If one were to reel off the superlative credentials of Canada that by itself would be enough content for an article. Without delving too deep into the specifics of his country’s grandeur and achievements, His Excellency Douglas George, the Ambassador of Canada to Kuwait, did point out that with nearly 10 million sq km of land, Canada is thesecond largest country in the world. And, with one of the lowest population densities in the world — roughly four people per sq km — Canada welcomes each year over a quarter-million immigrants from around the world. Moreover, with the eighth highest global per capita income, Canada is not only one of the wealthiest countries but also ranks among the top in education, healthcare, social welfare, economic freedom, civil liberties and qualities of life. “As you can see, it is an honor and a relatively easy task to represent Canada anywhere in the world,” said His Excellency during an exclusive interview with The Times.
A soft-spoken person, Ambassador George is a career diplomat who brings with him a wealth of experience. Starting his diplomatic career with a posting as Second Secretary to the High Commission in Jamaica, the ambassador has served his country meritoriously for over three decades.Reminiscing on his career, the envoy said, “From 1990 to 1994, I was appointed to Geneva and worked on the GATT and WTO negotiations with emphasis on dispute settlement and institutional issues. Today, I can point to a few WTO institutions and proudly say that I helped create some of those.”
“Going back to Canada, I worked with the Minister of International Trade, micro-managing billions in dollars of exports and attempting to resolve long-standing economic and trade issues with the United States. I was then appointed to Brussels as Counsellor in charge of Economics, Trade andScience and Technology in our relations with the European Union (EU) and contributed to concluding the Free Trade Agreement we recently signed with the EU. For awhile I was also engaged with the International Intellectual Property negotiations and happily I was able to use my experiences there to deliver a speech at a conference in Kuwait on Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals.”
“Kuwait is my first ambassadorial posting and I have been in this wonderful country for the last two years and two months. Canada and Kuwait enjoy long and deep ties that go back to 1965 when bilateral diplomatic relations were first established. Since then our relationship has grown and gone from strength to strength in all domains. We are particularly proud of the role Canada played in urging strong actions at the United Nations to preserve and defend Kuwait’s borders and protect its people during the Iraqi invasion. Canada also contributed medical teams as well as its land, naval and air force to the International Coalition during the war to liberate Kuwait. And, post-liberation, we played a key role in demining operations along the northern border. Today, strong military ties continue between our two countries and we maintain support operations for our armed forces in the region from Camp Canada in Kuwait. As a major NATO partner country, Kuwait enjoys bilateral security cooperation with the Organization and the Canadian embassy here serves as the contact point for Kuwait-NATO relations.”
On the political level, Canada and Kuwait share many common views and interests on local, regional and international issues and consolidate this cooperation through frequent high-level visits on both sides. In September 2011, prior to my posting here as ambassador, I was heavily involved in the first-ever visit to Canada by Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-AhmedAl-JaberAl-Sabah. On a similar vein, in his first overseas trip since assuming office, the Governor-General of Canada, His Excellency David Lloyd Johnston, arrived in Kuwait to participate in the country’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of Liberation and 50th Anniversary of Independence in 2012. In addition there have been several bilateral visits on the ministerial level, including twice by our Minister of Defense and by the ministers of Trade, Foreign Affairs, Natural Resources and International Development.”
“These high-level visits were characterized by signing of cooperation agreements and Memorandum of Understandings, as well as holding discussions on topics of mutual interest. For instance, during the visit of Sheikh Nasser to Canada a Foreign Investment Protection Agreement (FIPA) was signed between the two countries, which I understand will be ratified by Kuwait’s Parliament in the coming weeks. I expect that once the FIPA comes into force, bilateral investments will receive a significant boost.”
Saying that on the trade front there was still plenty of scope for improvement, the envoy added, “One reason for the sluggish take-off in bilateral trade is that both our countries are principal exporters of petroleum and petroleum products. Nevertheless, in 2012, Canada had a trade surplus of over US$70 million with Kuwait, principally from export of automobiles, as well as agricultural and food products. Butexport of goods is only one indicator of economic trade, others include services and investments and, at present, Kuwaiti investments in Canada far outstrip investments the other way around.For instance, besides private investments, theKuwait Investment Authority has significant investments in Canadian portfolios and the Kuwait Finance House is involved in the real-estate sector.”
“Canada’s strong economy, stable political and legal systems and disciplined approach to fiscal and monetary policies, as well as itsvast natural resources ranging from petroleum, natural gas and lumber,to precious minerals like diamonds and gold, and products like maple syrup — Canada accounts for three-quarters of the world’s supply of maple syrup — will continue to make the country a lucrative destination for investments from Kuwait and from around the globe,” added the envoy.
“Another Canadian success story is the quality of education it offers. There are already many Kuwaitis enrolled in large and small Canadian universities including in medical, dental and pharmaceutical courses. To promote Canadian education, every year, the embassy holds two, well-attended, education fairs; the last one was in October and the next is scheduled for February 2014. Through these fairs hundreds of Kuwaiti and non-Kuwaiti students seek admission to the world-class education provided by Canadian institutions. I can reveal that by September 2014, the prestigious Algonquin College in Ottawa will be opening a college in Kuwait. The college, which will initially offer programs in Business and Information Technology among others, is expected to eventually grow to a strength of over 3,000 and provide hands-on education for a two-year diploma that will train and prepare students for the local market.”
“On the healthcare front, renowned Canadian medical institutions such as the McGill Faculty of Medicine and a group ofhospitals linked with the University of Toronto have been successfully working with the Cardiac Hospital, Dabous Hospital and the Cancer Clinic in Kuwait for the last couple of years. This interaction provides vital training and brings local doctors and other medical personnelto world-class standards. And while there are several cases of Kuwaitis seeking high-end medical assistance in Canadian hospitals, the emphasis of the two governments is to exchange knowledge and experiences by bringing over Canadian medical specialists to train local doctors in latest techniques and procedures.Besides this, many private and public hospitals in Kuwait have been seeking the Canadian medical accreditation and a lot of Kuwaiti doctors are already trained or have received accreditation from Canada.”
Revealing that there are between 7,500 to 10,000 Canadians working and enjoying life in Kuwait, the ambassador added, “Catering to this Canadian population, as well as introducing Canadian food to local populace, are a number of Canadian food purveyors opening outlets in Kuwait. These include the famous Tim Hortons, Big Smoke Burger, Second Cup Coffee, Java U and shortly Mr. Greek, a Mediterranean restaurant chain based in Ontario. Also, on the cultural side we have brought several musical troupes and hosted film festivals to give local people a taste of Canadian cultural life.
Towards the end of the interview Ambassador George revealed his plat de jour, “If all goes well, by the end of the year the embassy would be opening its own Visa Application Center in Kuwait. The Center, which would be outsourced to a local company, will provide visa applicants with all necessary assistance in filling out their forms and forwarding completed documents to the regional Visa Processing Center in Abu Dhabi for approval. “We hope this new convenience will lead to more Kuwaitis traveling to Canada, both on business and leisure, and willhelp bring our two countries even closer,”concluded the ambassador.