcome the ceasefire signed on May 23 by the Malian Government and armed groups in the North of Mali, thanks to efforts by the African Union, through its Presidency, and the UN. We reaffirm our strong commitment to a political solution and to an inclusive dialogue process that must start without delay, as prescribed by the Ouagadougou agreement and UNSC decisions. We fully support the United Nation’s Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali efforts in stabilising the country and, with the commitment of neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Mauritania and the Economic Community of West African States, in working for a durable settlement respectful of the unity, territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Mali.

34.   We commend the role played on the ground in the Central African Republic by the AU-led International Support Mission to the Central African Republic, together with the forces sent by France and the European Union, to support the transition and encourage the Transitional Authorities to take urgent concrete steps toward holding free, fair, transparent and inclusive elections. We fully support the UN efforts in the areas of security, reconciliation, preparation of the elections, and humanitarian assistance.

Iran

35.   We reaffirm our strong commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue and welcome the efforts by the E3+3, led by High Representative Ashton, and Iran to negotiate a comprehensive solution that provides confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme. We underline the importance of the continuing effective implementation by the E3+3 and Iran of the Joint Plan of Action. We call on Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency on verification of Iran’s nuclear activities and to resolve all outstanding issues, including, critically, those relating to possible military dimensions.   We strongly urge Iran to fully respect its human rights obligations. We call on Iran to play a more constructive role in supporting regional security, in particular in Syria, and to reject all acts of terrorism and terrorist groups.

North Korea

36.   We strongly condemn North Korea’s continued development of its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.  We urge North Korea to abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and to comply fully with its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions and commitments under the September 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. We call on the international community to implement fully UN sanctions. We reiterate our grave concerns over the ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in North Korea documented in the report of the UN Commission of Inquiry, and urge North Korea to take immediate steps to address these violations, including on the abductions issue, and cooperate fully with all relevant UN bodies. We continue to work to advance accountability for North Korea’s serious human rights violations.

Middle East Peace Process

37.   We fully support the United States’ efforts to secure a negotiated two-state solution.  We regret that greater progress has not been made by the parties and urge them to find the common ground and political strength needed to resume the process. A negotiated two-state solution remains the only way to resolve the conflict. We call on both sides to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid any unilateral action which may further undermine peace efforts and affect the viability of a two-state solution.

Afghanistan

38.   We renew our long-term commitment to a democratic, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan and our enduring partnership with the Government of Afghanistan based on the principles of mutual respect and mutual accountability. The first round of presidential elections and the provincial council elections marked a historic achievement, especially for the more than 2.5 million women who voted, and we look forward to the completion of the electoral process. We continue to assist the Government of Afghanistan to strengthen their institutions of governance, reduce corruption, combat terrorism, support economic growth, and counter narcotics.  We continue to actively support an inclusive Afghan-led and Afghan-owned process of reconciliation.

Maritime Navigation and Aviation

39. We reaffirm the importance of maintaining a maritime order based upon the universally-agreed principles of international law. We remain committed to international cooperation to combat piracy and other maritime crime, consistent with international law and internationally recognised principles of jurisdiction in international waters. We are deeply concerned by tensions in the East and South China Sea. We oppose any unilateral attempt by any party to assert its territorial or maritime claims through the use of intimidation, coercion or force. We call on all parties to clarify and pursue their territorial and maritime claims in accordance with international law. We support the rights of claimants to seek peaceful resolution of disputes in accordance with international law, including through legal dispute settlement mechanisms.  We also support confidence-building measures. We underscore the importance of the freedom of navigation and overflight and also the effective management of civil air traffic based on international law and International Civil Aviation Organization standards and practices.

Other Issues

40.   We reaffirm our commitment to the protection and promotion of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedom, for all persons. We recognise the need to show unprecedented resolve to promote gender equality, to end all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls, to end child, early and forced marriage and to promote full participation and empowerment of all women and girls. We look forward to the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict taking place in London later this month.

41.   We reiterate our condemnation of terrorism and our commitment to cooperate in all relevant fora to prevent and respond to terrorism effectively, and in a comprehensive manner, while respecting human rights and the rule of law. We condemn the kidnapping of hundreds of schoolgirls by Boko Haram as an unconscionable crime and intend do everything possible to support the Nigerian government to return these young women to their homes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

42.   We confirm that non-proliferation/disarmament issues remain a top priority and welcome the G-7 Non-proliferation Directors Group statement issued today.

Conclusion

43.    We look forward to meeting under the Presidency of Germany in 2015.

The Honourable Jason Kenney delivered a speech at Polytechnics Canada’s 2014 annual conference

DATE:  May 7, 2014

LOCATION:  Algonquin College – Ottawa Campus, Ottawa, Ontario

SUBJECT:  Minister of Employment and Social Development Jason Kenney delivers a speech recognizing the work at polytechnics to ensure graduates have the skills employers need at Polytechnics Canada’s 2014 annual conference “The Future We Want, the Difference We Make.”

Hon. Jason Kenney: I think the work that Polytechnics Canada and all of its member colleges represented by you here tonight is in many ways the most important work being done in the Canadian post-secondary education sector. And that’s really what I’m here to talk about tonight.

Algonquin College represents 159 college programs, with 21 apprenticeship programs and 61 online programs, to name just three from an impressive list of what’s offered at this college, typical of all the polytechnics across Canada.

Now let me just begin my remarks by situating them in the kind of context of Canada’s economy. Of course, up on Parliament Hill we have our partisan debates about our strengths and weaknesses, but fundamentally, I think we can all recognize that the Canadian economy is doing pretty well—in fact, significantly better than most other developed economies. The recession, the global downturn here was shorter and shallower than in virtually any other developed democracy, and the recovery has been stronger, with the creation of some 1.1 million net new jobs since the 2009 downturn— the overwhelming majority of them—about 90 percent of them—being full-time jobs, and 80 percent of them in high-wage industries.

We have one of the strongest fiscal positions in the developed world, with one of the lowest levels of debt, of public indebtedness at the federal level in the developed world. We’re going to have a balanced federal budget next year, and a number of provinces moving to balance—at relatively low tax levels for our history. In fact, the federal tax take as a share of our Gross Domestic Product is at its lowest level since the mid-1960s. And still that word has not got out very well around the world, and people still have this brand idea of Canada as a high-tax jurisdiction and a country that not too long ago was a bit of fiscal basket case.

Well, we have turned that around, and we now have the lowest taxes in the world on new business investment, at least amongst the major developed economies of the world.

Bloomberg just last week ranked Canada for I think the third straight year as the best country in the world in which to do business. The World Economic Forum says we have the strongest financial sector or the strongest banks. And the good news goes on and on. And these are things about which we should be grateful, but with all of those strengths come certain challenges.

But first, you know, the future’s looking even brighter—brighter because Canada, as you know, has always been an export-driven economy and we are diversifying our export markets in important ways. For far too long, of course, we have been over- dependent on the United States as virtually a captive market for our goods and services, but we are diversifying, having moved from 4 to 43 free trade agreements in the past 6 years, including trade agreements with the European Union, 28 member states representing 500 million consumers, largely in highly developed economies. And we will be the first jurisdiction in the world with simultaneous, basically tariff-free access to the market of 300 million people in the United States and the 500 million people in the European Union.

To that, we are adding, we hope, market free access to one of the most dynamic and the most innovative economies in Asia, that of South Korea, which will begin accelerated Canadian market access to these enormous and growing Asian economies.

So altogether, things are looking bright from a fiscal point of view. We’re doing relatively well in our domestic economy. Our export markets are opening up. And on top of all of that, we are on the cusp of what some people are calling a new industrial revolution in Canada’s economy that is a result of the hundreds of billions of dollars of capital investments that are coming on stream in extractive industries in a huge swath of northern Canada.

From the offshore oil and gas in Newfoundland to heavy minerals in Labrador to precious metals in northern Quebec, mining operations in northern Ontario’s Ring of Fire, to new hydro developments in Manitoba, potash and uranium in Saskatchewan and hydraulic fracturing in southern Saskatchewan, resulting in an energy boom there, to of course our bitumen reserves, oil, gas and other resources in Alberta, new mining developments in northern B.C. and all across the three northern territories opening up new horizons of opportunity, especially for our First Nations people, our Aboriginal people who happen to be proximate to so many of those huge new investments.

And by the way, each one of those developments, every one of those mines, every one of those projects of course is a public policy challenge. We have to make sure all of those things happen in a way that is environmentally sustainable and responsible. But if even a relatively small fraction of these prospective investments proceeds, we are talking about the creation of hundreds of thousands of high-paying, high-quality jobs primarily in skilled trades and vocations. And the challenge, as you know, is that our education systems have not been preparing young Canadians for those kinds of jobs in adequate numbers.

Now this is the big challenge that we will be facing. If there’s one reason that we are unable to fully grasp the potential offered by this “new industrial revolution,” it will be because we don’t have an adequate number of people with the right skills to actually fuel that prosperity.

Now let me be clear about this. This is a subject of some debate these days. As I’ve said as long as I’ve been in this position, Canada does not have a general labour shortage. The data doesn’t support it. If we did, we’d see wage rates rising more quickly than they are. But I think it’s undeniable if you actually look at the lived experience, the reality on the ground, if you listen to what employers and their representatives are saying from coast to coast to coast, that we are facing significant and acute skill shortages in certain regions and industries.

Let me give you some of these estimates. The construction sector says they will need 319,000 new workers in the next decade. The mining industry of Canada says they’ll need 145,000 more workers by 2020. The petroleum sector estimates they need 130,000 workers—additional workers—by 2020. And Skills Canada, which is, as you know, a great organization that we support, promoting the trades, tells us that we’re going to need a million skilled trade workers by the end of this decade. And the list goes on, whether it’s the Conference Board or the Chamber of Commerce, all of them estimating significant shortages, particularly in skilled trades.

So our challenge will be to fix the paradox of too many Canadians without jobs in an economy that has a growing number of jobs without Canadians.

And by the way, this isn’t a flash in the pan. It’s not based on anecdotal views. This is not just the data. This is also very obvious and intuitive when you understand that baby boomers are beginning to retire. We have a growing economy. The economy is growing most quickly in areas with sparse population through much of northern Canada where the extractive industries are located, and they tend to be in occupations which our education system has been under serving.

And by the way, you know, some of the demographers and economists tell us not to worry too much about the aging of our society and the retirement of the baby boomers—the demographic bulge—because they say people are working longer, and that’s true—for white collar workers. But for folks who are engaged in tough manual labour every single day, guess what? They’re not going to be working as welders and as carpenters and as heavy equipment operators into their 70s in work camps in northern Canada.

So let’s be realistic about this. These are occupations where we are going to see an entire generation of highly skilled Canadians—they have already begun—leaving these occupations. That pace is only going to accelerate. And regrettably, in part because of problems in our apprenticeship systems, we don’t have adequate opportunities for them to transmit their knowledge and learned experience to younger generations.

So for me, this is a matter of some urgency, and solving it requires movement on the part of the federal government, provincial governments, employers, industry associations, unions, educators, trainers in all different sectors.

Ces difficultés sont importantes mais nous comptons sur des personnes très compétentes pour trouver des solutions, particulièrement personnes comme ceux comme vous ici aux Polytechniques Canada.

And I want to thank Nobina, Ken and their whole team at Polytechnics here in Ottawa for playing an integral role in helping us address these challenges.

Vous vous proposez en vous appuyant sur des recherches et des données probantes des idées qui retiennent l’attention des décideurs au sein du gouvernement fédéral.

You challenge my officials to update their thinking on the changes underway in the Canadian education system, and I’m the first to admit that Ottawa doesn’t always have the answers. That’s why we appreciate the valuable input and the challenge function that Polytechnics Canada provides.

Let me give you just one very pressing example of what I’m talking about. The centrepiece of the most recent federal budget was called the Canada Apprenticeship Loan. The idea with the Canada Apprenticeship Loan is that apprentice students,  when they’re doing their formal block training, will be able to apply for and obtain interest-free financing through the Canada Student Loan Program. Students will be able to apply for up to $4,000 in interest-free loans. It’s estimated that at least 26,000 apprentices a year will benefit from this. It’s just one of the things that we have to do to break down this ridiculous idea that skills and vocational training and applied learning are somehow second-tier or second-class forms of education.

And guess what? The idea of the Canada Apprenticeship Loan came directly from Polytechnics Canada. In fact, I recall exactly the moment when. I had only been in my current post for a few weeks, and I heard about this whirlwind of ideas and energy, Nobina Robinson. Everyone told me I had to meet her. She had the solutions to the skills challenges that Canada was facing.

So we arrange a meeting for Nobina, and she came in, and I couldn’t get a word in edgewise for an entire hour, as you might imagine, which was just fine because she downloaded a brilliant analysis of the challenges that we’re facing in our post-secondary education system, and some fantastic solutions. And she said, “Why is it, Minister, that we give preferential loans, supported by the federal government, to students engaged in full-time academic studies at degree-granting universities, but we leave the apprentices out in the cold?”

And I looked at that, and I thought, you know, here we have a problem. We’ve got—thankfully—a growing number of young Canadians registering in apprenticeship programs. We’re now up to about 340,000. Well, that’s good news. The bad news is only half of them are going on to completion. We have an apprenticeship completion problem in this country. And I believe one of the reasons is because the opportunity cost for young people to leave their good-paying jobs as apprentices and go and do their formal block training is significantly high.

You know how it is. If you’re a young fellow in your early 20s in a welding apprenticeship program, and you’re working up in the oil sands in northern Alberta making 35 or 45 dollars an hour, well, first of all, you know how young people are. Their spend rate, their burn rate automatically goes to their amount of money—to consume every dollar that they’re generating, right? Young fellows in their 20s are not famous savers.

And so they kick up their spend rate, and they’ve got the lease on the new truck, and they’ve got the nice new apartment. And they’re spending every dollar that comes in. And the idea of suddenly going cold turkey for two months, so they can go down to SIAST or NAIT or BCIT and do their block training, suddenly is a very expensive and risky one. And so all the incentives are just to keep working and generating the income and to kick the apprenticeship can down the road.

Well, we have to soften the blow for them. We have to create the incentives for them to actually get to that journeyman Red Seal certification, so that they have that level of formal skills that they can transmit to others.

And a number of things need to be done in this area. First of all, we’ve brought in a policy that allows employers to pay those folks on their block training up to 95 percent of their regular salary level on top of employment insurance benefits, with no penalty. So the responsible employers can keep their apprentice employees whole during their block training. Point one.

Point two. We’ve now in this budget launched the Canada Apprenticeship Loan, which gives them a financing option to get through that period, as well to cover living expenses and other related expenses to reduce the opportunity cost.

And point three, in the budget, we’ve also launched a pilot project to support innovative ways of delivering the block training online and through remote learning, so that perhaps some of these people can stay in the remote work sites where they’re located and actually take their block training in smaller increments over weekends and evenings and through creative delivery of those programs. I know a number of you are doing that already.

Now this stuff isn’t terribly exciting. None of these ideas make it to the front page of the Globe and Mail, and I don’t think, Nathan, we’ve actually had a single question in the House of Commons on the Canada Apprenticeship Loans—probably a good thing— because I think there’s actually consensus around it.

By the way, political journalists—I’ll let you in on a secret, they’re actually fight promoters. So if there’s no fight on the issue, there’s nothing to report. But these are great ideas. And guess what? It was Polytechnics Canada, it was Nobina who came, and she said we’ve been trying to push this for years, but no one will listen. Well, someone finally did. And I’ll be honest, we encountered a certain resistance. I think the resistance was because before, you had to have 10 weeks of class in an accredited program in order to qualify for the Student Loan Program, and we didn’t want to water that down, we didn’t want to dilute it.

But you know, I think there was an unconscious bias behind that policy decision. And the unconscious bias was that apprenticeship learning isn’t really the equivalent to university education. And when I heard that argument offered, that’s what pushed me over the line. And I said, look, that’s exactly why we need to do this. We need to it not just to facilitate some financing options for young apprentices, so they complete their programs. We need to do it, just as importantly, in order to send a symbolic signal that the federal government regards apprenticeship learning in the trades as every bit as valuable as going to university in an academic program, and that’s what the loan says.

So thank you for the constructive role that you play.

Now another solution to this challenge of the future skills gap is to take a long and hard look more broadly at our secondary and post-secondary education systems.

Let me start by using Polytechnics Canada as an example of what I’m talking about. In case you haven’t figured it out yet, by the way, I’m a big fan of Polytechnics Canada and the work that your colleges do. And let me explain why I’m a fan.

Across Canada, you have 280,000 students enrolled in 11 institutions across 55 campuses. You offer a wide range of programs—a hundred stand-alone degrees, 24 joint degrees, 754 diplomas, 558 certificates, 200 graduate certificates and 225 apprenticeship programs.

What unites students across those different streams of learning is that they get good jobs. Some 90 percent of polytechnics students in Canada are employed after six months, and some of those coming out of the degree programs, it’s much higher. How many other educational institutions can boast numbers like that? Well, frankly, we don’t know, and that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? 

Interestingly, polytechnic schools are increasingly becoming a finishing school for general arts and science bachelor degree holders. Forty-six percent of your students have partially completed some kind of university or college training before enrolling at a polytechnic institution. Twelve percent of your students have actually completed a bachelor’s degree, and another 15 percent a college diploma or certificate before enrolling.

Students are flocking to your institutions. And by the way, I know you’re turning away far more than you can accommodate. They’re flocking to your institutions because of your small class sizes, your hands-on training on equipment used in industry, your teaching by industry-experienced faculty, and your integrated learning through placements, co-ops and internships—in other words, through applied learning. And of course, there’s also that 90 percent employment rate I mentioned before. As the jobs minister, I kind of like that.

The case outlined above demonstrates that the polytechnic model is hugely successful and the exact type of programming that governments should be supporting far more vigorously than they currently are.

That’s why it’s so frustrating to me when I hear that provincial government funding for polytechnic colleges isn’t keeping up with funding for other forms of post-secondary education. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of prospective students—people aged 20 to 34—in provinces with polytechnic institutions has increased by over 9 percent, all right? At the same time, federal government transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education through the Canada Social Transfer have increased by nearly five percent annually over the same period. So your prospective clientele’s grown by nine percent. The federal funding to the provinces has grown by five percent—sorry, we haven’t kept up with your population growth—but here’s the catch. Provincial funding to polytechnics through your operating budgets has only increased by 2.8 percent over the same period. And so there’s something fundamentally wrong with that. Provincial funding as a percentage of your operating budgets has actually decreased by an average of 2.9 percent.

So to summarize my point, employers from across Canada tell us that there is a current and growing demand for skilled workers in the very fields that your institutions are training young Canadians for. You’re producing a 90 percent employment rate—more than that in certain programs. And you’re clearly tremendously successful at knowing what jobs are in demand today, preparing graduates for those jobs. And yet your share of provincial support is not keeping up with the funds that the federal government is giving to provinces for post-secondary education. I want to know, where is our money going? And I think the federal government has a right to know that question.

It’s not our business to administer post-secondary education. We acknowledge – nous – évidemment, nous reconnaissons entièrement la juridiction constitutionnelle des provinces et territoires quant à l’éducation, y compris l’éducation postsecondaire.

Cela étant dit, en temps qu’une source des fonds importants pour l’éducation postsecondaire, d’après moi, le gouvernement fédéral a le droit au moins à poser les questions d’où vont les investissements des contribuables fédéraux? 

At the very least, while we respect provincial jurisdiction in the areas of education policy—as a major funder, I believe the Government of Canada has every right to ask why those dollars that we are increasing to provinces for post-secondary education are not finding their ways into the budgets and programs delivered by Canada’s polytechnic institutions.

Go ahead and applaud. I won’t turn you in to your provincial ministers, I promise.

I’m meeting with those provincial ministers, my Forum of Labour Market Ministers this summer, and make no mistake: I am putting this on the table. The next time the provinces ask me to spend more on post-secondary education or they ask us to increase their allotment for immigration or bring in more temporary foreign workers or what have you, I’m going to tell them that I expect to see money move to where results are in our education and training systems. That means moving money to polytechnics.

Now this is just one area of our secondary and post-secondary system that needs to be reviewed. We also need of course to do a better job of making a compelling case to young Canadians to consider a future in apprenticeship programs, in applied learning and in the skilled trades in particular.

For too long, we’ve settled for this kind of one-size-fits-all approach to youth employment, which has essentially been to tell young people to stay in school for as long as they can while in many ways frowning on vocational schools and apprenticeship training.

Provincial governments need to realize that the choices they made in the 1970s and 80s to downgrade vocational education were shortsighted. Forty years ago, most high schools offered vocational training. But for some reason, provincial education ministries and school boards decided to push vocational and skills training to the margins. In the 1990s, York University found that the number of technology courses taken by secondary school students in Ontario dropped from 480,000 in 1973 to 257,000 in 1996. Now it would be very interesting to see more recent data because all of the indications are that number has plummeted even further.

And that’s made worse still by the burden of debt incurred from staying in school longer, doing as they were told to do and then struggling afterward to find a good-paying job.

Let’s bear in mind, however, that some countries have fared significantly better than Canada—such as European countries—when it comes to connecting education and training to jobs in the labour market.

And that’s precisely why in March of this year, I led a study mission, which included Polytechnics Canada. Ken was there and Larry from SIAST attended together with all of the major Canadian business organizations, some of our largest unions and representatives from five of our provincial governments. And in Germany, we saw their phenomenal vocational training system. Now you all know about it; it’s almost mythic in its international reputation. And let me begin with the usual caveat. Of course we cannot replicate the German system, rooted as it is in hundreds of years of the guild system and their particular political legal system. We can’t replicate it. But what we can do is learn from it.

And here’s what I learned. I learned that nearly two-thirds of young Germans at the average age of 16 go into paid apprenticeship programs, typically with three and a half days on the work site, where an employer is paying them a good stipend of a thousand euros a month and then a day and a half in a vocational college, where they’re learning the applied theory of the skills they’re developing on the work site.

And I learned that on average those German apprenticeship programs are completed in three years. They’re graduating with their certificate, on average, at the age of 19, and 95 percent of them are going into employment in the field for which they were trained without student debt, with practical work experience, with a certificate that has equal value in every corner of their country, of their federation, and a certificate which is considered by everyone as having the same educational, social and economic value as a university degree. And that was perhaps the core learning that we had.

You know, that wasn’t just the advocates of the trades saying this. It wasn’t just the employers or the unions saying that. It was the academics themselves. I must admit I was astonished to hear one of the leading scholars of the German education system, a fellow with two PhDs, express how concerned he was to see a growing percentage of young Germans going into academic university programs as opposed to apprenticeship trades programs. I’d love to meet an academic in Canada who would share the similar sentiment.

And maybe this is why the German unemployment rate for youth is about half of our unemployment rate for young Canadians.

Of course a key part of the German system is the sense of responsibility amongst employers to contribute. German employers contribute the equivalent of 49 billion Canadian dollars per year in apprenticeship programs alone. And that contrasts rather unfavourably to private sector investments in skills development here in Canada.

You know the numbers. We have the highest level of public sector state-supported investments in skills development in the OECD. But we are the bottom of the developed world when it comes to how much companies, the private sector, put into skills development. So we need to find ways to prime the pump to encourage our employers to take up the challenge.

You know I was recently at the B.C. Business Summit. All the major employers in British Columbia were there. And every time I meet with these guys they say to me they need temporary foreign workers, they need more immigration numbers, they need to address the labour challenges in those ways. And I say to them, listen, I don’t want to ever hear you coming talking to me again about labour shortages and skills gaps unless and until we see demonstrable increases in private sector investments in skills training and preparing young people for the jobs of the future.

Now to give the employers their due, many employers are star performers, and many of them do participate. Many of them sponsor programs in your colleges and help you acquire new capital equipment for training—and I think we’re beginning to turn the corner on this. I think employers understand they have to put more skin in the game.

This, by the way, was really the idea, the motive idea behind our Canada Job Grant, an idea that became unnecessarily controversial, but we’ve since reached agreement with all provinces and territories for them to deliver this Job Grant. The idea was actually radically simple in a way. It was picking up the Germanic idea of employer-led training and investment in training initiatives. This is a particular challenge for small and medium-sized businesses.

When we ask SMEs in Canada why they don’t put more money into training, why they don’t hire more apprentices, they tell us it’s because they are terrified of poaching. For an SME to spend thousands of dollars putting a young person through a diploma program or tens of thousands through an apprenticeship program as an indentured apprentice, only to find that person, as soon as they’re certified, poached by a major employer with deeper pockets and a bigger payroll, that’s a very serious point of exposure for small businesses.

The idea behind the Job Grant is simply to reduce that exposure for them, so that they can identify young people or a group of people for a specific training program, at the end of which they have a guaranteed job, but we’ll come in and support roughly two-thirds or as much as three-quarters of the training costs. They have to put some skin in the game. They have to be involved in recruiting the individual. They have to guarantee them a job and hopefully mentor them through the process. We hope this will begin to replicate some of the magic in the German training system.

You know, it’s not just in Germany. We also visited the United Kingdom, whose system, for various obvious historical reasons is closer to our own. But here’s the interesting thing. The UK went through very much the same kind of single-minded focus on academic post-secondary education in the 1980s. And they’ve begun to try to reverse the momentum back towards applied learning. In the 1980s their polytechnics all graduated to degree-granting universities essentially. And now they’re trying to build up the college sector doing vocational training, doing apprenticeship programs with teenagers, so that, again, they’re coming out before they’re 20 with valuable skills and typically very good employment prospects.

And did you know that in the United Kingdom someone who does an apprenticeship program makes $275,000 more in Canadian dollars over their lifetime than those that graduate with a university degree.

By the way, we need comparable data here in Canada. We simply don’t have it. And some of the data being used in this debate is, shall we say, more than a little misleading. To compare the outcomes of all university grads in Canada, many of whom are boomers in their peak earning years, many of who are in the highest paying professions, to compare that aggregate average with everyone else is an irrelevant comparison.

But let’s begin comparing the employment earnings of, I don’t know, sociology majors to welders. Let’s begin comparing the outcomes for bachelors in communications with power engineers. If we actually begin doing more disaggregated real world comparisons, then we have some data that’s useful to share with young people.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have to make this disclaimer. We do not—I do not for a moment seek to denigrate the enormous value of academic post-secondary education that’s offered by our universities or the humanities or the liberal arts, all of which are enormously valuable and most of which programs lead to great outcomes. But what I am suggesting is that what we must begin doing in Canada is to replicate what in Europe they call the parity of esteem between different forms of education, training and employment. We must stop sending cultural cues to young people through their high school counsellors, their parents, their governments that they are somehow failing or not realizing their potential if they pursue a technical vocation or trade. We need to clearly and at every opportunity indicate that the choice of going to a Canadian polytechnic and working in a technical vocation is every bit as valuable as going to university and getting an academic degree.

There’s a whole lot more we have to do, but I’ve spoken long enough. Let me just perhaps summarize it by saying that the Government of Canada is trying to play its role to create the right incentives, to send the right signals. For example, we created the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and the Apprenticeship Completion Grant, which, together, represent $4,000 available to students who go through their apprenticeship programs. We’ve created the Apprenticeship Hiring Grant for employers to incentivize them to do the same. We created the Tools Tax Credit.

And by the way, we’ve reformed the immigration system to try to support skilled people in these kinds of vocations. You know, since the early 1970s, Canada basically closed its immigration system to blue-collar immigrants, people who work in the trades. We opened a new door in the Skilled Trade stream of our immigration system and through our Provincial Nominee programs in the last few years. These are highly skilled people who can come in as permanent residents and be the journeymen to take on apprentices. We need to reduce journeymen-apprenticeship ratios in those provinces where they are unrealistically high to allow smaller contractors to take aboard apprentices.

We need harmonization in the apprenticeship programs across the country. The New West Partnership in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. is doing this. The Atlantic provinces are, with our support. It would be nice to see the two central Canadian provinces get with the program.

We of course need to continue knocking down the remaining barriers to interprovincial labour mobility and to mutual recognition of trades and professions. And we need to do more to recognize the skills of foreign-trained professionals and tradespeople who are too often under-employed in our economy.

And of course we must all continue to focus particularly on those groups in our population like young Aboriginal Canadians who are massively under-represented in the workforce.

So these are big challenges, but the good news is I believe we’ve begun to see a significant change in the debate and the allocation of resources. The recent announcement by the Government of British Columbia that they’ve begun reengineering their secondary and post-secondary education systems, that they want to track labour market outcomes from all of the PSE streams and they want dollars to follow results is extremely good news. This is a model that can and must be replicated right across the country.

So with the innovative ideas and programs that you are delivering, with a federal government that is in full support of this new skills agenda, with provincial governments coming onboard, with employers understanding the urgency of these issues and increasing their investments, particularly in engaging Aboriginal Canadians in the workforce, I believe we can see a bright new horizon in a reform in our post-secondary education system that ultimately will be all about helping us to help young people to realize their potential and to contribute to our wonderful country’s prosperity.

Thanks very much for your time and for all the good work that you do.

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