Canadian embassy comes to town

The newly opened Canadian embassy in Yangon may not have the size of the large US embassy on University Avenue or the prominence of the Australian and United Kingdom’s buildings on Strand Road, but officials hope it will help strengthen relations between the two countries.

Foreign minister John Baird officially opened the office in Centrepoint Towers on Kyauktada township’s Sule Pagoda Road on August 8, saying Canada aims to encourage economic development and job creation as well as support development initiatives like children’s health in Myanmar.

“Trade [between the two countries] is low but there is tremendous opportunity,” he said.

Mr Baird added that Canada has been following Myanmar’s ongoing reforms closely and looks to support them, as well as promote further economic development.

Canada previously maintained some of the toughest international sanctions against Myanmar with its 2007 Burma Regulations. Most sanctions were removed on April 24, 2012, including restrictions on investment and trade, following the reforms of the President U Thein Sein administration.

Myanmar and Canada have had limited relations during the sanctions period, but Mr Baird said the embassy opening reflects Canada’s intentions to increase engagement with Myanmar.

“Canada has opened its embassy in Yangon today as part of our desire to play a more active role in continuing Burma’s transformation,” he said.

“Our engagement brings to bear diplomacy, trade and development, and I look forward to seeing progress in these areas.”

Mr Baird – who was making his second trip to Myanmar as foreign minister – said that Canada brings business strengths in areas like finance, energy, mining and agriculture.

Although there have historically been relatively few Canadian investments in Myanmar, they have sometimes proven controversial. Canadian firm Ivanhoe Mines copper mining activities faced some international opposition until it exited its share in the project to a trust in 2007, which ultimately divested the project in 2011 to a Chinese weapons manufacturer.
Other past Canadian involvement in Myanmar includes assistance in areas like infrastructure projects and social development.

Asked about the image of Canadian mining in general, Mr Baird said that Canadian mining firms usually conduct responsible operations.

“We expect the mining sector to continue to act responsibly according to local laws, engage with communities, respect environmental standards – by and large I think they have a pretty good record of that,” he said.

“They’re not perfect; there have been problems as there is in just about every sector.”

Mr Baird added that mining has been a source of a lot of wealth generation in Canada, generating economic development and assisting the country with providing quality healthcare and education. Canadian mining firms generally hire local workers rather than bringing their own miners with them, which increases the benefit for local communities, he said.

During the opening ceremony, Mr Baird and Canadian ambassador Mark McDowell took reporters on a tour of the small but pleasant embassy, which occupies about a third of the ninth floor of Centrepoint Towers.

On the tour, Mr McDowell said designing an embassy is always difficult, but that the lunch room is a particular success, offering pleasant views facing toward the Yangon river and providing a space for people to connect.


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