Marta is, I believe, the first woman deputy minister of global affairs. Congratulations. It's great.
Arun Thangaraj is our Chief Financial Officer. He is the guy who keeps the trains running on time. It's a huge department. You do a great job, Arun. Thank you also.
Here's a man who needs no introduction: Steve Verheul, our chief NAFTA negotiator and CETA and section 232.
Having recently attended meetings of the Arctic Council in Finland, I would also like to take the opportunity to publicly thank the members of this committee for their shared, collective, cross-party leadership on the Arctic and for the excellent report and recommendations.
The most pressing issues facing the Arctic, such as climate change and advancing the interests of indigenous people in the north, require broader public attention, and your work has helped to advance these important issues. Thank you very much. It's very impressive.
Around the world we see a growing trend of leaders and voters who question the value of the rules-based international order and, indeed, of liberal democracy itself. That's why countries, like Canada, who believe in liberal democracy and the rules-based international order now need to fight back. Doing so is vitally important to our national interest. Canada, with just 36 million Canadians, can never thrive in a great power world where might makes right. That's why Canada today is one of the most ardent defenders in the world of liberal democracy and the rules-based international order.
Earlier this spring I represented Canada at ministerial meetings of two of the most important multilateral institutions of which Canada is a member: NATO and the G7. These gatherings offered the opportunity to reiterate Canada's strong support for the rules-based international order; to discuss how we can further work together to defend this order from maligned foreign interference and the rise of authoritarianism; and to discuss how, working together, we can solve some of the greatest global challenges of our time, like climate change, the hollowing out of the western industrial middle class, and global refugee crises.
Allow me to highlight some of the key areas in which Canada is working concretely to defend and maintain rules-based international order, starting with trade.
Rules-based trade doesn't guarantee peace between nations and doesn't make the multilateral system infallible, but it does help.
That is why working together for free trade is essential. Last fall, Canada concluded negotiations on the new NAFTA with the U.S. and Mexico. In November, we signed the agreement on the margins of the G20 summit in Argentina.
Throughout our intense negotiations, we stayed focused on what really matters to Canadians: jobs, growth and expanding the middle class. We held out for a good deal and that's what we got. We guaranteed continued access to our largest export market for Canadian workers and Canadian businesses, and we succeeded in preserving key elements of NAFTA, including chapter 19, the all-important dispute settlement mechanism, and the cultural exemption.
We addressed important bread and butter issues by cutting red tape to make it easier for Canadian businesses to export to the U.S. market. Despite this success, one major hurdle remained. The U.S. section 232 “national security” tariffs on steel and aluminum.
When the U.S. imposed tariffs, Canada retaliated, imposing dollar-for-dollar countermeasures. We stood firm in our position that these tariffs were not appropriate between two countries which, in addition to being important national security partners and allies, also had a free trade agreement. This was a point we made clearly to the U.S. administration, to members of Congress and to labour and business leaders south of the border.
As a result, just over a week ago, Canada successfully negotiated the complete lifting of U.S. tariffs. As I said last week when I visited Canadian steel and aluminum workers in Regina and Saguenay, that is why we succeeded. We knew that the facts were on our side. We knew we were not a risk to the national security of the United States. We knew that our steel trade with the United States was balanced. We remained united. We have been patient. We have been persistent.
The result was that Canada successfully negotiated a full lift of the tariffs just over a week ago. Here is why we succeeded. We knew the facts were on our side. We know that we are not a national security risk to the United States. We know that our trade in steel with the United States is balanced. We stayed united. We were patient. We were persistent. I think persistence and unity are some great Canadian values, and I'm really proud of the way our whole country came together in this effort.
Our government's position was that it would be difficult to move ahead with the ratification of the new NAFTA while the tariffs were in place. Now that the tariffs have been lifted, our government intends to move ahead with ratification. We know that having the new NAFTA ratified will provide economic certainty for Canadians.
Elsewhere in the world, Canada is using its voice to advocate for the rules-based international order. I recently travelled to Kiev, following the presidential elections in Ukraine. This was an opportunity for me to meet with the newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. I reiterated Canada's continued support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity as well as our commitment to continue working with the international community to maintain pressure on Russia.
To support elections and democracy in Ukraine, our government contributed short-term and long-term election observers as part of the Canadian election observation mission. It has been very ably led by former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. Our observers will be back for the parliamentary elections in July. We have also provided a $2.8-million assistance package to counter foreign disinformation in the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and presidential elections now past.
In another important show of support for Ukraine, on March 15, Canada, the EU and the U.S. announced new sanctions in response to Russia's aggressive actions in the Black Sea and the Kerch Strait and Russia's illegal annexation and ongoing occupation of Crimea.
I was also pleased to announce a three-year extension of our training mission to Ukraine, Operation Unifier, through which Canadian soldiers have helped to train more than 11,000 Ukrainian troops. I've heard first-hand about how valuable that training has been.
Russian aggression to Crimea and eastern Ukraine poses an existential threat to Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine faces serious domestic challenges, particularly the need to reform its post-Soviet economy. To support this work, Canada will host the third annual international Ukraine reform conference early this summer in Toronto.
Last year, Canada deployed about 1,000 Canadian soldiers to provide NATO and Euro-Atlantic security, including under the leadership of the NATO mission in Iraq and NATO's enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup in Latvia, the air force in Romania and our military support to Ukraine.
Canada is proud to lead the NATO mission in Iraq. As part of this non-combat-oriented training and capacity-building mission, NATO supports efforts to train Iraqi security forces in their efforts to prevent the re-emergence of Daesh and other terrorist groups.
In terms of peacekeeping, the United Nations and partner countries strongly and publicly support Canada's work. At the recent UN Peacekeeping Ministerial, the Secretary-General praised Canada's contribution, in particular the Elsie Initiative, which aims to increase the meaningful participation of women in peace operations.
In our own hemisphere, the world has watched with great concern as Venezuela, under Nicolas Maduro's rule, has systematically dismantled democratic institutions and violated human rights. The Maduro regime has created a political, economic and humanitarian crisis. As a result, millions have fled the country and millions more are suffering due to severe shortages of food, medicine and the necessities of life.
Canada has been leading on this issue alongside our partners, the other members of the Lima Group, which has met 13 times since its formation in August 2017. The members of the Lima Group are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and St. Lucia. These countries joined—indeed, led—almost 50 others around the world in recognizing Juan Guaido as interim president, in line with the Venezuelan constitution.
Two weeks ago, I was at a meeting in Havana, Cuba, to discuss the economic, political and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela and the work we can undertake together to address it. We will continue to support the path forward as outlined by the national assembly and interim President Guaido and to oppose outside military intervention. A peaceful transition of power needs to be led by Venezuelans themselves.
Last fall, the House of Commons recognized that the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya by Myanmar's security forces constitutes genocide. I commend many members of this committee for your leadership on this issue. I would also like to recognize the work of Bob Rae, who was appointed as Canada's special envoy to Myanmar. He published an important report on his work and findings there.
The atrocities committed against the Rohingya, including terrible sexual violence, have led nearly one million Rohingya to flee the country into neighbouring Bangladesh. Canada has committed $300 million over three years for humanitarian assistance, development, and peace and stabilization efforts. We will continue to work with our allies and partners, very much including Bangladesh, to resolve the crisis and ensure justice for the survivors of this genocide.
In our work to support liberal democracy and the rules-based international order, we recognize that we are most effective when we work with like-minded partners. That is why we are so pleased that Canada will join the U.K. in co-hosting the first global conference for media freedom. The conference will take place in the U.K. in July. We will be working together to further advance the cause of a free and independent press globally. This is such an important pillar of liberal democracy.
Mr. Chair, I would like to end on a difficult but important note. I am sure members of this committee, like all Canadians, are concerned by the arbitrary detentions of Canadians in China. This is indeed a difficult time in our relationship with China.
Chinese officials have been clear that from their perspective, these difficulties began with an extradition request from the United States. We complied, as we are committed to doing under our extradition treaty with the United States in place since 1976. I am confident that was the right thing to do, and I am confident Canadians know that. We are a rule-of-law country, and we are a country that honours our treaty commitments.
This was not a political decision. It was not a political message, and there has been no political involvement.
We strongly condemn the arbitrary arrest of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The Government of Canada continues to call for their immediate release. I want to assure everyone here and everyone listening that this is a top priority for the Prime Minister, for our whole government and for me personally.
Many countries share our concern, and we have rallied an unprecedented number of partners around the world in support of Canada's position. Canada continues to express its appreciation to those who have spoken in support of these detained Canadians and the rule of law, including: Australia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as the EU, the G7 and NATO.
Our government is seized of these cases and is using any and every opportunity to raise them with our allies and partners. Here and in China, we have made our position clear to the Chinese authorities. Just last week, my parliamentary secretary, Rob Oliphant, was in China as part of a parliamentary delegation, where he raised this issue directly with the officials he met.
Thank you for doing that, Rob.
We will continue to advocate on behalf of these brave Canadians.
In conclusion, I do want to express how much sympathy I have for the Spavor and Kovrig families. They are supporting both Michaels with incredible grace and determination.
With that, I will be happy to answer your questions.